Colorado dominated the college football headlines last offseason after NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders took over the program fresh off a successful run at Jackson State. Early on, it looked like the Buffaloes -- fresh off an unprecedented roster overhaul -- had a chance to meet the astronomical hype that proceeded them. A 3-0 start coupled with an ascent into the AP Top 25 after starting the season unranked made the Buffaloes the talk of the sport.
Alas, Sanders and the rest of the country came to the stark realization that the rebuild would be a much more involved process once Pac-12 play began. The early season momentum gave way to a 1-8 conference record, equal to the dismal output from 2022. The Buffaloes lost their final six games to finish 4-8. Lows included a blown 29-point lead in a home loss to Stanford and a 56-14 blowout loss at Washington State that eliminated Colorado from bowl eligibility.
The Buffs certainly showed flashes in the FBS debut for "Coach Prime." But they will have to make major strides in the offseason if they want to be competitive in their 2024 return to the Big 12.
So where does Sanders' regime start on that front? Here are key areas to address.
Crippling offensive line
There's no sugarcoating it. The offensive line play was atrocious for Colorado in Year 1 under Sanders. The unit allowed 56 sacks -- the most by any Power Five school in 2023 and the second most in the entire FBS. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders was sacked a whopping 52 times, which makes it all the more impressive that the coach's son managed to pass for 3,230 yards and 27 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
That level of protection, or lack thereof, is simply not sustainable if Colorado intends to build a winner. It culminated in Shedeur Utah. Not only is development needed in the trenches, but so is greater depth -- a problem that wasn't exactly unique to that position for the Buffaloes in 2023.at Washington State in Week 12, forcing him to come out of a contest after he was sacked for the fourth that night. The injury turned out to be season-ending for Shedeur after he missed the season finale against
Defense in disarray
While an abundance of skill talent often made up for Colorado's deficiencies on offense, the same couldn't be said about the defense. Save the efforts from two-way star Travis Hunter and defensive back Shilo Sanders (Deion's other son on the roster), Colorado struggled to stop just about anyone. The Buffaloes ended the season ranked No. 126 in total defense at the FBS level, surrendering 453.3 yards per game. The only Power Five schools with worse marks were Vanderbilt and the Stanford squad that Colorado collapsed against at home in October.
It would be nice if the Buffaloes could point to a standout position group to build around in the offseason, but the woes encompassed every level of the defense. Colorado ended the season ranked No. 107 against the run and a dreadful No. 124 against the pass among FBS teams, giving up 176.4 yards per game on the ground and 276.9 through the air. Struggles were apparent as early as Week 1, when Colorado needed a school-record passing performance from Sanders to overcome 541 total yards allowed in a 45-42 win at TCU. Life won't be any easier next year in in a Big 12 that -- even as it evolves -- still has a reputation as a league centered on offense.
The transfer portal may be seen as the great equalizer in the modern era of college football, but let Colorado's 2023 season serve as a cautionary tale. Purging a roster and replacing it overwhelmingly with portal talent -- no matter how impressive the transfer haul might be -- doesn't guarantee that a cellar-dweller will become an overnight contender. Of the more than 80 new faces Colorado welcomed ahead of the 2023 season, 51 were transfers. That includes headliners such as Hunter and Sanders' two sons, among others. Though the group provided plenty of fireworks, it ultimately finished with the same 1-8 league record as the 2022 roster it replaced.
While the Buffaloes will no doubt use the transfer portal again this offseason, the staff's ability to recruit at the high school level will be under an increased spotlight this time around. Already, the shine seems to be wearing off. The 21 high school recruits Colorado signed during the 2023 cycle ranked No. 21 nationally and No. 5 among Pac-12 schools, according to 247Sports. As the early signing period for the 2024 cycle approaches, Colorado has just nine verbal commits. The group ranks No. 64 overall and No. 13 among the 16 schools that will make up the Big 12 starting next fall.
The Buffaloes still have plenty of time to right the ship on the recruiting front, but things appear to be trending in the wrong direction right now. Several prospects across multiple classes have backed off their verbal pledges to Colorado in recent weeks. Notably, Sanders needs to identify a new offensive coordinator after Sean Lewis to lose a commitment from 2024 quarterback Danny O'Neil. The transfer portal has certainly changed the game when it comes to building a roster, but high school recruiting is still at the foundation of every successful program across the country., a departure that caused Colorado