Deion Sanders started this season as a 3-0 coach; a electrifying surprise that made Boulder the epicenter of the sports world. Since then, his Colorado Buffaloes are 1-3, and following a shocking double-overtime loss to Stanford, most felt that the Buffs’ bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Sanders wasn’t one of them. “I don’t think we needed to get away or needed rest,” he said on Wednesday. “We needed to maintain and keep on going. … I want to keep on going. I want to keep on moving. I want to keep on progressing. I want to keep on going forward; that’s how I’m built: to go forward.”

   Exposed on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, the Buffs’ weakness on both the offensive and defensive lines can no longer be papered over, and their lack of depth — despite a record number of transfers in the offseason — has been tested and found wanting. But for ‘Coach Prime,’ the crushing defeat at home to the Cardinals had him question his players’ hearts in his postgame press conference, wondering if they “loved the game” or merely “liked it.”

   After a week and change away from the field, Sanders was asked to clarify what he meant. He paused, seemingly knowing that his emotions may have gotten the better of him immediately following the loss. “You can’t measure the heart in football… that’s the thing that’s missing: the heart of it. When you’re talking about ‘love,’ you’re talking about accompanying that with your heart; playing with your heart,” he explained. “And you could tell — by the locker room and how some guys practice, how some guys feel the pain of it, if we don’t win — how their heart is in it. And that [shows] love, to me.”

   The Buffaloes, even at 4-3, now face long odds to make a bowl game, and Saturday night’s nationally televised game against No. 23-ranked UCLA isn’t likely to get them much closer. Heart is one thing, but Colorado will also have to look at the nuts and bolts of their revamped program for answers. ‘Prime’ has already been asking those questions. “When I have time, I compile a list that’s crazy. I mean, it might be a 50-point list of things that we’ve got to incorporate; things that we’ve got to do. I never stop, which is unfortunate for me. I’ve got to mix in some rest, as well.”

   Sanders also took some time to explain how the coaches spent their week doing anything but resting. “The coaches had a task: [analyze] each player,” he said. “I got a scouting report on each player, and how they felt about each player; how they’re helping us, [and] how can they help us in the future. That was tremendous.”

   What hasn’t been tremendous for the Buffaloes is how the team has seemingly regressed since reaching the difficult, in-conference schedule. Sanders immediately honed in one of his primary concerns. “Penalties. Self-inflicted penalties. We did a whole synopsis for the whole season: each game, one by one, a breakdown. What are the most penalized groups? What are the least penalized groups? What are the penalties; what do they consist of? Are they before the whistle, after the whistle type penalties? So we know all of that,” the head coach explained, with some exasperation evident in his voice. “We have addressed all of that, and all of the individuals who are consistently being penalized, and how we’re going to improve that from here on. … You should see a tremendous improvement this Saturday [against UCLA].”

   That speaks to a larger issue that ‘Coach Prime’ didn’t dance around. He’s called out players for being late to meetings or not studying enough before, but on Wednesday, he dig deeper into how that affects the team on the field. “Discipline does not start on the field; discipline starts off the field — and they carry it on the field. A dude that’s undisciplined off the field is going to be undisciplined on the field,” Sanders explained. “You can’t allow that; and that’s something that we’ve got to address. If you’re late to this, you’re pretty much going to be undisciplined with that. If you’re not consistent in following your assignments and alignments, you’re going to inconsistent when everybody’s sprinkled in the stadium with that. The inconsistencies… well, it’s consistent in who makes those mistakes.”

   With three ranked teams remaining on Colorado’s schedule, it’s quite possible that the bowl season will pass them by. But Sanders’ goal isn’t a bowl this season; it’s building a consistent performer that can compete for conference titles — in the Buffs’ case, Big 12 conference titles next season. The groundwork for that has been laid, but complacency after a scene-stealing start may have lulled Sanders and his squad into a false sense of security. No more. Now it’s time for the program to dig into the details, so they can come out the other side with momentum. Their first chance to do so awaits them in the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.