College football in 2023 is a TV show, and it took just three weeks of Deion Sanders leading the Colorado Buffaloes for the networks to toss the old rules into the trash and trust in the allure of “Coach Prime” to carry an otherwise yawn-inducing Saturday slate. They may as well have given him the title of executive producer.
Looking at a bleak Week 3, Fox and ESPN each decided to host their morning pregame shows in Boulder. ESPN even broadcast “First Take” live from the Colorado campus Friday. Think about it: This wasn’t the USC game in two weeks. This was Colorado State!
The Buffs and Rams combined last season for four wins, and yet this college football dead zone was hosting Heisman Trophy winners Matt Leinart and Mark Ingram on Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” and the legendary pairing of Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso on ESPN’s “College Gameday,” where Corso chose Colorado for his 400th “headgear pick.”
On paper, it was one of the easiest picks Corso has ever had to make, the Buffs being a 23.5-point favorite and all. With the late kick time on the East Coast, the assumption was that Colorado would entertain viewers for maybe a half before most of the country turned in for the night.
But, as always, Sanders went out of his way to deliver far beyond our wildest dreams. The guy just gets the stage life. He had his 18th-ranked Buffs, fresh off impressive wins over Texas Christian and Nebraska, fall behind in-state rival Colorado State 21-14 at halftime. Prime’s decision to choreograph Rams wide receiver Louis Brown IV’s mocking version of the “Deion shuffle” after scoring that go-ahead touchdown was pure directing brilliance, too.
Most impressive was how, trailing 28-17 in the fourth quarter, Sanders trained the Colorado fans to look as shell-shocked as entitled blue-blood supporters do during the crowd shots.
Truly, though, Sanders must have been preparing his son, Shedeur, the team’s quarterback, for moments like the one the Buffaloes put him in Saturday night, taking over at his own 2-yard line with two minutes left, down by eight points.
Because Shedeur handled that predicament like he’d been doing it his whole life. He drove Colorado the length of the field seemingly without breaking a sweat, pulling to within 28-26 on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Horn. (Let’s not forget Prime made sure the cameras caught him giving Horn a pep talk and pulling him in for a hug earlier in the game after star two-way player Travis Hunter Jr. left the game due to a vicious hit).
Shedeur made another clutch throw to tight end Michael Harrison to send the game to overtime. Yes, Prime was so bold that he even challenged the conventional logic that today’s viewer has a short attention span. The game lasted nearly four and a half hours, ending in double overtime, with Colorado on top on the scoreboard 43-35 and surely in front of the Saturday TV ratings chart when they’re released this week.
Prime’s Colorado experience isn’t just the best story in college football — it’s the biggest story in sports. Period. And even if you can’t stand the guy, you’re sure as heck going to watch next week when the Buffs play at No. 13 Oregon and the next week when they host No. 5 USC.
At this point, the Sanders family has earned viewers’ devotion, especially Shedeur, who had his first Heisman moment Saturday night in saving his new school from a major embarrassment.
Shedeur is now a star, second only to USC’s Caleb Williams. After what he pulled off Saturday, he deserves the love.
“SHEDEUR YOU’RE A PROBLEM!!!!” LeBron James tweeted.
Shedeur revealed in his postgame interview on SportsCenter that, going into his 98-yard drive, he was thinking of going into “Brady mode.” He then revealed that he actually communicates with Tom Brady after every game and he was expecting a text from Brady later. Sure, why not?
Saturday made it official: You never know what you’re going to see or hear watching a Prime-coached Colorado football game. These Buffs take no shows off.
Next week, it’s going to be wild. Ohio State is playing at Notre Dame and Florida State has a date at Clemson, but neither game will hold the nation captive like Colorado’s trip to Oregon.
Prime was asked after the game what he learned from the Colorado State episode.
“Patience,” he said.
When it comes to the Buffs, America has no patience. Give us more, more, more.
Trouble at the top
While USC enjoyed its early bye week, the four teams in front of it in the Associated Press top 25 poll all showed vulnerability.
The day began with No. 3 Florida State narrowly escaping Boston College 31-29. The Eagles lost to Northern Illinois and beat Holy Cross by a field goal but nearly knocked off the Seminoles? Florida State will have to play much better to make it out of Death Valley without a loss next weekend.
In its first SEC game of the year, No. 1 Georgia trailed South Carolina 14-3 in Athens at halftime. The Bulldogs looked much more like the two-time defending national champions in the second half, storming back to a 24-14 win. But any struggle whatsoever from Georgia is welcome news to potential usurpers of the throne.
No. 2 Michigan turned the ball over three times in the first half at home against Bowling Green before winning 31-6. The Wolverines get Jim Harbaugh back from suspension next week, but they need to play much sharper to live up to their preseason billing.
Lastly, a week after knocking off Alabama, No. 4 Texas found itself tied 10-10 with Wyoming in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns’ emotional hangover was obvious, and they pulled away to win 31-10.
There doesn’t appear to be a dominant team in 2023, which means we are in for a treat of a regular season.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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