Star Power: Are Coach Prime’s Buffs “Markedly Better”?

As the 2023 season approaches, there is no consensus as to what will happen with the Coach Prime experiment at the University of Colorado. While the new look Buffs have their fans, there are still plenty of detractors:

— Despite CU being given an over/under win total projection of 3.5 by the Vegas insiders, CBS Sports this week labeled CU as one of the Pac-12’s “overrated teams“.

Jon Wilner at the San Jose Mercury News: “Can Sanders coach effectively at the Power Five level?”

ESPN’s prediction: Coach Prime’s first season at Colorado won’t be pretty – There has been plenty of hype and controversy surrounding Deion Sanders’ move from FCS program Jackson State to Colorado in the offseason. The Buffaloes are going to be one of the most compelling teams in the country, but they’re not going to be very good. Colorado went 1-11 last season, 1-8 in the Pac-12. Sanders and his staff tried to trade out beans and franks ingredients for beef Wellington overnight, but it won’t make much of a difference. It wouldn’t be surprising to see TCU hang half-a-hundred on the Buffaloes in the Sept. 2 opener.

CBS’ Dennis Dodd: Deion Sanders has big-timed us all. He only speaks to a few chosen media loyal to the cause. He’s all but told us he is reinventing the game at Colorado … Why do I have a sneaking suspicion Sonny Dykes is going to run it up against the preening Deion?

Okay … you get the idea.

But there was one quote that got me thinking. Stewart Mandel at the Athletic, in taking the “under” on CU’s 3.5 win projection, stated: “Maybe Deion Sanders will surprise us all, but his unprecedented roster purge does not breed confidence that this will be a markedly better team. The Buffs may have no depth.”


How can any college football pundit argue that CU won’t be a “markedly better team”? Anyone who witnessed the disaster which was the 2022 Colorado football team has to know that the 2023 team will be “markedly better” … it almost certainly cannot be worse.

Yes, the schedule is brutal, with CU facing three ranked teams in the first five games, with the other two games coming against the Buffs’ bitter rivals. The 2022 team would – at best – go 1-4 against this gauntlet, with at least of those losses being routs.

The 2023 roster has to be “markedly better”, right?

But can that argument be objectively demonstrated?

One way to try and compare apples-to-apples is to pit the projected CU starting lineup for the TCU game for the 2023 opener against CU’s starting lineup for the TCU game in the 2022 season opener.

Below are the two lineups, with their high school recruiting rankings and Power Five offers …

CU 2023 Projected Starting Lineup v. TCU – Offense 

  • QB – Shedeur Sanders – From Jackson State … Three stars … 10+ Power Five offers
  • RB – Alton McCaskill – From Houston … Three stars … 10+ Power Five offers
  • WR – Travis Hunter – From Jackson StateFive stars10+ Power Five offers
  • WR – Jimmy Horn, Jr. – From Central Florida … Three stars … Two Power Five offers
  • WR – Xavier Weaver – From Central Florida … Two stars … zero Power Five offers
  • TE – Michael Harrison – Colorado walk-on … not rated … zero Power Five offers
  • LT – Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan – From CU … Three stars … one Power Five offer
  • LG – Jack Bailey – From Kent State … Two stars … zero Power Five offers
  • C – Van Wells – From CU … Three stars … Two Power Five offers
  • RG – Landon Beebe – From Missouri State … not rated … zero Power Five offers
  • RT – Savion Washington – From Kent State … Two stars … zero Power Five offers

CU 2022 Starting Lineup v. TCU – Offense 

  • QB – Brendon Lewis … Three stars … 10+ Power Five offers
  • RB – Alex Fontenot … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • WR – Daniel Arias … Three stars … Four Power Five offers
  • WR – Montana Lemonious-Craig … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • WR – Maurice Bell – Three stars … Nine Power Five offers
  • TE – Brady Russell – not rated … zero Power Five offers
  • LT – Frank Fillip – Three stars … Four Power Five offers
  • LG – Casey Roddick – Three stars … Six Power Five offers
  • C – Austin Johnson – Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • RG – Tommy Brown – Four stars10+ Power Five offers
  • RT – Jake Wiley – Three stars … Three Power Five offers

Thoughts … This isn’t the ringing endorsement of the 2023 CU offense that I thought it would be. The 2023 team has star power at the skill positions, with Shedeur Sanders, Travis Hunter and Alton McCaskill all being recruits with 10+ Power Five offers out of high school (You can plug in four-star freshman Dylan Edwards for Alton McCaskill at running back, if you would like. Both had 10+ Power Five offers out of high school).

