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Colorado Golden Buffaloes 2023 Football Preview

A look at Colorado’s great experiment to resurrect a program that’s been dormant for fifteen-plus years.

Colorado Football Spring Game Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

I’ve long had a bias that I’m not sure I’ve actually put into an article. For much of the last 20 years or so, Colorado’s athletic department didn’t belong in a “Power Five” conference. When conference realignment surfaced, I didn’t think Colorado was a fit for the Big XII, or the Pac-12, for that matter.

I thought Colorado athletics belonged in the Mountain West.

Why? Colorado plays in one of the smallest “Power Five” stadiums around, and their fan base seems to be mostly disinterested. Remember the 2019 “Red Out” in Boulder?

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado has had six winning seasons (one thanks to COVID) in the 21st century, four of which were between 2000 and 2005. The Colorado athletic department has operated in the red much of the time, and were limited in offering multi-year contracts to coaches until just recently.

Frankly, Colorado hasn’t looked like they’ve even been trying to compete.

Until last December, when Colorado shocked the college football world by hiring Deion Sanders as head coach at nearly $6 million a year. It’s a huge bet...and even Colorado athletic director admits that CU didn’t have the money to pay Coach Prime last fall.

It’s a bold “All In” move, counting on Sanders reputation to completely flip the narrative around Colorado football. And by all accounts, it has done exactly that over the last six months. Fox is dedicating their first two “Big Eleven AM” kickoffs to the Buffies, including a 10 am local time kickoff for their home opener against the Huskers in week two. Season tickets in Boulder are sold out for the first time in nearly 30 years, pumping revenue into a program that desperately needs it to pay Sanders’ contract.

In turn, Deion Sanders has made his own bold move by completely flipping the roster, telling the previous players to hit the portal. Which 47 did after the spring game, leaving CU just 12 returning scholarship players. To me, this is a moral dilemma for a Colorado fan: on one hand, forcing so many players out of the program is just not the right way to treat student-athletes.

On the other, Colorado was truly awful last season, and a roster flip of this magnitude is ripping the band-aid off and opening the Buffs to an infusion of talent that would have never even taken a recruiting phone call from the 303 area code pre-Deion. Does this possibly cut a year or two off of Neon Deion’s rebuild? That’s the question.

Let’s be practical and acknowledge right up front that improved talent is only the first step in improving the fortunes of Colorado football. CU was awful last season, losing ten games by 20+ points and seven by 30+, and the schedule features nine Pac-12 opponents plus Nebraska and TCU off a national championship game berth. Better might just mean being a little more competitive in November; last year, CU was outscored 221-55 last November. Remember the whole “Nebraska is close” mindset in 2021? Colorado wasn’t even in the same time zone as their opponents in 2022.

That 2022 Colorado roster is no more; this is an all new roster with all new coaches. It will take time for this roster to gel. For that reason, it’s better for Nebraska to face Colorado at the start of September than in late November.

The new quarterback is Deion’s son, junior Shedeur Sanders (6’2” 215 lbs.) At Jackson State, Sanders completed 68% of his passes for 6,983 yards, 70 touchdowns and 14 interceptions over the previous two seasons. How do those 1-AA stats translate against Pac-12 competition? That’s the big question. If Sanders goes down to injury, the Buffs will have to turn to one of three freshmen.

At running back, the Buffs will be looking primarily at Houston transfer Alton McCaskill (6’1” 210 lbs.) or true freshman Dylan Edwards (5’9” 165 lbs.) McCaskill rushed for 961 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 2021 for the Cougars. Sophomores Anthony Hankerson (5’9” 190 lbs.) and Charlie Offerdahl (5’11” 185 lbs.) are the Buffs’ only returning experienced offensive skill players, rushing for 274 and 150 yards respectively last season as reserves.

With Jordyn Tyson transferring to Arizona State, the Buffs will also have a completely new receiver room. South Florida transfers Jimmy Horn (5’10” 175 lbs.) and Xavier Weaver (6’1” 180 lbs.) have 959 and 1,735 career yards respectively. The exciting option might be sophomore Travis Hunter (6’1” 165 lbs.) who could be a two-way player for CU after following Sanders from Jackson State; Hunter was widely regarded as the #1 recruit in the nation in 2022.

The offensive line does have a couple of returning starters in sophomore center Van Wells (6’2” 290 lbs.) and junior left tackle Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan (6’10” 315 lbs.) Junior Tyler Brown (6’3” 320 lbs.) was a third-team division 1-AA All-American at Jackson State as an offensive guard last season. Two Kent State transfers in guard Jack Bailey (6’3” 280 lbs.) and tackle Savion Washington (6’8” 320 lbs.) were part-time starters in the MAC and likely not long-term solutions for Colorado.

The new Buffaloes defense is even more inexperienced than the offense. Junior defensive end Derrick McClendon (6’4” 254 lbs.) started 12 games last season at Florida State with 37 tackles, five for a loss. Also transferring in were Fresno State part-time starter Leonard Payne (6’3” 310 lbs.) at defensive tackle and Dartmouth defensive end Shane Cokes (6’3” 275 lbs.). McClendon is an upgrade over what CU had last season, but I’m not sure you can say that about the other two transfers.

The new linebacker room should be led by Clemson transfer LaVonta Bentley (6’0” 235 lbs.) and Arkansas transfer Jordan Domineck (6’3” 250 lbs.) Bentley has 73 career tackles for Clemson over four seasons while Domineck had 137 career tackles with 16.5 career sacks. Also joining is Alabama transfer Demouy Kennedy (6’3” 220 lbs.), a top-15 recruit who had eight career tackles for the Tide.

Junior safety Trevor Woods (6’1” 200 lbs.) is the lone returning starter on defense; Woods was second with the Buffs last season with 79 tackles. Two-way player Travis Hunter (6’1” 165 lbs.) could play cornerback along with receiver. True freshman Cormani McClain (6’2” 165 lbs.) is a five-star prospect who’ll certainly get the chance to start immediately. Junior Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig (5’10” 175 lbs.) was part of the parade from Jackson State to Boulder; Silmon-Craig had 111 career tackles with JSU.

Will Colorado be better in 2023 than last year? Probably. Will the Buffs pull off a shocking upset in 2023? Frankly, I think there’s a chance of that. Will the Buffs be playing in December? That seems rather unlikely; there was too much change and there is probably too much newness on this roster to get acclimated with a tough schedule. But Sanders’ massive overhaul of the CU program is breaking new territory; it’s so crazy, it just might work. No other program has ever tried to do what Colorado is attempting, so there’s not a lot of precedent in saying whether it will - or won’t - work.


What happens when Deion’s new-look Buffaloes face off against the Huskers?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Colorado cashes in with a huge upset
    (275 votes)
  • 45%
    Sanders has the Buffs more competitive, but the Huskers still prevail
    (718 votes)
  • 37%
    Deion’s team is not ready for Prime Time in week two. The Big Red stampedes all over Colorado.
    (598 votes)
1591 votes total Vote Now