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Working in Prime Numbers: CU Roster Math

Once upon a time … say two weeks ago … Colorado had 78 players who were either on or committed to the roster for the 2023 season. This number did not include the seniors and other players who left the program after the 2022 season, but did include the 20 members of the CU Recruiting Class of 2023.

As a result, if all of the remaining players stayed with the program, the new CU coaching staff would only have seven scholarships to work with; only seven new faces to join the 78 who were already on board to be Buffs next fall.

Well, we knew that wasn’t going to remain the case, regardless of who was going to the be the next head coach. With the hiring of Deion Sanders to be CU’s next head coach, though, the roster has become as fluid and unpredictable as a spring runoff.

In meeting with the team the day his hiring was announced, Sanders was blunt in telling the Buff players that changes were coming. “I’m not gonna lie, everybody that’s sitting in front in the seats ain’t gonna have a seat when we get back,” Sanders told the team.

“It ain’t gonna be no more of the mess that these wonderful fans, the student body and some of your parents have put up with for probably two decades now. I’m coming, and when I get here, it’s gonna be change. So, I want you all to get ready to go ahead and jump in the (transfer) portal and do whatever you’re gonna get, because the more of you jump in, the room you make. We’re bringing kids that are smart, tough, fast, disciplined with character. That’s the ones we’re gonna get. Is that you?”

So … How many players will leave? How many new players will Coach Prime & Co. be able to sign?

Let’s figure this out …

Basic math / Important dates

There are really only two numbers in play here:

  • 25, as in the maximum number of recruits who can be a part of the CU Recruiting Class of 2023; and
  • 85, being the number of scholarship players who can be on the CU roster come August 1, 2023.

The CU Recruiting Class did have 20 members when Deion Sanders was hired, but most of those prospects were told to try and find a better fit elsewhere. Seven did the first day after Sanders was officially hired, with several more joining in the following days. As of this writing, half of the Class – ten recruits – have “decommitted”, and are looking for a new home.

On paper, that leaves room for the new coaching staff to add up to 15 players to the Recruiting Class.

They can, but will they?

The calendar may have a say in that.  Some important dates to keep in mind:

  • Contact period: Now thru Dec. 17th
  • Early Signing Day: Wednesday, December 21st (and yes, there will be the return of “The Ticker” here at CU at the Game that morning!);
  • Dead period: Dec. 19th thru Jan. 12th
  • Contact period: Jan. 13th-28th
  • Second Signing Day: Wednesday, February 1st

For us purists, the first Wednesday in February used to be one of the biggest days on the football calendar, but it has been relegated to secondary status with the move of the Early Signing Day to the third Wednesday in December.

What does this mean for CU and its new coach?

Well, Deion Sanders has committed to coaching Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl, with the Tigers taking on the North Carolina Central Eagles at 10:00 a.m., MT, on Saturday, December 17th. The game will be played in the Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta, and will be televised by ABC (Jackson State is a 16.5-point favorite, BTW).

CU can host official visitors this weekend and next, but may not have Coach Sanders (or many of his still-to-be-determined assistants) there to greet them (UPDATE: Coach Sanders is going to be in Boulder this weekend, meeting with official visitors, and hopefully obtaining some commitments). The Karl Dorrell coaching staff, with the exceptions of the recruiting staff and running backs coach Darian Hagan (new role TBD) have been let go. While Coach Sanders joked at his press conference that he could well handle two tasks at the same time – having played major league baseball and pro football at the same time – the situation is not optimal for persuading high school seniors to join the Black and Gold.

Long story short, CU may not get the flurry of four- and five-star high school recruits Buff fans are longing for come December 21st.

But all is certainly not lost on that front.

Two points to keep in mind. First, while Sanders may not be able to persuade as many high school stars to sign on in December as we may have liked, he may be able to persuade them to hold off on signing until February (I’ve seen at least one five-star receiver who has already indicated they won’t be signing their Letter of Intent until the February Signing Day). Second, while schools can sign up to 25 members per Recruiting Class, they are certainly not required to sign 25 new freshmen.

Which leads us to …

The Transfer Portal 

There may not have been a better time for Deion Sanders to be named as the head coach at Colorado. The NCAA doesn’t have control of the situation (insert your favorite NCAA joke here), and it is the wild west for transfers.

