BOULDER — When Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders took the stage for his introductory press conference in Boulder one year ago today — Dec. 4, 2022 — the college football world watched closely.

Colorado football would never be the same.

Almost overnight, the Buffaloes became relevant again as Coach Prime became required viewing. His unconventional roster rebuild approach sparked endless debates, his confident predictions of immediate success drew headlines and while there were more than a few detractors, nobody could stay away.

The Buffs couldn’t be ignored. The media were attracted to Coach Prime like moths to a flame.

Folks in charge in Boulder — in particular Athletic Director Rick George and Chancellor Phil DiStefano — knew what had to be done when  they brought Sanders to Boulder. They knew they were bucking tradition by hiring a coach with relatively little experience at the college level (and none as a Power Five coach). They also knew they were hiring a coach who poked conventional wisdom in the eye — and did it with a smile.

But most of all, they knew Colorado football needed more than a jolt. As the college football landscape continued to change at a breakneck pace, CU officials knew they needed a complete reset to ensure that the Buffaloes would continue to be part of the national conversation.

Quite simply, when George went looking for Colorado’s fourth coach in six years, he knew he had to make a bold statement.

The situation demanded it.

Coach Prime fit the bill perfectly.

“I felt like it was a moment in time that we had to get it right without question,” George said. “We were at a moment that if we got it wrong and Colorado wasn’t relevant, then it might be very difficult to recover. There’s no doubt I felt the enormity of the decision. If we didn’t make the right hire, we could have been irrelevant.”

But from the moment Coach Prime stepped on stage in the Touchdown Club at the Dal Ward Center on the day he was hired, Colorado football became relevant.

He charmed not only the local fan base, but fans everywhere. The Buffs were national news and Colorado gained followers and supporters from every corner of the nation.

Sanders wasted no time putting his stamp on the program. He and his soon-to-be-hired staff rebuilt Colorado’s roster and the college football world watched his every move.

ESPN was on hand to broadcast CU’s spring game live — the only school in the nation to earn that recognition. National magazines and national websites covered the Buffaloes on seemingly a daily basis, updating every move.

And, of course, the predictions started to pile up. Some “experts” said the Buffs would not be much better than their 1-11 finish of 2022. Others predicted more success — but no one could have foreseen Colorado’s shocking start to the season.

With a national television audience tuning in, the three-touchdown underdog Buffaloes stunned defending national runner-up TCU, 45-42, on the Horned Frogs’ home turf in the season opener.

Then came a victory over rival Nebraska in front of another national television audience. One week later, both ESPN and Fox sent their game day shows to Boulder as the Buffs recorded a heart-stopping double-overtime win over another rival, Colorado State. By season’s end, CU games were the site for five game day shows — second in the nation only to Ohio State.

The electricity was almost palpable. The nation couldn’t get enough of the Buffs. After three weeks, Colorado was ranked in the nation’s top 25 and more than 25 million people had watched CU on television — almost twice as many viewers as any other team in the nation.

Colorado led the nation in viewership — both average viewers and overall eyeballs—  until late in the season. The Buffs ended up as the nation’s fourth most-watched team, trailing only Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan; and CU was third in average viewership behind the Tide and Buckeyes with five of the 14 most-watched games in the regular season.

The Prime Effect hit locally as well. The first two home games, Nebraska and Colorado State, provided a huge economic payday for local businesses. Meanwhile, CU sold out every home football game on its schedule for the first time in program history and played in front of sold-out crowds five times on the road.

The national media took notice. Sanders appeared on “Good Morning America,” then “60 Minutes.” Seemingly every week, he made another national appearance and CU football grew in prominence.

But it wasn’t just the national appearances. Famous personalities from seemingly every realm found their way to Colorado’s sidelines for games. From Lil’ Wayne to Offset to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to former NFL greats such as Michael Irvin and Warren Sapp, the celebrity-studded guest list for Colorado football became a story in itself.

“That was something I don’t think any of us could have truly predicted,” George said of the national attention. “But I do know that when I talked to Coach Prime, he said, ‘Hey, this is going to be big.’ I said OK — but I didn’t know it was going to be this big. He knew what was coming.”

While Colorado couldn’t continue its red-hot start, the Buffs still finished with a 4-8 record, a huge improvement from the year prior. As Coach Prime pointed out, “We’re not where we want to be, but we ain’t where we used to be.”

The Buffs also developed overnight star power. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders was among the nation’s passing leaders all year and he found himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation early in the season. Two-way star Travis Hunter, meanwhile, accomplished things on the field that hadn’t been seen in decades.

But perhaps most importantly, the Buffs were competitive in almost every game. Five of Colorado’s eight losses were decided by one score, with a sixth by just 12 points. With just a few more bounces in their favor, the Buffs easily could have finished with six or seven wins and become bowl eligible.

Now, one year after he introduced Sanders to an eager fan base, George firmly believes 2023 was just the beginning.

“When we were doing our search, the only question was who was the best coach?” George said. “I had him at the top of my list on day one. We had to make Colorado relevant again. A year later, we’re relevant and we’re only going to get better as we move forward.”


Story by Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor for Content courtesy of the University of Colorado at Boulder.