The ‘Coach Prime’ era officially kicked off on Saturday, as the Colorado Buffaloes played in their annual ‘Black & Gold’ game.

The exhibition was a roaring success, and only further fueled the thick cloud of optimism and excitement engulfing the city of Boulder.

Who were the day’s biggest stars and success stories, and who fell short of expectations? Let’s look.

Stock Up for the Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders (12) prepares to pass during the first half of the spring game at Folsom Field.

Apr 22, 2023; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders (12) prepares to pass during the first half of the spring game at Folsom Filed. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The entire first-team offense

Based on their performance in the ‘Black & Gold’ game, everyone on the Colorado Buffaloes’ first-team offense deserves praise.

In a moment, we’ll spotlight some individuals that stood out from the pack, but the entire unit played at an immaculate level for almost the entire contest.

They scored a touchdown on all but one of their possessions. The offensive line greatly outperformed expectations, creating stable pockets for Shedeur Sanders to safely operate from, and providing lanes for the run game to take advantage of. Running back Anthony Hankerson did an excellent job seizing said opportunities.

Travis Hunter didn’t have a massive statistical day, but looked like a gifted receiver, while Kaleb Mathis stepped up in place of Jimmy Horn Jr. (who was out with injury) and Montana Lemonious-Craig had a breakout performance.

With the hire of highly respected offensive mind Sean Lewis to be the offensive coordinator and all the additions Coach Prime has made to the offensive roster, some thought this could be the best passing attack the University of Colorado has ever fielded.

After today, that should be the expectation across the nation.

Montana Lemonious-Craig and Shedeur Sanders

Two big reasons why those expectations should be sky-high are that Shedeur Sanders is going to be in the discussion to be the best passer in school history and that the Colorado Buffaloes are extremely deep at wide receiver.

Both those points were underlined, highlighted, written in pen, and engraved in granite after Saturday’s showing.

Sanders proved to everyone that he’s one of the better passers in the FBS, with a consistently accurate delivery, feathery touch, and the ability to drive the ball downfield on vertical routes or to fit the ball into tight windows. He finished the day a hyper-efficient 16-for-19 for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

Those are video game numbers on rookie mode.

He also demonstrated a strong pocket presence and plus mobility, as he added a seven-yard touchdown scramble to his tally for the day.

And yet, despite Sanders posting a 218.4 passer rating, the star of the day was Montana Lemonious-Craig, a carryover from the Dorrell era.

Lemonious-Craig finished the day as the team leader in receptions, recording 169 yards on six receptions, including a 98-yard score. It seemed that every time he touched the ball, he turned in a highlight-worthy play.

The biggest play of the day from anyone was the aforementioned touchdown reception, which covered almost the entire length of the field, and showcased Lemonious-Craig’s impressive vertical speed and strength, as he stiff-armed safety Jordan Woolverton to the ground to finish the score.

Lemonious-Craig also proved toughness and his ability at the catch point by reeling in multiple contested catches to move the chains. On a 3rd-and-13, he ran a dig route and managed to hang on to Sanders’ pass through the heavy hit from the crashing safety. Earlier, he ‘Moss-ed’ an opposing cornerback to pick up 39 yards and give the Buffaloes a fresh set of downs.

Yet, despite all of that, come Week 1 Lemonious-Craig projects to be the team’s No. 4 receiver. There are plenty of stars in that room.

Dylan Edwards and Chernet Estes

The first-team offense deserves the lion’s share of the love, but Dylan Edwards and Chernet Estes deserve some credit for starring on the second-team squad.

Edwards’ running was incredibly fluid, and easily shot through any crease the offensive line opened. It felt like watching water spout through the cracks in a dam — finding any available space, and quickly gobbling it up as he propelled himself forward. His natural speed leaped off the field, as he seemed to be moving at a different tempo from everyone else, despite competing against the first-team defense for all of his reps.

Estes also shined against this stiffer challenge the first-team defense provided.

With Travis Hunter locking down the other end of the field, second-team quarterback Ryan Staub was forced to lean on Estes and was fairly successful. Estes shined his terrific movement skills and size and appears to be another talented contributor to the Colorado Buffaloes’ pass-catching group.

Coach Prime’s vision for the Colorado Buffaloes

It seems crazy now, given the early success he’s brought to Boulder, but Coach Prime wasn’t a highly coveted coaching candidate when he accepted the University of Colorado job.

The other top jobs passed Prime by, whereas Rick George and the Colorado Buffaloes embraced his unique vision of how to rebuild their program, and they’ve been rewarded handsomely for their gamble.

The football program has undergone a dramatic transformation, and as a result, was the only spring game to be featured on ESPN.

Folsom Field was a ghost town last spring, on a bluebell Colorado day, and then hosted more than 47,000 fans (as many as the last nine CU spring games combined) in inclimate weather.

Stars littered both the field and the sidelines of the game, as the on-roster talent was better than it had been in at least a half-decade and Coach Prime brought more general celebrities and notable alumni to the campus than there have been in a long time.

The atmosphere was electric.

At this point, if you can’t see the tremendously positive transformation that Prime has already brought to Boulder, you’re being willfully ignorant or intentionally contradictory. There simply is no other explanation.

Stock Down for the Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Jeremiah Brown (42) returns a blocked field goal during the first half of the spring game at Folsom Field.

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

The Colorado Buffaloes’ special teams

It’s hard to know how much stock to put into the special teams woes, as the sample size was so small and the problem seemed to be effort, but the unit’s performance today was ghastly.

Two kicks were blocked, with one being returned for a score and the other being returned inside the team’s 10-yard line. Plus, both kicks were deflected with ease, by defenders that shot up the middle with far too little resistance from the offensive line.

If the special teams perform anything like that in-season, they would be one of the worst special teams in the history of college football.

The Colorado Buffaloes’ defensive front and depth

As we discussed in the ‘stock up’ section, the first-team offense absolutely cruised in today’s matchup, and as a result, raised some questions about Colorado’s second-team defense.

Sure, we expected the offensive stars to put on a show, but for much of the contest, the second-team defense couldn’t even hold a candle to the first-team offense. They were ants attempting to stop a steamroller. It felt utterly hopeless.

Now, maybe the first-team offense is just that good, but Buffs Nation has to at least consider the possibility that maybe the defensive depth is just that bad.

Depth struggles would make sense, considering where the team was last year, and Prime’s clearly expressed desire to continue to overhaul the talent presently on the roster.

After today, what Colorado’s defense could look like after a couple of injuries has to be a major concern, as does the team’s ability to defend stout rushing attacks.

Every offensive unit had tremendous success on the ground, which is concerning given how mediocre the team’s line was projected to be. Now, the offensive line and backs played well, but the fact they so easily blew the defense off the ball had to raise the eyebrows of the fans.