Is Deion Sanders’ Colorado tenure headed for Charlie Weis 2.0?

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Is Deion Sanders’ Colorado tenure headed for Charlie Weis 2.0?

I was pleased to see a few March Madness-college football combo questions came in even without my prompting. But first, let’s hold our first discussion in months about a coach who drives many of you mad.

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

Last offseason, these mailbags were filled with Coach Prime questions. Now it’s like he’s become a ghost (notwithstanding his comments about the NFL Draft this week). How do you view Year 2 of the Coach Prime era? Is his almost sole reliance on the transfer portal to build his roster a coach getting ahead of the curve in the new college football world or an impending disaster that we’ll look back as Charlie Weis 2.0? — Justin D.

I’m sure there will still be curiosity around Coach Prime come the season, but almost nothing he’s done since the middle of last season inspires much confidence.

Demoting offensive coordinator Sean Lewis was baffling, as though he was the reason the Buffs had a non-functional offensive line. The fact San Diego State hired him as head coach this offseason tells you how highly he’s regarded as a coach. Then, a guy whose biggest selling point was his ability to connect with young people signed just seven high school recruits, with it subsequently coming out that he took no off-campus visits. And the majority of his Year 1 staff has already turned over.



Wasserman: Deion Sanders’ poor recruiting results major issue for Colorado’s build

By no means am I ready to declare him to be Charlie Weis 2.0. Remember, last year’s team still improved from 1-11 to 4-8, but the way it played out — with the fast start and accompanying adulation, followed by a six-game losing streak to end the season — diminished the progress. With Shedeur Sanders, Travis Hunter and most of CU’s skill players back, the Buffs should field an explosive offense … if some of the six transfer offensive linemen they signed can significantly cut down on those 56 sacks allowed last season. If so, there’s no reason CU can’t get to six wins and become bowl-eligible.

Deion’s transfer-heavy formula is not sustainable. There has to be some foundation. This time next year, he may be faced with flipping the thing all over again.

But who knows whether he’ll still be there this time next year. It might be off to the next brand-building opportunity.

The SEC laid out its 2025 opponents and is sticking with an eight-game schedule rather than up it to nine games and giving fans more quality football. Besides holding out for more cash from ESPN, it seems like Greg Sankey is creating space for the possibility of a larger SEC come 2026. Introducing a new model for a league that may have new members looks clunky, like the Big Ten had to do after adding Oregon and Washington. Otherwise, why play fewer conference games? — Andrew W.

The thing to remember is that SEC schools have been stuck in a class quagmire over eight versus nine for what seems like a decade. Schools like Kentucky, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, etc., aren’t exactly keen on giving themselves an even tougher schedule when it’s hard enough as it is to get to six wins. Whereas, up until last spring, Georgia, Florida, LSU, etc., were ready and willing to go to nine. Complicating matters: Alabama’s Nick Saban, who for years had been leading the charge for nine, backed off when he realized it meant the Tide would be facing LSU, Auburn and Tennessee every year. No word yet on where Kalen DeBoer stands on the matter.

However, all indications are the change would have gone through in time for this season had ESPN been willing to pony up more money for games it already holds the rights to. It declined. And ESPN is in no different position today than it was then. Case in point, it will not add a penny to the $1.3 billion-a-year extension it just made with the College Football Playoff if the commissioners decide to expand from 12 teams to 14.

But just as you alluded to the clunkiness of recent Big Ten scheduling changes, it’s also cleaner to just repeat the same schedule in 2025 while swapping home-and-away opponents. As you’re presumably aware, SEC coaches and fan bases live in a constant state of paranoia over even the slightest hint of a scheduling conspiracy. You could see the freakout coming a mile away if — when they tacked on a ninth opponent for everyone — Tennessee picked up Texas while Alabama picked up Arkansas. Better to reset all at once.

Contrary to what many assume, I do not believe Sankey is actively looking to expand the SEC further. If anything, he may view the Big Ten’s 18-team, four-time zone monster as a cautionary tale. Not to mention any viable candidates would come from the ACC, whose legal fights with Florida State and Clemson may take years to play out. The 2026 schedule will have to be determined no later than the end of 2025, roughly 20 months from now. I doubt the parties will even be through discovery.

He wants to needlessly expand the NCAA Tournament much more than his own conference.

But he more than anyone wants them to go to nine games, so extending the current format by only one year allows them the flexibility to do so come 2026. And they better. A 16-team league in which each team plays barely half of the other members is silly. And with no divisions anymore, here’s guessing at least one conference championship game participant this year or next will emerge from some crazy five-way tiebreaker.

