Pac-12 football: What to make of Colorado? Don’t overthink the Buffs, just enjoy them

CU was blown out by Oregon after three sizzling weeks to open the Deion Sanders era

This morning, our Google search for the terms ‘Colorado,’ ‘Sanders,’ and ‘fraud’ yielded a slew of results in exactly 0.26 seconds. Entering the term ‘overrated’ into the search bar took a whopping 0.39 seconds.

Anyone who witnessed Deion Sanders’ team’s 42-6 thrashing at Oregon on Saturday would conclude that they were unworthy of a top-25 ranking, a national television broadcast, or even an ounce of attention from the college football media machinery.

Sanders described it as a “good old-fashioned butt-kicking.”

So what, in response to criticism from outside Boulder’s borders?

So what if a better, faster, deeper team runs Colorado off the field?

So what if CU is no longer unbeaten, ranked in the AP poll, or deserving of a place in the country’s best conference?

That was always going to be too high for Sanders’ reclamation project in Year One.

Despite an unprecedented roster overhaul, the coaching staff’s expertise, quarterback Shedeur Sanders’ skills, and the attention generated by an American sports icon, the Buffaloes were never going to contend for the conference title.

This year’s conference is not for me. The Buffaloes simply aren’t good enough on the lines of scrimmage to deal with the onslaught of heavyweight opponents.

However, a non-conference schedule created years ago provided fuel for the hype train to leave the station.

The Buffs started the season with a win over TCU, the national runner-up in 2022, which drew a huge audience on Fox’s ‘Big Noon’ broadcast. Then there was Fox, a big name with a small game, in the home opener against Nebraska.

The hype would have been limited if the schedule had been more in line with the program’s pre-Sanders trajectory, which included an FCS opponent in Week 1, followed by a Group of Five opponent and an appearance or two on the Pac-12 Networks.

Instead, all eyes were on the Buffaloes from the start, and they remained transfixed as CU prepared for an ambush Saturday afternoon in Autzen Stadium.

The Buffaloes are neither frauds nor contenders. They are a vastly improved team that is one or two recruiting cycles away from having enough size, depth, and talent to compete for a conference title.

That’s perfectly fine. Their entertainment value is not diminished by the reality. It has no effect on their eventual ceiling. It doesn’t diminish Sanders’ ability as a coach. (The first and most obvious sign that Sanders should be taken seriously: He surrounded himself with top-tier personnel, particularly offensive coordinator Sean Lewis.)

So, how about we apply the most valuable natural resource in college football — nuance — to the first year of the Sanders era?

The Buffaloes were not as good as the early hype suggested, nor were they as bad as they appeared on Saturday. Can they beat USC this weekend? Perhaps. The Trojans struggled at Arizona State and have thus far feasted on inferior opponents.

But the Buffaloes aren’t prepared to handle a difficult schedule, at least not to the level required for a conference title run.

They appeared to have the roster of a four-win team before the first snap in Fort Worth, with the potential for five if every bounce and break fell into place.

They’re probably a level higher — a bowl berth is certainly within their grasp. (They need three wins in their final eight games, which include games against Stanford and ASU.)

However, sustained excellence over three months will take a year or two. That was true before the breathtaking start, it is true today after the Autzen thrashing, and it will be true next week, regardless of the outcome against USC.

That’s perfectly fine. Whether you collect receipts, wear sunglasses indoors, or enjoy “old-fashioned butt-kickings,” there is room in the audience for you.

Let us recognize the progress, the reality of CU’s roster, and, most importantly, the theatre.

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