Just about everything Deion Sanders has done since becoming the head football coach at Colorado has drawn attention, so it should come as no surprise that the Buffaloes’ massive roster overhaul created headlines for national media outlets this week.
What Sanders is doing with the Buffaloes is fascinating and unprecedented. Yes, coaches have dramatically changed rosters before, but not like Sanders is doing.
A year ago, first-year USC head coach Lincoln Riley brought in 26 transfers. This offseason, new Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham has added 27 transfers and nearly 50 of the Sun Devils’ 85 scholarship players will be newcomers.
As for Colorado, currently, only 12 scholarship players from last year remain, although that number could drop to as low as eight. That means at least 73 and as many as 77 scholarship players will be brand-new Buffaloes this fall.
Even young Ralphie VI is feeling like a veteran these days in Boulder.
“It’s probably the first time it’s ever happened,” edge defender Deeve Harris said of CU’s dramatic overhaul. “I mean, we’re living history. I’m definitely excited to be a part of this history that we about to get going.”
Harris is one of two new transfers from Old Dominion and he’s part of an edge group that currently includes seven players – six of which will be new to CU.
So far, CU had added 38 transfers this offseason and there are at least 18 more spots to fill.
Sanders, of course, said this would happen. That’s been his message to the team from Day 1. And, frankly, it’s tough to argue that it shouldn’t happen. CU was, after all, 1-11 a year ago and widely viewed as the worst Power 5 conference team in the country.
A Pro Football Hall of Famer, Sanders is still relatively new to college coaching. It hasn’t even been three years since he was hired by Jackson State as its head coach on Sept. 21, 2020.
Sanders isn’t new to flipping a roster, however.
When JSU played its first game under Sanders, on Feb. 21, 2021 – because of the COVID pandemic, FCS teams delayed the 2020 season until the spring – there were 98 players on the roster, including walk-ons, and 57 were new to the team.
Sanders has more scholarship spots to work with at CU, as FBS teams are allowed a maximum of 85 scholarships, compared to 63 for the FCS. Counting walk-ons, CU is likely to have a roster of about 115 players in the fall and around 90 will be newcomers.
At least 50 scholarship players won’t go through their first official practice with the Buffs until preseason camp in early August.
Developing team chemistry this year could be a challenge, but Sanders said last month, “We don’t care about the continuity. We care about getting players that are smart, tough, fast, disciplined. We need speed. We need physicality. We need a desire and a certain want, a certain level of joy. I want guys that love the game, man.”
That desire and want might actually be what bonds this team.
Already, there are obvious trends in what Sanders is building. He’s brought in a ton of speed at the skill positions on offense, as well as on defense. He has said he likes to build a defense from the outside-in, and he’s done that with 10 new defensive backs and six new edge players.
Sanders has also brought in big offensive linemen – five of the eight transfers are listed at 310 pounds or more and two others at 295 – and physical defensive lineman.
“Everybody’s just hungry,” said defensive back Jahquez Robinson, who is coming to CU after three years at Alabama.
CU’s transfer class ranks No. 1 by 247Sports.com, but the Buffs haven’t landed a lot of the top-rated individuals. In fact, according to 247Sports, CU has secured only two of the top-100 transfers and both were obvious gets for Sanders: cornerback Travis Hunter (ranked No. 1) and quarterback Shedeur Sanders (No. 26), Sanders’ son. Both played for Sanders at Jackson State.
The Buffs’ new roster includes several guys like Robinson and linebacker Demouy Kennedy, both four-star recruits who played three years together at Alabama. For the Tide, they combined for zero starts and 10 tackles in those three years.
Edge Sav’ell Smalls was a five-star recruit out of high school, but didn’t have a single sack in three years at Washington. Amari McNeill was a three-star defensive lineman who had three tackles last year at Tennessee.
Safety Vito Tidale has two career starts and a torn ACL to show for three years at Kentucky. Harris and fellow Old Dominion transfer Chazz Wallace, a defensive lineman, played a combined 46 games for the Monarchs, but only four of those in the starting lineup.
Receiver Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. (Auburn) has two catches in two years and EJ Horton (Marshall) has 16 in three years.
If Sanders is looking for desire and want, he’s got it. Newcomers interviewed by BuffZone have all talked about getting fresh starts with the Buffs.
“I feel like grabbing guys who have something to prove and everybody on a mission, I feel like we’ll all mesh well because we all have something to prove,” Robinson said. “I feel like all of us on a mission are going to be dangerous.”
This isn’t the Netflix documentary “Last Chance U,” but Colorado is certainly “Second Chance U” for a lot of the newcomers and Harris believes that’s going to fuel the competition for playing time.
“The pressure is going to be on,” he said. “Everybody’s gonna be coming in and trying to get a spot. (It’s) not comfortable but I’m definitely excited and ready for it.”
So is Sanders, who wants nothing more than a team ready to compete. Overhauling the roster at an unprecedented rate might produce the competitive spirit CU lacked before his arrival.
“I’m a change agent,” he said after the Buffs’ spring game two weeks ago, “and I’ll be darned, anything that I touch, it has no other possibility but to change because that’s what we do.”