After taking note of CU’s new potential stars on offense, however, the CU offense this fall doesn’t have much fire power. Eight of the 11 projected starters had two or fewer Power Five offers out of the high school. Eight! Five of CU’s projected 2023 starters had no Power Five offers out of high school. True enough, many of the projected starters have developed into solid starters, but none of the imports are coming from Power Five conference programs.

Compare that to the 2022 starting roster for the CU offense – you know, the offense which was 126th in the nation in scoring offense last season, and 127th in total offense. The 2022 Buffs had two players who had 10+ Power Five offers out of high school, and had 10 of 11 starters who were rated as three stars or higher (with the only unrated player out of high school being tight end Brady Russell, who caught a touchdown pass for the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend).

On paper, anyway, those who are questioning whether CU’s offense is a significant upgrade over those who played last year … well, they have an argument.

Shedeur Sanders is a difference maker. Travis Hunter is a difference maker. The Buffs have playmakers at wide receiver and at running back.

But will this collection of what Buff fans trust are over-achievers be that much better than the pathetic unit that averaged only 15.4 points per game last season?

Time will tell …

So … What about the defenses?

CU 2023 Projected Starting Lineup v. TCU – Defense

  • DT – Shane Cokes – From Dartmouth … not rated … zero Power Five offers
  • DT – Bishop Thomas – From Florida StateFour stars … Eight Power Five offers
  • Edge – Jordan Dominek … From Arkansas … Three stars … Five Power Five offers
  • Edge – Taijh Alston … From West Virginia … Three stars … One Power Five offer
  • LB – Lavonta Bentley … From ClemsonFour stars … Eight Power Five offers
  • LB – Demouy Kennedy … From AlabamaFive stars10+ Power Five offers
  • Nickel/Safety – Jahquez Robinson … From AlabamaFour stars10+ Power Five offers
  • CB – Travis Hunter … From Jackson StateFive stars10+ Power Five offers
  • CB – Cormani McClain … High schoolFive stars10+ Power Five offers
  • S – Trevor Woods … From CU … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • S – Shilo Sanders … From Jackson State … Three stars … 10+ Power Five offers

CU 2022 Starting Lineup v. TCU – Defense

  • DT – Jalen Sami … Two stars … Two Power Five offers
  • DT – Na’im Rodman … Three stars … Four Power Five offers
  • DE – Terrance Lang … Three stars … 10+ Power Five offers
  • OLB – Jamar Montgomery … Three stars … One Power Five offer
  • ILB – Quinn Perry … Three stars … One Power Five offer
  • Nickel – Tyrin Taylor … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • OLB – Robert Barnes … Four stars10+ Power Five offers
  • CB – Nikko Reed … Two stars … One Power Five offer
  • CB – Kaylin Moore … Three stars … Four Power Five offers
  • S – Isaiah Lewis … Two stars … Two Power Five offers
  • S – Trevor Woods … Three stars … Three Power Five offers

Thoughts … Now this is more like it, although I have to admit that I thought I would be more concerned about the resumes of the new CU defense than what is showing above. The 2022 CU defense had some talent, but not nearly enough to compete at the Power Five level. The Buffs gave up 44.5 points/game, the worst scoring defense in the nation. Opposing offenses went for over 500 yards/game against this lineup … and that was with opposing teams playing scrubs for much of the second half in many of those games.

