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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

CU makes a bold pitch to play in Prime Time

By hiring Deion “Prime Time” Sanders last week, the University of Colorado Buffaloes made their biggest splash in college football since Chris Brown ran for six touchdowns in a rout of No. 1-ranked Nebraska in 2001.

I was at that game (I graduated the spring before), rushed the field and broke a rib when former starting center Andre Gurode bear hugged me. The intervening two decades have been far more painful for Buff fans.

Discounting the shortened 2020 season, the Buffs have managed only four winning seasons since. In contrast, we’ve lost double-digit games in five seasons. Freshmen on campus this year may not have been born when the Buffs last won a bowl game.

Things got so bad that this year’s student body stormed the field after they beat an unranked Cal — their only win of the season. That is both embarrassing and a sign of just how bad things have gotten at Folsom Field.

Sanders sauntered into Boulder with his trademark swagger and promptly addressed the team in a video that went viral. He promised big changes and challenges. He told those that do not like it to hit the transfer portal. He said he wanted to push players until they were ready to quit.

That is quite the introduction. It is also what the Buffs need.

CU has never been a prominent football school. Sure, we have one (split-) national title to our name and a Heisman Trophy winner. I have a picture of the Miracle in Michigan hanging in my house.

But Colorado has never committed to its football program the way perennial powerhouses have. They have not invested in the recruiting and programs the way schools like Texas and Ohio State and USC have. I was born into an Alabama family (both my father and grandfather were graduates) and can say there is nothing at CU remotely close to the training facility dedicated to the Crimson Tide.

Most importantly, the school has gotten it all wrong recruiting coaches.

After Bill McCartney built the program into a national power over more than a decade, a series of flops from Rick Neuheisel to Dan Hawkins led the foundation to crumble. Caretakers like Jon Embree and Karl Dorrell never even had a chance once the Buffs became synonymous with last place. As for Mel Tucker … well, my third favorite team is whoever is playing Michigan State.

That is where Sanders comes in. His bravado is contagious. He bulls ahead with more gusto than Ralphie rampaging out of the chute.

Even if Sanders’ claim that he is going to get all the best coaches rings a little too Trumpian for my tastes and his resume doesn’t necessarily matchup with the traits most likely to predict coaching success, this was an excellent hire.

Sanders will immediately change the dynamic at Folsom Field. Fans might actually show up to watch the football and not just feast at the tailgate. Players from across the country will take a look at playing under the Flatirons, whether through the transfer portal or recruited out of high school.

Even a few sought-after coaches have already committed and helped waylay my concerns. When Sanders’ “luggage” (i.e., the players who helped him achieve success at Jackson State, including last year’s No. 1 overall recruit) arrives, there will be a stadium full of people eager to watch him unpack.

Even if Sanders doesn’t attain immediate success on the gridiron, there is at least hope that progress will be made. It is not unreasonable to believe the Buffs might actually be preparing for a bowl at this time next year. That would only require six wins.

The University of Colorado finally had enough competing with late-night telethons and early morning cartoons for football fans. With Sanders’ hire, they made a bold pitch to play in Prime Time.

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