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Deion Sanders’s First Season At Colorado Ends With A Whimper

Deion Sanders jogs onto the field with the Colorado Buffaloes
Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Back in September, after Oregon thumped the Colorado Buffaloes 42-6 to hand them their first loss of the season, head coach Deion Sanders sent a warning to his team's future opponents: "This is the worst we’re gonna be. You better get me right now." Nearly everybody left on that schedule took those words to heart.

Losing by 36 points to the Ducks was not the nadir of Colorado's season; at least that happened against a ranked opponent. That wasn't the case on Nov. 17, when a mediocre Washington State squad wrecked the Buffs, 56-14. Nor in a 46-43 overtime loss to Stanford, in which Colorado blew a 29-0 lead. After a 3-0 start that took the sports world by storm, Colorado finished with a 4-8 record, losing their last six. Sanders told his haters and doubters to get him while he was down, and they did.

The pain mercifully ended with Saturday's comparatively dignified 23-17 loss to Utah, a game in which quarterback and brief Heisman hopeful Shedeur Sanders sat out due to multiple injuries, presumably accumulated from spending the whole season getting clobbered into the ground. For the second straight season, the Buffaloes finished last in the Pac-12. Bettors can safely rip up those futures tickets now.

In the broader view, Sanders has improved Colorado's fortunes. The 2022 Buffaloes had no hope or direction. Thanks to Sanders, they're now just a run-of-the-mill bad team that could improve through recruiting some capable linemen. But given the Buffs' early victories and the accompanying bravado, the 2023 team feels like a missed opportunity. Even though the schedule obviously increased in difficulty, a bowl appearance felt possible. Instead, they had one hot month and then flopped.

In the national conversation after those first few wins, there was a notion that Sanders had revealed an alternate path to success in college football. He was going to disrupt the game and reset expectations for what it meant to be a college football coach, a job typically filled by someone white and high-strung. He filled a lackluster program with transfers and convinced celebrities that Boulder, Colo. was a weekend destination. All of that is still pretty impressive, but not exactly groundbreaking—Sanders was using his name and extraordinary ability to build hype. By the end of the year, he sounded like almost every other coach in the sport: grousing about the recruiting game and promising to be better.

Right after that season-ending loss to the Utes, Sanders was getting fans pumped for next year. “We getting ready to start cookin'," he said, via USA Today. “We getting ready to start go pick up that grocery and make sure we do it right. You know what we need. Everybody know what we need. You know durn well what we need, so we gonna get it.”

Sanders's opening meal at Colorado nailed the appetizers. Everything after that was inedible. Maybe he'll figure it out next year.

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