Over half of the players for CU”s projected 2023 defensive lineup were considered four- or five-star prospects out of high school. Over half of the starters had over 10 Power Five offers as recruits. Over half of the starters have experience playing at Power Five programs. The only unrated prospect in the lineup is Shane Cokes, the heralded Dartmouth defensive tackle who has emerged as one of the leaders of the team.

Sounds good.

Just as the lack of Power Five offers and the lack of Power Five experience may not work against the 2023 CU offense, the strong resumes of the projected starting defense doesn’t necessarily ensure success for the 2023 CU defense.

But it does give Buff fans reason to argue that the 2023 roster is “markedly better” than the 2022 edition.

Bonus …

Just for fun, I took a look at the 2022 Arizona roster. Why? The 2022 Wildcats went 5-7 last year, bouncing back from a 1-11 season in which the only win came against Cal.

Sound familiar?

Many Buff fans would take a 5-7 record in 2023 sight unseen, and feel that record would be a “markedly better” result than what the 2022 Buffs produced.

Below is the starting lineup Arizona put on the field against CU in the October 1, 2022, game in Tucson (a 43-20 Arizona win):

Arizona 2022 Starting Lineup v. CU – Offense 

  • WR – Dorian Singer … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • WR – Tetairoa McMillan … Five stars10+ Power Five offers
  • RB – Michael Wiley … Three stars … One Power Five offer
  • QB – Jayden de Laura … Four stars … Four Power Five offers
  • OL – Josh Donovan … Three stars … Two Power Five offers
  • OL – Jonah Savaiinaea … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • OL – Paiton Fears … Three stars … Four Power Five offers
  • OL – Josh Baker … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • OL – Jordan Morgan … Three stars … Three Power Five offers
  • TE – Tanner McLachlan … not rated … zero Power Five offers
  • TE – Keyan Burnett … Four stars … Nine Power Five offers

Arizona 2022 Starting Lineup v. CU – Defense

  • DL – Jalen Harris … Three stars … 10+ Power Five offers
  • DL – Kyon Barrs … not rated … One Power Five offer
  • DL – Paris Shand … Two stars … Five Power Five offers
  • LB – Kolbe Cage … Three stars … One Power Five offer
  • LB – Hunter Echols … Four stars … 10+ Power Five offers
  • LB – Jerry Roberts … Two stars … zero Power Five offers
  • DB – Christian Young … Three stars … Seven Power Five offers
  • DB – Gunner Maldonado … Three stars … Five Power Five offers
  • DB – Isaiah Taylor … Two stars … Five Power Five offers
  • DB – Treydan Stukes … not rated … zero Power Five offers
  • DB – Christian Roland-Wallace … not rated … zero Power Five offers

Thoughts … The 2022 Arizona lineup had some star power, but they were far from being world-beaters. CU is looking to put seven four- or five-star players out onto the field against TCU in the opener – Arizona had only one blue-chip prospect on the field against the Buffs last fall. Colorado will have eight players who had 10 or more Power Five offers coming out of high school – Arizona fielded three.

The Wildcats in 2022 had a miserable stretch in the middle of the season, giving up 45 points or more in four straight losses to Oregon, Washington, USC and Utah … before bouncing back with a 34-28 upset over No. 15 UCLA. Two seasons removed from losing 70-7 to rival Arizona State, the Wildcats took out the Sun Devils, 38-35, in the season finale.

Arizona was “markedly better” in 2022, going from a humiliating 1-11 to a respectable 5-7.

Colorado’s 2023 lineup is arguably more talented than the Arizona 2022 lineup, and is almost certainly better than the Colorado 2022 lineup.

How will the overhaul of the roster by Coach Prime and his coaching staff translate on the field?

The wait to find out is almost over …


17 Replies to “Star Power: Are Coach Prime’s Buffs “Markedly Better”?”

  1. Thanks for the great analysis. CU had high end talent, that is offset by less rated and 77/85 scholarships used. The strength of schedule is a big factor. Last year, the Buffs faced the toughest (Pff) or 3rd toughest (football outsiders) schedule based on pff/fo metrics. This year the schedule is also a factor. CU will need that tempo offense to click, and avoid injuries in some key positions (QB/T) to exceed expectations. See my notes:

  2. Great article Stuart. After my analysis I thought it would be clear? I pulled my analysis from the transfer ratings, I wonder if those changed on guys from when they were recruited…. That said we appear to have loaded up on pure athletes at defense and gotten a bunch of guys that have proven it at a lower level on offense. I think/hope it can work.

