To the shock and scorn of many, Sports Illustrated named Colorado football head coach Deion Sanders its “Sportsperson of the Year” last week.
Considering that the Buffs finished 4-8 and on a six-game losing streak, it seemed a bit much. Perhaps it was. Then again, as an example of the change that college athletics in general and college football in particular is going through — with NIL, the transfer portal, new mentalities, new fans and more — maybe Coach Prime is the perfect representative.
Regardless, being Sportsperson of the Year isn’t important.
Being Recruiter of the Next Month is.
To call the upcoming transfer portal — it officially opened Monday — and early signing period critical to Sanders’ future is an understatement. He needs to land a significant haul of talent to continue to upgrade the CU program, which capped nearly two decades of irrelevance by finishing 1-11 the year before he arrived.
Much was been made last week about four CU recruits decommitting from the program and two players hitting the transfer portal. But it looks more like an overreaction than an actual reason to panic for CU. As with everything good or bad with Coach Prime, the extremes can define the narrative.
Linebacker Marvin Ham II was a good player whom CU likely would've wanted to keep. Tight end Caleb Fauria didn’t catch a pass this season and had just three receptions in his three seasons with the team.
Transfers happen. As for the recruiting decommits, two were from the Class of 2025. The other two — a three-star QB and a three-star tight end — may or may not be great (decommits can often be pulled scholarships or shifting priorities), but again, these things occur at every school.
That doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t on Prime. It is. His high school recruiting class has just nine commitments ahead of the Dec. 20 early signing period. That’s a traditionally low number. Just three of them rank as four-stars.
Sanders is famous for late recruiting flips of star players — he landed five-star defensive backs Travis Hunter and Cormani McClain the past two years. While those can be great additions, the base of a recruiting class — and a program — is in landing multiple linemen and developmental guys. And at this point, there isn’t a ton of uncommitted talent out there.
Sanders has said repeatedly that he isn’t going to spend too much time recruiting high school players, of course. He notes that proven and more mature transfers are a better bet. To succeed, he’ll need to be very good at finding plug-and-play matches.
The portal fits Sanders’ recruiting style better than the high school ranks, of course. He has never acted like a traditional head coach — flying around the country to take in high school games, engaging in home visits with parents, etc. Maybe it’s health issues, maybe it’s a strategy to judge true interest and get recruits to see Boulder, but he prefers to make prospects come visit him, not the other way around. Plus, no one can question his charisma.
The portal, though, is about business. Players are seeking opportunities — playing time, coaching, culture, money. The things, such as proximity to parents, cool uniforms, conference affiliation, that can matter to a 17-year-old might not matter to a 21-year-old who understands the industry better.
Colorado offers plenty, including Big 12 membership next season, which, if the roster continues to improve, should result in more victories. There will be national television exposure. With quarterback Shedeur Sanders and Hunter, there will be stars. There will be Prime himself.
It will have to be enough. With so far to go and so few high school recruits coming in, it’s the portal or bust for Colorado. The Buffaloes need to be much better on both the offensive and defensive lines, which can be the most challenging place to find quality transfers.
Granted, to say a coach needs to recruit isn’t particularly profound. Every coach in the country needs to do that. Seven-time national champion Nick Saban will hit the road relentlessly next week. He is just one coach attempting to corral players while armed with a richer collective and a better situation than Colorado.
Sanders has always promised to overcome that. He ain’t hard to find, after all. And he has mostly succeeded.
The job isn’t close to done, and the result could go either way — boom or bust. This season was a step — in one direction or the other.
The Sportsperson of the Year has a big month in front of him.