In the span of time that Colorado Buffaloes fans have waited for new head coach Deion Sanders’ debut, they’ve seen not only an unprecedented overhaul of the roster — 87 new players, including 58 incoming transfers — but the destruction of the PAC-12 conference itself, following the Buffs’ not-so-surprising departure to the Big 12 after its current conference couldn’t land new a broadcast deal.

   While enthusiasm remains high, reality has finally set in as the Buffs’ final season in the PAC-12 looks to be a challenging one; Vegas bookmakers have the program’s over/under at 3.5 games, meaning that a six-win season and a bowl appearance would be a wildly unexpected result of Sanders’ first season at the helm.

   Earlier this week, Sanders all but said the same. “We want to win. We expect to win — and we will,” he said at the program’s heavily attended kickoff luncheon in Boulder. “In due time.”

   The Buffs’ influx of top-end talent may have the program nibbling at the fringes of the Top 25… in 2024. For now, it’s about increasing the program’s visibility (check), building excitement (check), selling season tickets (check), and winning football games (TBD).

   The 2023 season kicks off in Fort Worth, Texas, where Colorado’s ‘Prime’ era begins. Sanders’ Buffaloes will face the TCU Horned Frogs, a team that beat them last season en route to an ill-fated berth in the national championship game. The Horned Frogs, behind head coach Sonny Dykes, look to prove that last team’s success wasn’t a fluke; that TCU has arrived a regular player on the championship scene. Behind Sanders, Colorado — their soon-to-be conference rival — looks to reclaim the relevance and cultural cachet that was theirs generations ago.

   Sanders wasn’t with the Buffaloes when they lost to TCU in Boulder last fall, but he’s more than aware of the challenge that Dykes’ squad presents. “First of all, they’ve got great coaching,” Sanders told told “They did the unthinkable last year, and I’m proud of them, [after] residing there in Texas for quite some time. They lost a lot of men that were really good football players, and they replaced them with pretty good football players. One thing about that team and their head coach, they will be prepared. They will be fundamentally sound.”

   Dykes sounded leery of the Buffaloes earlier this week, specifically with regards to their unpredictability after their revolving-door offseason. “I’m not completely sure we know exactly what we’re preparing for,” Dykes said, pointing out that there was “no point” to watching footage from last fall. “You do the best you can to speculate, and obviously, to prepare based on what these coaches have done in the past. But you don’t know what they’re going to do with these players, and you don’t know how these guys fit their system — or the adjustments they’re going to make. We just have to be willing and able to adapt as the game goes along.”

   Though the opponent might — TCU is a whopping 20.5 point favorite — don’t expect temperatures in the high-90’s to faze the Buffs. “We’re going to be OK,” Sanders explained. “We’re putting them in pressure situations. We’ve stopped practice midway through on a couple of occasions and had them run several sprints, then continued practice to make sure they understand that fatigue level, and don’t give in to it mentally.”

On Offense:

Keeping quarterback Shedeur Sanders upright is Priority One. Despite the massive influx of players, few of the highest-regarded ones were offensive linemen, where center Van Wells is one of the entire team’s only three returning starters. Running back Anthony Hankerson, another one of the few holdovers is expected to start, with sophomore transfer Alton McCaskill not quite ready to go following last year’s ACL surgery. Dynamic freshman Dylan Edwards should rotate in, giving the Buffs a chance to keep the game close by grinding it put on the ground. Heisman-caliber two-way talent Travis Hunter will be the Buffs’ primary receiving threat and has looked nearly unstoppable all offseason. Jimmy Horn Jr. stands to benefit from any double-teams that Hunter might draw. Behind offensive coordinator Sean Lewis’ creative schemes, the Buffs should be able to move the ball, and if they can get into the end zone rather than settling for field goals, things could stay interesting.

On Defense:

Hunter is also expected to start at cornerback, where he’s considered an even bigger talent than at wideout. If anyone knows how to manage Hunter’s workload, it’s Deion Sanders, who played on both sides of the ball at times, and managed a decade-long career in Major League Baseball, to boot. Hunter will be tested; TCU quarterback Chandler Morris was injured in last year’s game in Boulder, and was forced to give way to Heisman finalist Max Duggan. Morris has an axe to grind against the Buffs. Expect defensive coordinator Charles Kelly to gamble, sending blitzes at Morris early in an effort to force mistakes. Things could get far trickier if the Horned Frogs are content to focus on the run; runner Emani Bailey and Trey Sanders are both effective weapons behind a physical offensive line.

   On Saturday, the Buffaloes are the show. Sanders’ debut will be nationally-televised… and then he’s expected to lose. Coming off a one-win season, the notion of knocking off the national championship runners-up — on the road — is all but laughable. The truth is that if Colorado can somehow keep the game within two touchdowns, fans should be turning cartwheels in Boulder. That said, fans already know that the Buffaloes are vastly improved… and this is Deion Sanders we’re talking about. Surprising people is basically his brand.

   “[TCU is] a good football team. I’m happy with our opponent,” Sanders said. “I can’t wait to get up there and see how we stand up to the challenge.”