  3. I still think the non-conf schedule is huge when we’re talking about 3 wins vs 6+ wins. A lot of teams being referenced with lesser talent but more wins have a cupcake schedule. CU could have been bowl eligible for a lot of those seasons on the cusp, had they learned to schedule easier games like everyone else. This season is just plain brutal, yet again.

    1. I understand your point but the real reason we only have 2 bowl births since 07 instead of 6 or 7 is because of bad novembers and bad conference play. 5-7 is the curse of the buffs. 2008 we were 5-7, started the year 3-0, 3-1 in the non conference, not bad. 2-6 in conference including a fluke field goal from Nebraska. 2010 also 5-7. 3-1 non conference so also 2-6 in conference and a blown 28 point lead against Kansas and 2 bad home losses to Baylor and Texas tech. Easily should have been an 8-4 year. 2017 also 3-0 in non conference l, was 5-3 going into November l. 0-4 from there and a 5-7 finish. 2018, 3-0 non conference and a 5-0 start to the season. Another blown 28 point lead and a seven game losing skid. 5-7. 2019 a good 3-1 start but a loss to usc where we were up 10 with the ball going into the 4th quarter killed us, as well as a loss at home to a bad Arizona team. 5-7. In reality those close years it wasn’t the non conference schedules that have killed us, it was the inability to win in conference, especially in November.

  4. Stars do matter but you have to take it with a serious grain of salt. Dorian Singer, 1st team all Pac 12….3 stars (now at USC, probably always wanted to be there but was not offered out of HS), Sav’ell Smalls, 5 stars, but not a starter for Buffs. So the real quesion is….how good are the coaches at evaluating talent? That will be the real test/forecast for how this team will do this year.

  5. Comments were all good and addressed the coach and development aspect. ‘22 and prior teams had zero fire (mirror coach) and poor scheme (coaching) and nothing against previous assistants but this group is 5x better. Maybe just that equals 5x more wins. Add in new QB I’m taking the over….with healthy dose of caution.

  6. I’m late to the party as a couple of previous posts have already touched on what I wanted to say.
    Let me add there are a million kids playing high school football every year. Of course there is low hanging fruit for dweebs like Farrell use to justify their income. But they cant look at more than several thousand kids if that. I’m sure they concentrate mostly places like the bigger high schools across the country and especially the south. I think a lot more highly of Coaching offers than I do dweeb stars but coaches are also limited time wise to analyze talent while recruiting.
    Bottom line there are a lot of players who come in under the radar that turn out to be players in college.
    What gives me hope is what some of these players have accomplished after being snubbed or underrated. Brady Russell is the first one that comes to mind. Shane Cokes was completely ignored and the coaches seem to be in love with him Xavier Weaver is a kid who has thrown mud in the face of the recruiting services. Van Wells starting as a freshman. Dont know how many more of these kids will do the same once the games start but I will give coaching staff a lot more credit for IDing talent than the wannabe player, self appointed experts handing out the stars. I feel sure Prime will have them motivated as well …..and as others have stated ……Prime and the staff are going to be a large factor as well putting these kids into positions where they can aid their success.

  7. When looking at NFL rosters, they are filled with alot of players who may not necessarily have been highly rated, or rated at all out of high school. Player development is pretty unpredictable, and much can change in the college age years relatively. That being said, let’s hope CP & Co. have done their homework in terms of scouting and evaluation. Personally, I’d love nothing more than watching the Buffs shock the world.

  8. Thanks Stuart.

    The best part of the essay: “The wait to find out is almost over …”

    And WE can’t wait for that first game. I too am surprised but not that surprised, that the offense is not ranked as high and the major majority of blue chip players (out of HS) are on defense. That’s great for the defense, where major improvement is vastly needed. Remember how much 2016’s defense contributed to the “rise”.

