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How has Deion Sanders Turned Colorado Around so Quickly?


Deion Sanders, or Coach Prime, accepted the head coaching job at Colorado this past offseason. The Buffaloes won just one game last season. Two games into the 2023 season, Colorado has already surpassed that total. So, how has Deion Sanders turned Colorado around so quickly?

Roster Turnover/Recruiting

Sanders joining Colorado created buzz instantly, both good and bad. He provided some relevance to a program that had fallen on hard times. Sanders was also criticized for telling players on the team during the 2022 season that they may not have a home in his new program.

While that received a ton of hate, it was necessary to turn the program around. In 2022, Colorado ranked 63rd in 247’s college football talent composite. That roster was one of the worst in the Power Five and would make winning much harder, albeit not impossible. In a sport where coaches are fired sometimes after one or two bad seasons before being given the chance to build a program, Sanders operated in a way that was in the best interest of Colorado moving forward. Telling players they may not have a space on the team also allowed them ample time to hit the transfer portal and was a little different from other coaches in the sport who try to hoard onto all of their players, even those who won’t play, while also adding more in recruiting and transfer portal.

Following the meeting where he told players on the 1-11 2022 team that they wouldn’t necessarily have spots, he hit the ground recruiting, both high school recruits and the transfer portal. He brought his sons, quarterback Shedeur and safety Shilo, both of whom had big Division I offers out of high school from Jackson State. Former top recruit in the 2022 recruiting class Travis Hunter also joined him from Jackson State. Plenty of transfers joined, which gave the Buffaloes the top transfer class.

On top of that Coach Prime was able to bring in the 29th-ranked recruiting class in the country. That is impressive noting that he only had a few months to put the class together after getting the job following the 2022 season.

Adding the transfer portal class and the recruiting class together has vastly improved Colorado’s roster. They rank 35th in the talent composite this season, which is an unreal jump of 28 spots in one offseason. Deion embracing the new world of college football with a blend of NIL, transfer portal and recruiting high school prospects has helped him way faster than the coaches who have hesitated to join the new world.


Deion and the players on the field receive a lot of the national credit, but it is also important to note that Colorado has a very talented staff as well.

They were able to lure Sean Lewis out of a head coaching job at Kent State to be the offensive coordinator. He helped the Golden Flashes average 33 points per game in 2021 and 28.4 points per game last season. Lewis had some success as a head coach, making two bowl games in five seasons after building things back up. He was more known for being an offensive coach though and that is why Colorado brought him in. Through two games with the Buffaloes, he has led them to average 40.5 points per game, which is a far cry from there 15.4 points per game in 2022.

For defensive coordinator, Colorado brought in Charles Kelly. Kelly was the associate defensive coordinator at Alabama the last few seasons. Before that, he spent time with Tennessee, Florida State and Georgia Tech coaching defense and special teams. In his career, he has been an assistant on the 2020 Alabama National Championship team and the 2013 Florida State National Championship Team. The Buffaloes are conceding 28 points per game this season, which is way less then the 44.5 in 2022.

To go along with the offensive and defensive coordinator, there are plenty of names on staff that will be familiar to football fans. Pat Shurmur, a former NFL head coach, is an offensive analyst. Sal Sunseri left Alabama to be the defensive line coach at Colorado. Tim Brewster is the tight ends coach and he has previous experience working with Kyle Pitts when they were both at Florida. Many of the coaches joined Coach Prime from Jackson State giving the staff some continuity as well.

Putting Coach Prime, a much more talented roster and a good staff together has already helped Colorado this season.

Putting His Best Team on the Field

In other programs, the best players don’t always play right away. Sometimes coaches lean on seniority. Other times they are hesitant to trust talented freshman or transfers in their system. For Coach Prime, he set the example that the best players will play.

This all started with naming his son, Shedeur, and Travis Hunter starters as soon as he walked in the door. While that might seem premature, Shedeur had great numbers at Jackson State and Hunter was the former top recruit in the country who had played both ways at Jackson State. Naming them as starters allowed others to battle for positions.

While the team has so many transfers with collegiate experience, it could be enticing to roll those players out and let freshmen develop behind them. Coach Prime made a statement early by making running back Dylan Edwards a big part of the offense in their first game against TCU. The true freshman was ranked 224 in the 2023 recruiting class, which is good, but players ranked there aren’t usually impact starters on Power Five teams right away.

Edwards is getting the most touches out of the backfield so far for the Buffaloes. That backfield includes Houston transfer Alton McCaskill (injured), Kentucky transfer Kavosiey Smoke, Jackson State transfer Sy’veon Wilkerson and Colorado returnee Anthony Hankerson. The move has worked out for Coach Prime, as he has 79 rushing yards, 143 receiving yards and four total touchdowns.

This is just one example of a larger theme across the board. Deion doesn’t care if a player is a high school recruit, a transfer portal guy or a returnee from Colorado. He’ll play the best player and that is leading to results.

The Scheme Fitting the Personnel

An important thing that the coaching staff is doing for Colorado is making sure the scheme puts their team in the best position for success.

Their offense has not played the greatest in the trenches. They have just 113 rushing yards on the season. It will take time for an offensive line to be recruited, developed and mesh together. There are a few ways they have been able to overcome the line not being of the highest quality. Colorado has played fast, which can tire out a defense. They also have been spreading things out, opening up the field and giving their athletes space to find room to run. Colorado usually lines up in 11 (one tight end and one running back with three receivers) or 10 personnel (one running back and four receivers) which is what spreads out the field.

Lewis is calling a lot of pass plays where Shedeur can get the ball out of his hands quickly. This doesn’t mean they don’t take shots downfield, but when they do, Shedeur makes sure to get rid of the ball quickly as well (although sometimes he escapes pressure in the pocket and finds open receivers too, which is really cool when it happens). It also helps that they have great athletes who can separate quickly with their speed.

This all fits into their talent. Shedeur is able to use his football intelligence and accuracy to distribute the football well. He can escape the pressure and keeps his eyes downfield when he does. Below is a Tweet with some of his highlights of the season. There are some highlights where he is able to create something, but so many throws he makes are within an instant of getting the ball or completing his drop.

Once their big-time receivers, Hunter, Jimmy Horn Jr. and Xavier Weaver, or even their running backs like Edwards, get the ball in their hands, they are able to create after the catch, so picking up maximum yardage through the air isn’t as important. Their speed and quickness can also help them stretch the field. All of this helps alleviate any stress that is being placed on the offensive line. Colorado may not be a good rushing team this year, but playing into their strengths of good quarterback play and their athletic wide receivers gives them the biggest advantage over defenses.

Defensively, their talent lies in their secondary. Hunter is a supremely talented cornerback who can shut down his matchup. Shilo Sanders leads the team with 15 total tackles, while Trevor Woods also ranks third in tackles as a safety with 12. They trust their coverage and try to limit big plays in a bend, but don’t break type of way.

Trusting their coverage is the right move, as they have the talent to make plays when the ball is thrown their way. They have just two sacks on the season and could send blitzers more often to generate pressure, but that would put more pressure on their coverage and would have them allowing big plays if offenses can find the open man. With such a high-scoring offense, keeping things in front of them is the right move. They’ll give up yards and some long drives, but sustaining long drives is hard for college offenses.


Deion and a few of the players get the headlines, but the early success of Colorado is much more than that. It is a great staff coaching players well and putting them in the best positions to succeed. The Buffaloes may not win every game this season, as their preseason over/under win total was 3.5, but they can be a competitive team as long as they keep this up.

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