Even though Oakland’s Jack Gohlke didn’t get to the second weekend, that man is now a Detroit legend who played his way into a nice little nest egg before he graduates. Houston’s Ryan Elvin was quite literally the last guy on the bench, and his free throw not only helped Houston keep dancing but probably will get him some kind of deal. Which is exactly why NIL is so great, right? I wonder if there will be a CFB equivalent when the CFP is expanded? — Jesse K.

I would love for there to be a CFP version of Gohlke, the breakout star from the Cinderella story, but I fear there’s not going to be a football version of Oakland beating Kentucky. The gap between the P4 and the G5 is only going to grow wider as the P4 annually raids the G5 of its best players.

But let’s say Tulane’s upset of USC in the Cotton Bowl two seasons ago had been a Playoff game. I have no doubt Green Wave star Tyjae Spears would have blown up much bigger than he did. And because Tulane would have moved on to another round rather than its season ending that day, Spears would have the chance to cash in on his newfound attention in the 12 days or so leading up to the quarterfinals. He’s not getting a Dr Pepper ad because they shoot those months in advance. But a New Orleans car dealership paying him to do a Christmas sale promo? Absolutely.

I also don’t think it will need to be a Cinderella. With the CFP becoming a monthlong event, the star players from the teams that keep advancing could dramatically raise their profile heading into the next season. Imagine if NIL had been a thing when Hunter Renfrow was at Clemson and kept shredding Alabama in the CFP every year. I bet his face would have been everywhere heading into the following season.

The one thing we can’t account for yet, though, is where the CFP falls on the calendar. College basketball has March mostly to itself in the sports landscape. The CFP will be occurring partly over the holiday season and partly in direct conflict with the NFL playoffs. I know people are going to watch the games, but I’m skeptical the between-round momentum will carry over during the week. It could be drowned out by NFL talk. Whereas Caitlin Clark is going to be on your TV screen every day between now and whenever Iowa gets eliminated.

Why are you so in favor of a free market for players but so against a free market for teams and conferences? The courts have spoken on both accounts. — Patrick H.

I’m not against teams switching conferences. I don’t think Congress needs to step in and enact some nationwide ban on realignment. I just don’t see who benefited from this most recent round besides ESPN and Fox. College football did not benefit from the Pac-12 imploding or Stanford and Cal joining the ACC. Oregon and Washington may eventually be better off financially in the Big Ten, but in the meantime, they’ll be sending their non-revenue athletes to State College and Piscataway for games.

Whereas every college athlete in the country has benefited from their new free market. If you watched March Madness last weekend you saw Clark (State Farm), UNC’s Armando Bacot (TurboTax), Stanford’s Cameron Brink (New Balance) and USC’s JuJu Watkins (AT&T) in national commercials. Contrary to decades of NCAA fear-mongering, that type of exposure is helping, not hurting college sports. On a smaller-scale level, there are now apps where I can pay a local college softball star to train my daughter. Three years ago, that player would have been ineligible for lending her name to such an innocuous endeavor.

On the downside, obviously, the NIL/collective element is messy and unstainable. But to this point, I’ve seen no evidence that players making money has negatively affected interest in the sport. If anything, as I wrote last fall, the free-agency component has made college football more exciting. It’s helped break the monotony of the Alabama/Georgia/Clemson stranglehold of the sport from roughly 2015 through 2021. It helped TCU and Washington reach national title games.

I’m not a Pollyanna. Like with any free market, there are going to be losers. Right now, my prime concern is that the inevitable arrival of employment/revenue sharing is going to result in schools cutting hundreds of non-revenue teams, especially outside the P4.

But try to remember, if that day comes, it will be because the old way of doing things turned out to be illegal. It sure would have been nice if NCAA members proactively addressed the matter 20-30 years ago rather than baselessly arguing that Clark getting a State Farm endorsement would be the death of college athletics.

What are your thoughts on a program like Minnesota eliminating its spring game and instead holding a practice for NIL collective members only? — Karl T.

I had not heard about this until seeing Karl’s question, but sure enough, Minnesota is holding one public practice and one that’s open only to donors of Dinkytown Athletes, with P.J. Fleck saying, “We want to be able to urge and create more people being a part of Dinkytown Athletes as best we possibly can.”

