Before projecting on the future of Colorado's on-field realities, it's important to reflect on the mind-bending resuscitation that Deion Sanders has spearheaded there.
Sanders took a brand that essentially laid dormant for a decade and has orchestrated a stunning revival of relevancy, pushing the Buffaloes into the rare space of being relevant both in sports and pop culture. Colorado went from 1-11 to hosting Lil Wayne pregame.
Colorado is white hot, so much so that more people watched Colorado and Colorado State (9.3 million) -- two teams that went a combined 4-20 last year -- than watched iconic brands Alabama and Texas (8.8 million) the week before. What makes that more astounding is the Colorado game started after 10 p.m. ET, ended around last call and smashed ESPN's record for the most-watched late-night game of all time by more than 4 million viewers.
Three games in, Sanders has taken over the sport. And no matter how the next nine games unfold, he's already won for the 2023 season. Consider that Colorado last weekend hosted quarterback recruit Bryce Underwood, who is No. 1 overall in ESPN's 2025 rankings.
Sanders' presence in Boulder has the Buffs in contention with school like Michigan, Alabama and LSU for the type of recruit who wouldn't even have opened mail from previous Colorado staffs.
All that said, Colorado is due for a course correction in upcoming weeks, according to coaches who've played them, others who've broken them down and scouts who've studied them. The half-dozen coaches and scouts ESPN spoke to all predicted a lopsided loss this weekend when No. 19 Colorado plays at No. 9 Oregon.
"I think Oregon is going to boat race them," an opposing assistant coach said. "Oregon is different upfront. There's a lot of bark, not much bite to Colorado. When they run into the bigger dogs in the Pac-12, it's going to come to an end."
The oddsmakers are again skeptical, as Colorado is nearly a three-touchdown underdog at Oregon this weekend. (It was the same caliber underdog at TCU.)
Perhaps the best way to sum up the paradox of Colorado's roster compared to its results came from an NFL scout.
He said Colorado has just one draft-eligible player who is a surefire pick in the first three rounds in 2024: quarterback Shedeur Sanders. (Travis Hunter will be in 2025, but he's not draft-eligible.)
The next-best draft-eligible player after Sanders is linebacker Juwan Mitchell, who projects as a midround pick. The Buffaloes could have three or four other players drafted, but those two -- and it's not even certain Sanders will declare after this season -- are the only surefire picks for 2024.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Sanders' 3-0 start is that the sum of the roster has played better than its parts. Savvy hires at offensive coordinator (Sean Lewis) and defensive coordinator (Charles Kelly) have forged identities on both sides of the ball.
Every coach and scout raved about one of the most important reflections on coaching -- how hard a team plays. They said the Buffaloes consistently played like their helmets were on fire.
"It's a testament to what they are doing," a veteran scout said. "There's not a lot of great players. They're well-coached. I think that's one thing that gets missed. It's not just roll the ball out. Those guys get after it. It's old school. Deion learned from Bobby Bowden, those FSU practices were brutal. You watch (former Alabama assistant) Sal Sunseri and those guys, they are old-school coaches. It's neat. It's a mixture."
How good is Colorado? Where are the Buffs vulnerable as they head into back-to-back high-profile games against No. 10 Oregon and No. 5 USC?
Here's what film study and playing the Buffaloes revealed to coaches.