Pac-12 football: What to make of Colorado? Don’t overthink the Buffs, just enjoy them

Pac-12 football: What to make of Colorado? Don’t overthink the Buffs, just enjoy them

Our Google search for the terms ‘Colorado,’ ‘Sanders,’ and ‘fraud’ this morning required exactly 0.26 seconds to spit out a slew of results. Substitute the term ‘overrated’ into the search bar, and a whopping 0.39 seconds were needed.

Anyone who witnessed the 42-6 wipeout at Oregon on Saturday would conclude Deion Sanders’ team did not look worthy of a top-25 ranking, national television broadcast or an ounce of attention from the college football media machinery.

Sanders himself called it a “good old-fashioned butt-kicking.”

Counterpoint to the criticism from beyond Boulder’s borders: So what?

So what if Colorado was run off the field by a better, faster, deeper team?

So what if CU is no longer unbeaten, ranked in the AP poll or deserving of lofty status in the best conference in the country?

That was always a bar too high for Year One of Sanders’ reclamation project.

Despite the unprecedented roster overhaul and the coaching staff’s acumen and the skills of quarterback Shedeur Sanders and the spotlight generated by an American sports icon, the Buffaloes were never going to challenge for the conference title.

Not in this conference this year. The Buffaloes simply aren’t good enough where it counts most — on the lines of scrimmage — to deal with the barrage of heavyweight opponents.

But a non-conference schedule created years ago served as fuel for the hype train to blast out of the station.

The Buffs opened with a victory at TCU, the 2022 national runners-up, and drew a massive audience on the Fox ‘Big Noon’ broadcast. Then came another Fox appearance in the home opener against Nebraska, a big name with a small game.

Had the schedule been more in line with the program’s pre-Sanders trajectory — had it featured an FCS opponent in Week 1, followed by a Group of Five foe and an appearance or two on the Pac-12 Networks — the hype would have been limited.

Instead, the eyes of the sport were on the Buffaloes instantly, and they remained transfixed as CU headed into an ambush Saturday afternoon in Autzen Stadium.

The Buffaloes are not frauds; nor are they contenders. They are a vastly improved team that’s one or two recruiting cycles from stocking the lines of scrimmage with enough size, depth and talent to contend for a conference title.

And that’s fine. The reality doesn’t diminish their entertainment value. It doesn’t lower their eventual ceiling. It doesn’t make Sanders any less of a coach. (The first and brightest indicator that Sanders should be taken seriously: He surrounded himself with a top-flight staff, especially offensive coordinator Sean Lewis.)

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So how about we apply the rarest natural resource college football has to offer — nuance — to the first year of the Sanders era?

The Buffaloes weren’t as good as the early hype and aren’t as bad as they looked Saturday. Could they topple USC this weekend? Perhaps. The Trojans struggled at Arizona State and have feasted on second-rate opponents thus far.

But the Buffaloes aren’t equipped to navigate a difficult schedule, at least not to the level necessary for a run at the conference title.

Before the first snap in Fort Worth, they appeared to have the roster of a four-win team, with the potential for five if every bounce and break fell into place.

They are probably a level better — certainly, a bowl berth is well within range. (They need three wins in the final eight games and play both Stanford and ASU.)

But sustained excellence over three months is a year or two away. That was the case before the breathtaking start, it remains the case today, after the Autzen beatdown, and it will be the case this time next week, regardless of the outcome against USC.

And that’s fine. Whether you collect receipts, wear sunglasses indoors or relish “old-fashioned butt-kickings,” there’s space available in the audience.

Let’s acknowledge the improvement, recognize the reality of CU’s roster and, above all, appreciate the theatre.

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