After five straight games against ranked competition, Arizona finally gets something different: a team that used to be ranked before falling on hard times.
Colorado (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) has lost five of six since a surprising 3-0 start, one that included a season-opening upset win at TCU that propelled the Buffaloes into the AP Top 25 and turned all eyes on the program and first-year coach Deion Sanders. At one point the surprise of college football, the Buffs now must win two of three in order to qualify for a bowl game.
To better understand the “Coach Prime” version of Colorado, we reached out to Jack Barsch of SB Nation sister site Ralphie Report. Here are his festive answers to our gloomy questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: “Colorado was the unofficial offseason national champion with its hire of Deion Sanders and the massive roster turnover he and his staff did, and then the Buffaloes started 3-0 and got ranked. Since then it’s been a 1-5 run in Pac-12 play, with only a win over ASU. Which version of CU is the real one, and what changed?”
Jack Barsch: “Well, the answer is of course that they’re both the same CU, but a lot has changed. The season started off incredibly fun for CU fans and CU has already surpassed the Vegas win projection for this year. However, tougher opponents and a broken offense has led to a frustrating string of winnable games that slip away. The one-dimensionality of the offense combined with an offensive line that would be better served laying down at times means that teams can key on Shedeur Sanders and Shedeur Sanders alone. While the defense has shown improvement in recent weeks, it’s not enough to keep the team in games as the offense sputters. They are trying whatever they can to get this offensive line working again.”
Shedeur Sanders is second only to Michael Penix Jr. nationally in passing yards with over 320 per game, and he’s thrown 24 TD passes against just three interceptions on 385 attempts. Did you expect him to be this prolific, and how much credit goes to his receivers?
“No, we did not expect him to be this prolific. I think CU fans thought he was underrated nationally, but we did not expect this level of pro-ready quarterbacking. The receivers have been good and Xavier Weaver is a fan-favorite, but Sanders has been an absolute warrior and delivered production in the face of some pretty ugly hits and constant harassment. He is a Houdini in the pocket at times and makes the right read so often that it shocks me.”
On the flip side, Colorado’s run game is second-worst in the country and it has allowed the second-most sacks in FBS. Is the offensive line really that bad, and how is that possible?
“Yes, it really is that bad, and if you can answer the second question, I’ll get you in contact with Coach Prime. The offensive line on its face has some good players and other transfer-heavy lines have no had this issue, so I have no idea why it is uniquely challenging for CU to run the ball. It may be Sean Lewis’s system, it may be a combo of the system and the other coaches, but yes, it really is that bad.
Who are the defensive players Arizona should be most concerned with?
“Well, I’m assuming Travis Hunter is a known quantity at this point, but he really is fun to watch. Past him, Shiloh Sanders is a safety that lays down some big hits and is solid in run support. Jordan Domineck at rush end is CU’s most consistent edge threat, so watch for #44. If Juwan Mitchell, formerly of Arizona State, can figure out his off-the-field issues, he is also a force at linebacker.”
The Coach Prime era at Colorado has brought the program a ton of attention, but do you think this is best for the long term? Will it carry as much weight with the Buffs moving to the Big 12 next season?
“I think this question has been asked a lot and I have no idea how to answer it other than, ‘absolutely.’ Sure, more people may hate CU now due to the massive attention the Buffs have received, but apathy is the true enemy to a college football program and that’s exactly where CU was. Deion Sanders coming to Boulder will have lasting impacts that, regardless of anything else, will make it easier to compete long-term. CU now has two NIL collectives, as opposed to zero before, it has relaxed its transfer policy, it has a lot more money in the bank and it has plenty of talent compared to last year’s team. Karl Dorrell’s 1-11 team is maybe the worst college football team I had the pleasure of seeing live, and no matter what, CU is pretty far from that era.
“I would argue that the move to the Big 12 allows for MORE of an impact on the zeitgeist. CU is getting closer to Coach Prime’s two homes in Texas and Florida, and without the hard ceiling of Oregon, Washington and USC (thanks, Big Ten nerds), there is room for a team like CU to grab some headlines in 2024. The league isn’t easy by any means, but it feels more up for grabs and we’ve all seen how ESPN and Fox want to carry water for Coach Prime. It should be fun!”
Prediction time. Can Arizona avenge that ugly 34-0 loss in Boulder from two years ago and stay hot, or will Colorado conjure up some of that early season mojo and knock off a ranked Wildcats squad? Give us a score pick.
“I think Arizona wins this 34-20, but it all depends if CU can somehow fix this offensive line. It really is the main thing holding this team back, but Arizona has shown that Noah Fifta will score points on ANYONE. I’m loving what Arizona is building in the desert and they seem to have more figured out right now.”