FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Deion Sanders and everyone else is about to find out if Colorado is ready for prime time with its new coach after nearly nine months of extreme hype and an unprecedented roster overhaul that continued long after the spring game.
With 87 new players and only three returning starters, the Buffaloes play their opener Saturday at 17th-ranked TCU, last season's national runner-up.
“They came here because they wanted (the spotlight). They came here because they wanted the light. They wanted the smoke. They wanted the attention. They wanted the focus. They wanted the love,” Sanders said of his players.
As much as Sanders insists that it is about them and not him, “Coach Prime” has made these Buffaloes his team. And if not for the Hall of Fame player making his Power Five coaching debut, Fox certainly wouldn’t use its first “Big Noon Kick Off” national broadcast this season to highlight a team with one win last year and only two winning records since 2005 (including 4-2 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season).
Colorado hired Sanders last December, right after Jackson State won its second Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in a row. That was about a year after Sanders had interviewed for the job at TCU that went to Sonny Dykes, a move that has worked out well so far for the Horned Frogs despite how they ended last season on the biggest stage.
The Frogs had an undefeated regular season, which began with a 38-13 win at Colorado, and matched their school record with 13 victories. They beat Michigan in a national semifinal game, but that came between an overtime loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game and the 65-7 rout by Georgia as the Bulldogs won their second national title in a row.
“It added extra fuel to the fire because we didn’t end it. The two games we lost last year, the most important in the season,” TCU senior linebacker Jamoi Hodge said this week.
“We have a lot to prove. And I think we want to prove to people that last year wasn’t a fluke,” Dykes said. “So I think there is a little bit of maybe more of a chip on our shoulder this year than there was last year because of that.”
TURNING IT OVER
In the first team meeting Sanders held at Colorado, he openly and bluntly talked about the transfer portal – for players coming into and going out of the program.
He certainly meant it: There are only nine scholarship players back from last year’s team, and 25 returners overall. Of the 87 newcomers, 57 have been added since Colorado’s spring game that drew about 50,000 people on a cold, snowy April day.
Chandler Morris goes into the opener as TCU’s starting quarterback, just like he did last year before spraining his left knee in the second half of the opener against the Buffaloes. Max Duggan, the starter he had replaced, became the Heisman Trophy runner-up after getting back on the field. Morris said he has learned a lot while waiting to start again.
“Just not taking a day for granted. I mean, showing up each practice, falling in love with your job and encouraging your teammates,” Morris said. “There’s something to be said about that, just showing up each day like it’s day one and like it’s your last day.”
In Morris’ first start for TCU late in the 2021 season when Duggan was hurt, the former Oklahoma transfer had 531 total yards (461 passing, 70 rushing) against Baylor. He started again the next week before getting hurt in that game.
ANOTHER LEADING SANDERS
New Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders came with his father from Jackson State after throwing for 6,983 yards with 70 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions in 26 games the past two seasons.
“The kid makes really good decisions. That’s one of the biggest assets that he has. He makes good decisions, he protects the ball,” the elder Sanders said. “The kid makes plays. … We have some receivers that can really do it. We have some running backs that can really do it. We got an offense that I’m proud of.”
The Buffaloes return to the Big 12 next season. They were among the original 12 teams in the conference, but left for the Pac-12 after the 2010 season. TCU joined the Big 12 in 2012, and before last season had never played Colorado. … Temperatures have consistently been over 100 degrees for TCU during preseason practices. Dykes said tight end Jared Wiley lost 17 pounds during one practice. It will be hot Saturday, but the forecast for highs in the upper 90s is down from the original expectation of triple digits.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll