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Lincoln Riley used a win-now strategy at USC, unlike Coach Prime at Colorado

It is true that both Lincoln Riley and Deion Sanders have used the transfer portal extensively. In that regard, they are the same, but in so many other ways, they are profoundly different.

As of April 27, the USC Trojans and Colorado Buffaloes have the top two transfer portal classes in the country, per 247Sports’ rankings. How they got there, however, creates sharp contrasts.

When Lincoln Riley took over at USC one year ago, he made no secret of his desire to turn over a lot of roster spots. However, most of the changes on the roster occurred before, not after, the spring game. Riley was able to bring players in and get a decent percentage of them acclimated to the program. He had a win-now mentality which was able to turn USC into an 11-win team in his first season.

For Coach Prime and Colorado, it’s different. As Buffaloes Wire has noted, over 20 CU players have transferred out of Boulder after the spring game. USC and Colorado both turned over their rosters on a large scale in the first seasons of their current head coaches — Riley in 2022 at USC, Deion Sanders in 2023 at Colorado — but the timing of the transformations has been different, and that matters for the development of the team.

At the 2022 USC spring game, several big roster pieces were not able to play, but a good percentage of players was still on hand, able to begin to work within the system and develop familiarity with the scheme.

At the 2023 Colorado spring game, a few future Buffs were on the field, but so many of the core performers in that game — players who got touches and accumulated notable statistics — have since transferred out of town. Deion Sanders is not thinking about winning in 2023. He is focused on the long-term arc of the program, which is fine. It’s not a bad thing, but we’re noting how different it is from Riley’s approach.

Point-blank: If Coach Prime wanted to win now, in 2023, he would have orchestrated this massive portal stampede a few months earlier, in January or February. As things currently stand, it will take a lot of time for the 2023 CU roster to learn how to communicate and function as a collective whole. Colorado might be really good in 2024 or 2025, but 2023 is being sacrificed in the process. That’s not a mistake or a failure on Deion’s part, but it is the reality of the situation in Boulder.

Catch up on Buffaloes Wire’s complete coverage of the portal and note the transfers who have flowed out of the program below:

(h/t Jack Carlough of Buffaloes Wire)

COLORADO PORTAL DEPARTURES: WR CHASE SOWELL

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders during the first half of the spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Sewell had just two catches during his time in Boulder.

LB SHAKAUN BOWSER

Jan 7, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; General view of video board football season ticket advertisement featuring Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders during the first half against the Oregon State Beavers at CU Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Bowser was a freshman but didn’t play in his lone season in Boulder.

IOL JACKSON ANDERSON

Sep 24, 2022; Boulder, Colorado, USA; General view outside of Folsom Field before the game between the UCLA Bruins against the Colorado Buffaloes. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Anderson spent two years in Boulder but saw no playing time.

WR TY ROBINSON

Oct 16, 2021; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes safety Mark Perry (5) celebrates his turnover with defensive lineman Jalen Sami (99) and linebacker Marvin Ham II (7) in the third quarter against the Arizona Wildcats at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Ty Robinson has a ton of upside but didn’t have much of a path to playing time in Boulder.

SAFETY JEREMY MACK

Nov 11, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Alex Fontenot (8) runs the ball against the Southern California Trojans during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Mack transferred from JC and now will hit the portal again.

WR MONTANA LEMONIOUS-CRAIG

Oct 15, 2022; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes running back Anthony Hankerson (22) celebrates a touchdown carry with wide receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig (1) and offensive lineman Van Wells (55) in the fourth quarter against the California Golden Bearsat Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Montana Lemonious-Craig had a massive Spring Game but then hit the portal and has drawn a ton of interest.

RB VICTOR VENN

Jan 9, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Deion Sanders in attendance before the CFP national championship game between the TCU Horned Frogs and Georgia Bulldogs at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Wenn was a big get and saw some work in the spring game, but he has now hit the portal.

SAFETY XAVIER SMITH

Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders talks about Southern and the upcoming SWAC Championship during a news conference at JSU in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.
Tcl Deion Sanders

Smith is another player headed out after he didn’t see the field.

DL AARON AUSTIN

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders hits the field before the start of the spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Austin played mostly as a special teams player.

WR GRANT PAGE

Oct 1, 2022; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Colorado Buffaloes tailback Deion Smith (20) runs against the Arizona Wildcats in the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Grant Page is another WR to hit the portal for Colorado.

SAFETY TYRIN TAYLOR

Dec 4, 2022; Boulder, CO, USA; General view of a place card for Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders (not pitcured) before the start of a press conference at the Arrow Touchdown Club. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Taylor had nine starts in two years with the Buffs.

CB JASON OLIVER

Nov 26, 2022; Boulder, Colorado, USA; General view of the stands of Folsom Field during the third quarter between the Utah Utes against the Colorado Buffaloes. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Oliver had 11 tackles last year.

WR JORDYN TYSON

Nov 5, 2022; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Jordyn Tyson (4) carries the ball for a touchdown past Oregon Ducks defensive back Steve Stephens IV (7) the second quarter at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Jordyn Tyson emerged last year but after the flurry of WRs coming to Boulder, he entered the portal.

ATH OAKIE SALAVE'A

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; General view outside of Folsom Field before the start of a Colorado Buffaloes spring football game. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The son of former Buffs great Okland Salave’a has entered the portal.

LB DEVIN GRANT

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Members of both the Colorado Buffaloes the line of scrimmage during the first half of a spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Grant had 15 tackles in 2022 after a strong ending to his 2021 campaign.

RB DEION SMITH

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes wide receiver Chernet Estes (81) pulls in a reception during the first half of the spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Deion Smith has a lot of talent but didn’t have a path to much playing time.

OT ALEX HARKEY

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes defensive lineman Mason Maddox (56) tackles running back Anthony Hankers (22) during the first half of a spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A pair of Kent State OL came to Colorado and Harkey left town.

LB AUBREY SMITH

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Jeremiah Brown (42) returns a blocked field goal during the first half of the spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Aubrey Smith earned his number from Coach Prime but has entered the portal.

DL JALEN SAMI

Nov 26, 2022; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes safety Jeremy Mack Jr. (3) and defensive lineman Jalen Sami (99) tackle Utah Utes running back Ja’Quinden Jackson (3) in the first quarter at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Sami is the latest Buff to enter the portal.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire