Deion Sanders hobbles to get around these days, but his ability to command an audience is even more potent than it was during his speedier playing days.
Just three games into his first head coaching job in college football’s top division, the guy who went from Prime Time to Coach Prime has been the non-stop talk of the sporting world.
Given how quickly the 56-year-old Sanders moves — metaphorically speaking, as he struggles with blood-clot issues in his legs and feet— it’s certainly not too soon to ponder where this phenomenon might lead.
Can the Colorado Buffaloes keep winning even with a brutal schedule ahead of them? If they do, will a more prominent school come calling for Coach Prime in the not-too-distant future? Has Sanders’ nearly complete overhaul of a downtrodden team through the transfer portal established a new template for building a program? Should every coach start wearing sunglasses?
The Buffaloes, who won a single game in 2022 and have just one winning season in the past 17 years, are off to a captivating 3-0 start that includes a road victory over a TCU team that played in the most recent national championship game and an improbable double-overtime triumph over rival Colorado State.
But before we start penciling in No. 19 Colorado for the College Football Playoff, it’s worth taking a look at their upcoming schedule.
Six of their last nine regular-season games are against teams currently ranked in The Associated Press Top 25.
The Pac-12 gauntlet begins Saturday with a road game at No. 10 Oregon, followed by a home contest the following weekend against fifth-ranked Southern Cal. Down the road are No. 22 UCLA, No. 14 Oregon State, No. 21 Washington State and No. 11 Utah.
Making these games all the more daunting: Colorado will be without its two-way star, Travis Hunter for several weeks after he took a brutal cheap shot from Colorado State.
If the Buffaloes start losing, the nation’s attention will surely turn to more conventional storylines such as Georgia’s quest for a third straight national title.
Then again, never bet against Coach Prime. If his team can pull off another upset or two — they’re a whopping 21-point underdog against Oregon, according to FanDuel Sportsbook — his star will shine brighter than it already is, if that’s even possible.
“We have not played a complete game,” Sanders said. “When the offense is playing well, the defense is hot garbage. If the defense if playing well, the offense is horrible. The special teams aren’t special. We’ve got to put it all together to be able to defeat a team like Oregon.”
But let’s say the Buffaloes win at least eight or nine games and earn a prominent bowl bid ahead of their move next season to the Big 12. That would be a remarkable accomplishment, one that might tempt another school — or maybe even an NFL team — to send out feelers to Coach Prime.
He would surely listen.
“I’m aggressive by nature,” Sanders said, responding to an unrelated question but giving a clear glimpse into his psyche on most any issue. “I’m a go-getter, I’m a doer, I’m an attacker. I don’t sit back and wait on nothing to happen. I’m gonna go make it happen.”
Michigan State, which is in the process of firing Mel Tucker, might look for a splashy hire to rejuvenate a program that faces stiff competition in the ever-expanding Big Ten. Oklahoma is getting ready to move to the mighty Southeastern Conference and could decide that Brent Venables isn’t the right guy to lead that transition. And let’s not forget Texas A&M, which already plays in the SEC and hasn’t come close to meeting expectations under Jimbo Fisher.
All of those schools have far more storied programs than Colorado, but that could be a double-edged sword for any team that went after Sanders as its next coach.
With nothing to lose, Colorado has largely ceded the identity of its athletic program to the Coach Prime brand. While you can’t really blame the suits in Boulder for allowing this to happen, a more prominent program might be reluctant to let one man’s dynamic personality overshadow the entire athletic department.
Then again, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, just to name two, certainly wield that kind of influence on their campuses.
The more pertinent question might be: Would any big-time school where the power base is largely made up of white men be willing to allow a Black coach to be such an overwhelming force?
Sanders has caught some well-deserved grief for the ruthless way he overhauled the Colorado roster, leaving just nine scholarship players returning to the team from a year ago.
Yet no one worked the transfer portal with greater effectiveness than Coach Prime, who lured in skilled players from all over the country. It’s likely that many schools will try to mimic his methods going forward, but it’s doubtful anyone can match the shear force of his personality when it comes to persuading someone they should come play for him.
Even though he last suited up in the NFL nearly two decades ago, Sanders can relate better than most coaches to today’s generation. For instance, having rapper Lil Wayne lead the team onto the field before a game. Or getting the Rock to watch from the sidelines. Or sending his team out in different uniform combinations for every game.
“Shoot, you all want options,” Sanders told reporters at his weekly news conference. “That’s why you’re working, right? So you can have options to go buy what you wanna buy, get what you wanna get, do what you wanna do. Just giving the kids those types of options is phenomenal for those young men.”
Sanders is certainly willing to toot his own horn. He began his latest press briefing by reciting some of the impressive numbers his team has wracked up already, from stellar television ratings to selling out of every home game for the first time in school history.
“It’s incredible,” Sanders said. “Our kids are getting eyeballs, they’re getting viewers, they’re getting scouts out every day to watch what they’re gifted to do.”
Rest assured, no one is getting more eyeballs than Coach Prime.
Now, let’s see where it leads.
Reporting by the Associated Press.
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