Proof of Concept

Proof of Concept, in the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as: evidence, typically derived from an experiment or pilot project, which demonstrates that a design concept, business proposal, etc., is feasible.

Welcome to Colorado football, 2023.

Yes, even after the beatdown the Buffs took against Oregon, there is proof of concept that the Coach Prime experiment is going to work. In fact, the loss by such a wide margin only helps to underscore the point.

Bear with me here …

The 2023 regular season is a third complete, yet we are less than a month removed from the college football world being completely befuddled as to what the Coach Prime experiment would bring to the Colorado football program specifically, and to college football in general.

Suffice it to say, almost regardless of what happens the rest of the season, Coach Prime has been a success.

Memories are short, however. In the world of “what have you done for me lately?”, Coach Prime and the Buffs are being analyzed and scrutinized on a daily basis … and those who are anxious to see the Buffs fail.

“Colorado got handed a dose of reality” was a headline at CBS Sports.

“Cinderella’s story is over”, said ESPN.

Really? Whose reality are we judging here? How many Buff fans would have killed for a 3-1 record after playing two ranked teams on the road and two rivalry games to start the season?

And wasn’t it just a month ago that these same writers who are crowing about CU failing against a top ten team on the road were saying that the Buffs would fail against pretty much every team the Buffs faces?

Remember those “receipts” Coach Prime had been keeping? Just like Coach Prime himself, they ain’t hard to find. The preseason prognostications predicting failure in Boulder were omnipresent:

  • CBS’s Dennis Dodd … Even if Colorado wins two or three games in 2023, it would be considered an improvement from last season.  Pick: Under 3.5 … Colorado at TCU, Sept. 2: Why do I have a sneaking suspicion Sonny Dykes is going to run it up against the preening Deion?;
  • Lindy’s … Colorado 12th in the Pac-12, No. 81 nationally … Good news: Hire of Deion Sanders brings excitement and a few high-profile recruiting wins … Bad news: As players come and go, CU sorely lacks depth … Our call: Don’t expect contention this year, but you’ll be watching;
  • ESPN’s Bill Connelly … The volume of Colorado’s player movement has made the Buffaloes this year’s “unprojectables.” SP+ currently projects them 103rd. It should be noted that this would be pretty significant improvement over 2022, when they went a dismal 1-11, with a No. 124 ranking;
  • USA Today … Colorado 12th in the Pac-12 … With this much upheaval on a team that won one game last year, it’s hard to sort out where this year’s victories come from.

There was more, of course. Much more. The Athletic had CU as the No. 84 team in the nation (11th the Pac-12) … CBS Sports had CU as the No. 85 team in the country (11th in the Pac-12) … The Pac-12 media had CU as the No. 11 team in the conference, with only Travis Hunter making the first (or second) All Pac-12 teams.

Before the first games were played, Vegas had the over/under on CU’s wins at 3.5. The Buffs were considered to be 20.5-point underdogs against No. 17 TCU in the opener; and were listed as 8.0-point underdogs for their home opener against Nebraska.

Fast forward three weeks … The Buffs had won their opener on the road (CU’s first win on the road against a Top 20 opponent since 2002), and had taken down their two biggest rivals, Nebraska and Colorado State.

And now the Buffs are a disappointment, a failure, for having lost to a top ten team on the road?

Sorry, haters, but Colorado and Coach Prime are already huge winners.

At Colorado

The numbers are mind-numbing.

The sold out Spring Game … Colorado selling out every home game for the first time in school history … The social media explosion … Merchandise sales somewhere between 500% and 700% of normal …

CU this past week put out a report on the equivalent ad value of the earned media coverage since the season started – what with CU hosting Big Noon Saturday (twice), ESPN GameDay, 60 Minutes, the Today Show, Good Morning America … not to mention all of the wall-to-wall coverage on all of sports networks and websites – and estimated it at $90.55 million.

In the first month of the season.