I don’t think football programs are under any obligation to hold a traditional spring game. Most have been pared back anyway because coaches don’t want to risk injury and/or give away too much to opponents. If you’re Ohio State or Alabama and you can get 70,000 fans to come, you night as well, In Minnesota’s case specifically, Fleck mentioned that they’ve rarely gotten to hold one as planned, either because of snow or the pandemic, and I assume attendance would be modest regardless.

And in theory, it also makes sense for these collectives to give their members exclusive access of some kind. I’ve been to a lot of college practices, and there are always some big boosters roaming the sidelines. Now that perk is not reserved just for them.

But it also speaks to how patently absurd the whole collective thing is. Fleck, who makes $6 million a year but is not allowed to be directly involved in NIL, has to resort to essentially bribing his fans to donate money for “NIL” so he can field a competitive roster. This in addition to fans who already had to make donations for the rights to purchase season tickets, get decent parking, etc. There has to be a better way.

And there is. In line with NCAA president Charlie Baker’s proposal last December, NIL will go in-house at the schools soon enough. I’d imagine in most cases they’ll just bring the people running the collectives on board. They’ll still want your money, but they’ve always wanted your money. Just now it won’t all be going to construction costs.

The Big East has done something remarkable over the last 10 years. They’re a small conference (both in membership size and in money) with regional rivalries and national powers that can win national championships. When was the last time college football had something like this, and could we ever see it again? — Tim, New York

It’s probably forgotten now, but what’s crazy is that this version of the Big East was founded in 2013. The entity that Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Allen Iverson, etc., played in is the league that is now the AAC. It was the extremely rare moment in conference realignment history driven entirely by basketball.

But it helps that several of the programs at the time had recent national success, and, with the exception of recent addition UConn, were able to invest heavily in the sport without the benefit of football money. And the timing worked out perfectly with Fox, which needed an anchor conference for the launch of FS1 and at that time had no big broadcast hoops package. The two parties are widely expected to re-up next year.

It’s hard to find an exact analog in football because it hasn’t had an NCAA Tournament and the accompanying roadmap to prominence. It’s why the big brands have largely remained the same decade after decade. But the old Southwest Conference had a lot of similarities. It was always the tightest geographically (eight Texas schools plus Arkansas), heavy on small private schools (SMU, TCU, Baylor, Rice) but nationally competitive, highlighted by the 1969 “Game of the Century” between No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas.

If UConn, which looks absolutely terrifying, manages to repeat in a couple of weeks, or if Marquette or Creighton manage to cut down the nets, the Big East will be able to claim five of the last 10 men’s basketball national championships, a remarkable feat for a conference that gets nowhere near the national exposure as the ACC, Big Ten or Big 12. Good on those guys.

Stewart: In this hypothetical, let’s say a starting offensive tackle at Texas enters the transfer portal when the December window opens and he ends up at Texas A&M. He enrolls in January in College Station, goes through a couple of months of offseason work, goes through spring practice, and at the end, he re-enters the portal. He decides to go BACK to Texas. He comes back armed with insight on the Aggies’ personnel and playbook. Would it really be legal, or am I missing something? — Jon B.

You’re missing one thing that rules out this exact scenario. While a West Virginia judge’s preliminary injunction last December prohibits the NCAA from enforcing its previous transfer restrictions, the SEC has its own rule regarding intraconference transfers. Players needed to enter the portal by Feb. 1 to be immediately eligible next season. So, in this scenario, that rules out our guy transferring back to Texas.

A better example would be a guy leaving Austin in January to play for the Longhorns’ Week 2 opponent, Michigan, staying through spring ball, then transferring back to Texas. There’s currently no rule that would stop it. He would just need to finish out the semester at Michigan to remain academically eligible.

As crazy as that all sounds, I don’t believe it would make as big of a difference as you think. Because it already happens with coaches who leave a program and then face the former one the next season. They may know the personnel, but they still need their players to perform better than their old ones.

Now, I could see some advantage if, say, Notre Dame backup QB Steve Angeli transferred to the Irish’s Week 1 opponent, Texas A&M, learned new Aggies OC Collin Klein’s entire playbook and then came back to South Bend. But Marcus Freeman could probably get much of the same intel by putting on Kansas State film from last season.

But hey, maybe we’ll get a real-life example soon. Offensive tackle Kadyn Proctor, a freshman starter at Alabama last season, transferred to Iowa shortly after Saban’s retirement, but last week informed Iowa’s staff he was re-entering the portal, likely to return to Alabama. Unfortunately, the Tide aren’t scheduled to play the Hawkeyes. If they do meet, it would not be good for DeBoer that his first Alabama team wound up in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

(Photo: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)