Transferring — and using the portal, which launched in the fall of 2018 — has become a staple of college football, even more so after the NCAA eliminated a rule in April 2021 that required transfers to sit out a year at their new university. The rule granted them a one-time waiver to transfer without penalty and with immediate eligibility, and it opened the floodgates of player movement: 1,695 FBS players entered the portal in the 2019-20 cycle, and that number increased to 3,085 in 2021-22.

We’ve seen the results on the field: In 2020, 10.7% of FBS starters were transfers. This past season, that number nearly doubled, to 20.9%, according to SportSource Analytics.

The only restrictions placed upon the Portal, instituted for the first time this year, are there are to be “windows”; the only times players can enter the Transfer Portal. The first window opened December 5th, and will close 45 days later, or January 18, 2023. There will also be a 15-day spring period from May 1-15, 2023. Players can still sign with their new teams at any point after entering the Portal, but new players can’t enter the Portal after the windows have closed (with the idea being for teams to have some measure of certainty as to what their fall rosters will look like after the May window closes).

While the national average for transfer starters may be around 20%, look for CU’s number to be closer to 50%. To date, seven Buffs have entered their name into the Transfer Portal – quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and Owen McCown; wide receiver Chase Penry; offensive lineman Noah Fenske; defensive lineman Carson Mott; linebacker Edgar Amaya, and safety Isaiah Lewis – but that number will at least double, and likely triple between now and the end of spring practices.

But what about four-year scholarships? 

The NCAA has allowed schools to offer four-year scholarships for over a decade, but it was only in the late 2010’s that they became more common in Power Five conferences. If Coach Sanders were to “run off” half of the team, wouldn’t that get pricey for the athletic department?

The short answer is “no”.

Under NCAA rules (Bylaw 15.5.1.7 “Aid After Departure of Head Coach” to be precise), when a head coach who recruited and provided a scholarship to a DI student-athlete is replaced, the new head coach has the right to not invite an athlete back to the team the following year.  The athlete may, however, be given the right to stay at the school on scholarship until the athlete graduates with their degree.

The benefit of this rule for the athlete is that they can continue to receive their scholarship while working to complete their degree.  The benefit to the new coach is that the athlete’s scholarship won’t count against the team limit in that sport so the coach can use that scholarship to recruit another athlete.

I do recall hearing (though I can’t find confirmation in print) that CU athletic director Rick George was quoted that he would honor all existing scholarships. This could be expensive for the athletic department, but the bet would be that many of these players will actually want to play, and will transfer elsewhere, rather than finish their studies at CU while giving up their sport.

A second possible answer may have come from Sanders himself.

“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Sanders told the team at their first meeting. “How should I say this? We’re gonna try to make you quit. Those of you we don’t run off, we’re gonna try to make you quit. That’s what the offseason is gonna look like. I want the ones that don’t want to quit, that want to be here, that want to work, that want to win, that want to be appreciative of every darn thing they’ve given you here. That’s what it’s gonna look like. Heck of a lot of work.

“I’ve got to get you to the breaking point so I know what I got. I don’t want to get in a game and then find out I’ve got Jane when all offseason I had Tarzan. I’ve got to figure that one out and I’m gonna get you there.”

There may be a handful of players who decide to stick around and use their scholarship to earn their degree, but that won’t count against the 85-man limit, and probably won’t prove to be a huge financial investment for the athletic department.

Bottom line … How many new players can Coach Sanders bring to Boulder for the 2023 season?

Short answer: Pretty much as many as he wants.

Even if you figure Coach Sanders will retain half of the Recruiting Class which had already committed, and half of the scholarship players who are returning, that still leaves him with over 40 rosters spots to fill.

Best guess: Figure about between a third and half of the 2023 team will be new. In addition to the members of the Recruiting Class which Sanders wants to keep, there will be about 10-12 new high school freshmen Sanders will recruit, and about 20-25 transfers.

The net result will be a whole new product on the field come September 2nd.