Plus … It’s all anecdotal at this point, but no one would be surprised if there is a surge in applications at Colorado next spring. If the football team is really the front porch of the university … for the first time in a long time, the CU front porch is looking good.

Coaching Staff 

There has already been a great deal of speculation about whether Coach Prime will leave for a “real” school after the 2023 season. Even before the Oregon game, that was highly unlikely. Deion Sanders has told anyone who would listen that he isn’t interested in the NFL.  “I have a problem with men getting their checks and not doing their jobs”, coach Prime has said about the prospect of coaching in the NFL. “I would be too tough as a coach in the NFL because I still have those old-school attributes.”

It’s also highly unlikely that Coach Prime would leave Travis Hunter, who signed with him at Jackson State and followed him to Colorado. As a true sophomore, Hunter has one more year of college football before he can declare for the NFL draft. Coach Prime has treated Hunter like a fourth son, so it would be a huge surprise if Sanders – whether or not Shedeur declares for the 2024 NFL Draft – leaves before the end of his second season in Boulder.


Think the loss to Oregon will kill recruiting?

Think again.

If anything, the pitch to recruits will be even easier. Coach Prime has been riding high with the recruits and transfers he brought in this past off-season, but even Sanders has acknowledged that they are “six or seven dawgs” away from being able to compete for championships.

Colorado has put together some pieces, but there are clear deficiencies along both lines at a linebacker.

The problem – if you can call it a problem – for the blue bloods like Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan is not being able to recruit every top high school recruit and transfer. Their problem is convincing them that they will be able to come in and compete for playing time their first year.

Coach Prime can tell these quality high school prospects, and, even more significantly, transfers looking for a path to the NFL, that he has a slot for them to come in and compete right away. Deion Sanders has put together a quality coaching staff, and will continue to be able to do so even if some of the current coaches leave for a promotion (did you see this past week that Hall-of-Famer defensive lineman Warren Sapp is planning on joining the staff next fall?).

Sanders has said that CU’s phone has been “ringing off the hook” with recruits wanting to check out Colorado. (Side note: Sad that these same recruits are not old enough to understand the idiom).

The Buffs will also be on top of the list of almost every quality player entering the Transfer Portal this December.

Think about it.

Coach Prime was able to get a significant number of quality players to transfer … to a Colorado team which went 1-11 last year, and looked very bad in doing so. As Coach Barnett used to say, getting the current players to move to Boulder was “belief without evidence”.

Now there is evidence that Coach Prime and his staff can piece together a program which can win games.

Is the 2023 team a complete team which can compete for championships? Clearly not.

Can Coach Prime take what he has already accomplished, and build upon it?

Despite the results of the Oregon game, the answer remains “yes”.

“One thing that I can say, honestly and candidly, you better get me right now,” Coach Prime said after suffering his first loss at CU. “This is the worst we’re gonna be. You better get me right now.”

The proof of concept has already been demonstrated.


A little bonus for you, as you spend the next week hearing and reading about how CU is a fraud, and isn’t a good team …

From Stewart Mandel’s “Mailbag” at The Athletic this week …

I’ve been a fan of Sanders since his Florida State/Falcons/Braves days, but aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves? Listening to the Until Saturday podcast, you would have thought the Buffs had won the greatest game ever played Saturday. What actually happened was Coach Prime’s team nearly lost to a multiple-touchdown underdog. — James C.

Mandel’s response … It’s remarkable to me how much the goal posts keep moving on Sanders.

If you recall, prior to the season, the consensus opinion was that CU would start 1-4. The Buffs’ Vegas win total for the season was 3.5, lower than all but three Power 5 teams. And they were three-touchdown underdogs in their season opener against a TCU team coming off a national championship game appearance. Three wins later, they haven’t played anyone good, they should have beaten Colorado State by more, and if they get blown out by Oregon, it will expose them as a fraud.

