Deion Sanders drastically overhauls Colorado’s football roster in just eight weeks

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No other college football coach in the country has overhauled his roster this year like Deion Sanders did in just eight weeks at Colorado.

It’s downright historic. With at least 42 new scholarship players coming in, Sanders has reeled in the biggest class of newcomers in recorded school history. And he might not be done. The transfer portal opens again in the spring after Sanders already signed or gained commitments from 23 players from other four-year colleges in December and January.

“It already looks like a massive success, and he’s 0-0 as the coach there,” said Adam Gorney, national recruiting director for Rivals.com.

Only one other school in the nation is bringing in more new players overall or more transfers from other four-year colleges, according to 247 Sports. That’s Arizona State with 46 newcomers, including 26 transfers.

But Colorado (No. 4) ranks ahead of Arizona State (No. 17) in transfer class rankings for 2023 and is trying to climb from a much deeper hole after getting blown out in nearly every game of a 1-11 season in 2022. On paper, that means the size, quality and change of direction of this makeover puts Colorado in a class by itself as national signing day approaches Wednesday.

Colorado coach Deion Sanders
Colorado coach Deion Sanders

How did Sanders do this?

Sheer force of personality. Besides Nick Saban at Alabama (Sanders’ co-star in Aflac commercials), arguably no other coach can better attract recruiting talent by his name alone.

Sanders, also known as “Coach Prime,” is a celebrity pitchman, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and a former two-sport superstar in the NFL and Major League Baseball. He also graced the cover of the February edition of GQ magazine by virtue of his style and swagger.

Colorado only had two winning seasons in the past 17 years. Yet now it is attracting recruits such as cornerback Cormani McClain, a five-star cornerback from Florida who is expected to sign with Colorado Wednesday.

“In my position, I play (defensive back). Coach Prime is the best DB, so I just want to be in the same shoes,” McClain told 247 Sports on Jan. 19.

Sanders also has taken advantage of an NCAA rule change in 2021 that allowed players from other four-year colleges to freely change schools without first sitting out a year of play. This huge class of immediately eligible newcomers would not have been possible without that.

Almost all of Colorado’s class of newcomers this year already enrolled or previously signed with the school since Sanders’ arrival Dec. 4. Of the 23 transfers, 21 are already enrolled at CU, including seven graduate transfers.

How will this translate on the field?

Southern California last year turned its program around after taking in more than 20 transfers under first-year head coach Lincoln Riley, including quarterback Caleb Williams, who then won the Heisman Trophy. The Trojans (11-3) almost went to the College Football Playoff after finishing 4-8 the year before.

Colorado had far less talent in the cupboard than its Pac-12 Conference rival did when the new coach arrived, but it also is gaining a class of experienced transfers that is nearly the same in size and quality. The Trojans had the No.1 transfer class in the nation in 2022; CU’s now ranks No. 4, according to 247 Sports.

Former Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt, an analyst for Fox, said on his podcast this month that he expects the Buffs to go to a bowl game this year and then benefit from more recruiting success and changes in 2024, when USC and UCLA leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. The College Football Playoff also expands then from four to 12 teams.

“Deion Sanders at Colorado likely, in my opinion, will compete for a playoff spot in year 2 in 2024,” Klatt said.

What other tactic was key?

Aggression. Sanders went after players who had committed to or had belonged to other teams, flipping them to Colorado. Sanders was even shown on Twitter dancing to a certain song after McClain announced he was coming to CU, not Miami, Florida, where he previously committed.

The song is called “Game Over” by the rapper Lil’ Flip and has a chorus that describes Sanders’ recruiting success:

“Flip, flip, flip, flip.”

Running back Dylan Edwards also flipped to Colorado after previously committing to Notre Dame. In a different kind of way, all those transfer recruits also flipped schools by deciding to move to Boulder from another four-year college. Colorado attracted seven transfers from Jackson State, where Sanders coached for three season and finished with a 27-6 record. Other transfers are coming from Michigan, Florida, Arkansas, Clemson and more.

They could be taking the spots of those who are run off the team by Sanders before the start of the season. Major college teams are limited to 85 scholarship players per year.

Why is this happening at Colorado?

Because Colorado was so bad for so long that athletic director Rick George shot for the moon with this hire after firing coach Karl Dorrell in October.

He landed Sanders because Sanders said he liked George and his approach to him even though Sanders could have gone to other schools instead.

Their relationship was instrumental. Colorado also has been a leader in hiring Black coaches. It is the only major college program to have ever hired three straight Black head coaches and is the first to have hired four non-interim head coaches overall. Other schools, especially in the Southeastern Conference, have not shown a willingness to hire Black head coaches on a non-interim basis.

Which newcomers will make the most impact?

It starts at quarterback, where the Buffaloes started four players last season and haven’t had a player from that position drafted into the NFL since 1997, when Koy Detmer was taken in the seventh round. Sanders’ son Shedeur takes over after coming along with his dad from Jackson State.

On defense, Colorado now has the No. 1 cornerback recruit of 2023 (McClain) and the No. 1 cornerback recruit of 2022 (Travis Hunter, who transferred from Jackson State).

“Colorado might have the best cornerback duo in the entire conference, if not the  country , and it’s completely because of Deion Sanders being there,” Gorney told USA TODAY Sports.

What about next year?

Sanders is already on it. He hosted a number of 2024 recruits in Boulder this past weekend, including receiver Ryan Wingo, the nation’s No. 6 overall recruit for 2024, according to Rivals. Colorado has three players committed for the 2024 class and currently ranks No. 19 in 2024 recruiting in the Rivals rankings.

“We had the Best Junior Day Recruits in the History of @cubuffsfootball,” Sanders said on Instagram. “This recruiting weekend was EPIC. These young men will change our program and the game!”

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders massively reshapes Colorado football roster in 2 months