    I think there are a few exceptions on offense though, players that came from lessor known HS programs, smaller schools and an 8 man team, so they were not ranked highly and under recruited.

    A few that have shown speed (track & field speed) and athleticism at a lower conference level: WR – Jimmy Horn, Jr. and WR – Xavier Weaver – both from Central Florida and both could excel at this level and more importantly the coaches think they can. Add in a couple of grad transfers with maturity and experience: LG – Jack Bailey & RT – Savion Washington, both from Kent State and both known by their coaches, so I’m excited to see the “overrated” yet “not ranked” players play.

    TE – Michael Harrison – Colorado walk-on, is a bit of an exception from the norm since the two scholarship players ahead of him are injured and expected back at some time. Yes, no?

    The QBs, both had 10+ offers, but one is experienced and proven, the other never developed; probably as much of the coaches fault a his inability. If the coaches had used B Lewis as a dual threat and ran him and let him play more to his abilities he could have been better but they let him transfer out before trying and they didn’t have much better behind him, so why not let him play freely? Him getting hurt was no worse than him transferring.

    And RB’s are two or three ranked or proven with 10+ offers too, so some great skill and production from them too. Can the line block and allow Sanders to operated at the same level he has for the last two years AND can he improve more too?

    Maybe this team is more like the 2016 Buffs and CP is Levitt times 100! With Lewis & Kelly being just as enthusiastic as Levitt too… Or more!

  9. Good stuff with an interesting perspective. The encouraging piece on the offense is although the line may not have “stars” as high school or transfer ratings, there’s a lot of games played. It’s rare that a highly rated man child can come in and dominate as a freshman lineman. I think with the size and experience these guys have, especially the two from Kent state, they will prove to be solid. They’ll have to be.

    It’ll help them to have a qb who can read the field and make quick, correct decisions and get the ball out on time and on target. To some dudes who can do things with it in their hands.

    When is saturday?

    Go Buffs

  10. I think the one thing you forgot to compare was the coaching staffs. By most accounts, there is a significant upgrade between last years coaching staff to this years. Schemes and in game adjustments must be accounted for. But until we see the product it will be hard to compare.

    1. I’m betting Stuart already has that planned, but this was really about the players ranking v. not being ranked. The coaches will blow last year’s staff out of the water with over all experience, titles and head coaching experience along with the number of players sent to the NFL.

      This will be the difference between a 5-7 win team and Prime’s team.

  11. The actual number of stars players had may not be the true metric for success. AZ had a top class QB so that has more impact than a four star weak safety, TE, etc. CU is the same situation. CU QB play was awful last year hence the defense was always playing from behind and on the field a lot. With better QB play it changes many aspects of the game. Also, a lower rated lineman out of HS can develop their bodies and become a dominant player in time. Less likely true from a skilled wideout, etc. who needed basic talent and speed to ever be good. So not surprised that the lineman CU now have weren’t highly rated, but grew into better players than their early rankings. Then there is type of offense and defense being played with those players. WSU got a lot better with Coach Leach’s system yet the players weren’t much better out of HS. So this team may be a sizable upgrade from last year’s, but it won’t show in HS rankings. That’s my hope anyway!!!! Go Buffs

    1. Very true and I think you hit on why some teams are “Cinderella teams”, the line men weren’t ranked but by their senior year, the team had multiple grown men on their line. Along with a seasoned QB and a coach like Leach comes in and puts it all together.

      And WSU becomes a 10 win team.

      Schedule be damned, CP & staff can build a 10 win team; they believe it will happen this year, outsiders say wait a year or two. I say prove them wrong Buffs!

  12. Great work and analysis, surpasses opinion and hype.
    Missing ingredient is coaching, can we get a well oiled and competitive O, despite the unproven P5 O-line…
    Good D would be great, like the DC and talent !

    Full disclosure: I am taking the over for season wins…the eternal curse of the Buff optimist ha ha

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