No rational person is suggesting Colorado is going to win the national title. The Buffs are going to lose at some point, probably several times. But as far as I’m concerned, anything that happens from here is gravy. CU has tripled its win total from last season and at the very least, will reach a bowl game for just the third time in 17 years. Not to mention it has sold out every home game for the first time in program history.

My advice: Just enjoy the ride. Save the nitpicking for Georgia, Alabama and any number of other teams that entered the season with high expectations. Before the season, I would have considered it a successful Year 1 for Deion Sanders if his team went 4-8 and pulled off an upset here or there. Obviously, he has reset the bar far beyond that.

Good advice … Just enjoy the ride …


10 Replies to “Proof of Concept”

  1. Great perspective Stuart. This season is foundation building, which is a huge success. In addition to the recruiting that will take place Prime is in a perfect position with the Buffs moving to the Big 12 next year. We will have a much easier conference schedule and there will be recruits and transfers lining up to sign for next year. It will be fun to have a chance to dominate a conference without a top dog while Oregon moves on to be fodder for USC, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Guarantee Prime will win a conference championship and be in the playoffs and Lenning will be out of a job.

  2. Hope you are right about the recruiting Stuart. The portal alone isnt going to do it and neither is the over abundance of skill players.
    I fear for the rest of the season if they cant find a way to make some holes for the RBs. They may have to go to a full T formation with 2 or 3 blocking backs and hope 2 receivers can get open. Not likely but I dont know what they are going to do about the I line. After the thousandth time take a few hints from the AF……………who are still the best team in Colorado including the Broncos.
    Vance is going to have to give up the dream and get a fast food franchise or a beer distributorship.
    Off topic but the OSU WSU game was a good one. I’m beginning to wonder why the Big whatever didnt take all 4 NW schools. (I dont know how many they already have with the first 2)

  3. I feel, and have felt, that Coach Prime was a transformational hire and believe that he will transform the program. He already has. But now the tough work begins. I have doubts, looking at the line coaches and the majority of the linemen on the roster, that the Buffs will have the dramatic gains they need in the trenches. If not, then I’m confident, because of Coach Prime’s commitment to win, that those areas will be fixed. I’m enjoying the ride but could care less about Lil Wayne, the Rock, Rolex watches. Here is to hoping that the USC game will not be a worse beatdown. I still feel that getting to a bowl would be a remarkable and realistic accomplishment for this first season. Go Buffs!!!

  4. Nice article Stuart, and spot on. I can certainly understand all the jealousy of the media coverage CU is getting, but it’s a bad look for most of the opposing coaches to allow it it bother them.

  5. We have already got a Top 20 road win, been ranked for 3 weeks, beaten both traditional rivals including blowing out the ‘holers. By any reasonable pre-season expectations, the first third of the season is an unmitigated success. The most since 2016.

    Prime got a taste of how the entire Buff nation has felt during the entirety of the PAC 12 debacle (at least football-wise). I have to believe he will internalize this and continue this turnaround.

    BTW, Lanning is a complete a$$hole who can go bleep himself.

    1. got that right about Lanning. Cant wait for him to lose. My other least favorite team that wears green got manhandled nicely….that being Baylor of course

    2. It’s true. He acted as if “How dare an undefeated team be so confident. How dare the most watched college football team of any season be on TV, how dare a black coach who was never a grad assistant be bold. We have to put this team in its place”…you mean 3-1. I’ll take that

  6. I agree. Even though yesterday was painful, you could still see the progress. The score could have been much worse. The Buffs kept fighting and playing hard throughout. The effort continued to the end. You know Oregon wanted more in the second half. The only reason they didn’t get it was due to effort.

    It was good to see McCaskill get a few carry’s. Maybe we see more of him next week. We definitely saw our line exposed. I don’t think there is a quick fix, but hopefully the coaching staff can find some answers, particularly for the O-line. If they can, then we can still compete against USC this weekend. If not, it will be a tough game again. I have trust that they will find some answers. I believe Coach Prime when he says that will be the worst they look this season.

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