Which is what the Buff Nation is counting on …

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18 Replies to “Working in Prime Numbers: CU Roster Math”

  1. So they way if figure it as of this date.
    78 on scholarship including the 20 commits
    10 portal leaves
    10 decommits
    27 scholarships available

    so with the 10 remaining commits
    that will mean at least 37 new scholarship players

    wonder what the mix will end up to be shcolies vs portals

    Go Big Prime
    Go Pac get more Prime $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  2. I’ve heard from several credible sources (including Brian Howell), that the Ncaa have waived the 25 cap on initial counters for this (and I believe also) next year.
    So effectively only the 85 limit is in play.

  3. Interesting what he plans for the uniforms.
    Historic but dull

    Prime ain’t Nike.

    more interesting stuffg

    Buffs a go go

  4. Stuart – this is why I appreciate you and your site. Despite its details and research, this is a “big picture article” that gives us a sense of what might happen over the next few months. Buffstampede goes down the rabbit hole of specific recruits. Thanks Stuart. I’m curious if the athletic department can use Coach Prime few seasons here at CU and maximize him for the longer run and not just milking the moment. Fundraising, recruiting, good assistants, facilities, building fan base and season tickets – please let this be a more permanent return to buffalo football and not a Deion one-hit-wonder!!!

    1. I really like the DC and OC he has brought in. We likely have Sanders for at least 2 years while Shedeur is here (unless next year is stupid and he vaults to the NFL) . I think the OC could be a natural fit for the HC job if Sanders leaves. But I think CU has a lot more going for it and may just be able to keep Sanders out of all but the most prestigious programs. As Stuart says, become a fan of Florida State as that is his alma mater, but if Sanders can be successful here, which I think we all believe he can be, money is the only reason he might leave right? But I have to think Sanders may make CU more attractive tha;ever to the B1G if he is successful, the admi. Is now playing ball to get transfers in. NIL maybe? Have deep pocketed booster paying players as if they are NFL? I think we are going to have to see how Sanders recruiting and transfer class is. I wonder if it suffers to other programs who can pay stupid amounts of money in NIL but I also wonder of what those programs ar3 doing is sustainable? As Sanders said, let’s make sure these guys are comfortable, but not focus on NIL. If you can get your top 20 players 20-50k a year I think you can bring in and keep a lot of talent. I think that sort of NIl payment is within reach.

  5. Stuart, thank you for the research on how existing team members were treated. I agree for those kids that want to play and are not welcome they will enter the portal and try and find new homes. A few may take the offer to stay at CU and get their degree without playing but I suspect that will be less than 10….. for the money this AD is now pouring into this program that is a drop in the bucket annually. But I bet most will try and finish their play somewhere else….

  6. Scholarships are limited to 85, but what if a donor used NIL money to pay tuition for student who happens to play a sport? The roster would have 85 scholarship players, but 25 nil walk on. The roster could be 100 or more. Correct? So the 85 scholarships limit is not really a roster limit. You could have a NIL JV team as a developmental program for the 2-3 star guys or unclaimed lesser transfers to come and prove themselves.

    1. Loading the roster with walk-ons hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.
      I can certainly see a school like Alabama or Georgia featuring a “walk-on” kicker, who just happens to be an NIL darling, and saving themselves a scholarship.

  7. Someone has to be helping Prime investigate and offer new recruits and transfers…..I hope.
    Last year anyone who was worth anything in the portal got snatched up pretty quickly. Even with Prime on board his attraction still may not match the draw of top 25 schools. We may still be in the area of finding diamonds under the radar.
    I’m sure he has a list from recruiting to Jackson but that might be somewhat limited.

    1. Per Deion, he has an apartment in the portal. He got it while at jsu. It’s where he lives, and I would guess he has a house full of help meeting his “neighbors”.

      Go Buffs

  8. Good stuff Stuart,
    Can’t wait for this to unfold. Coach Prime and his staff are positioning the Buffs to make a great haul of talent. Young men around the country are excited for the chance to play for Sanders. His mastery of social media his star status will allow him to make the Buffs bigger, faster and stronger in short order.
    Best of all, he knows which of these young men have what it takes to be the “Big Dogs who gotta Eat!”
    In the national media, CU has gone from a passing bottom 10 joke to the most talked about program in the country. All due to Coach Prime and the brilliant move by Rick George to get him here.
    It’s the most exciting time to be Buff in a long, long time.

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