Deion Sanders is the new Notre Dame. Love him or hate him, you don’t ignore him.
In the old days of college football, Notre Dame was a lightning rod. The Fighting Irish attracted all eyes, both those wanting to see Notre Dame win and see Notre Dame get crushed.
Same with Colorado in this crazy year of 2023, when Deion mania knows no bounds. Sanders was featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes last weekend for the second time. Coach Prime meets prime time.
Let me tell you who loves Sanders. The networks. The Colorado-Colorado State game Saturday night, aired on ESPN in the 9 p.m. (Oklahoma time) window. The game drew 9.3 million viewers.
A week earlier, that time slot on ESPN featured the Auburn-California game. It drew 2.23 million viewers. A year earlier, with an 8 p.m. kickoff, Miami-Texas A&M drew 3.4 million.
The CU-CSU game was the fifth-most watched regular-season game ever on ESPN, any time slot, and the most-streamed regular-season game of all time for ESPN. The late-night window for ESPN averages about 1.7 million viewers. Deion drew 5½ times that number.
So the networks love Deion. Which means the Big 12 loves him, too.
Colorado joins the Big 12 next summer, so as long as Sanders remains the Buffalo coach, the Big 12 will get a big windfall in terms of TV ratings and national interest.
“It’ll be great for our conference,” Mike Gundy said.
Deion told 60 Minutes that he’s not interested in the National Football League, but some speculate that he’ll bolt Colorado for a better job. And maybe he will.
But Deion will not leave for a higher-profile job. Deion is the profile. Deion is trumping the field. Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, doesn’t matter.
The Colorado-Colorado State game on ESPN drew roughly the combined audiences of the ESPN tripleheader that preceded it — Louisiana State-Mississippi State, North Carolina-Minnesota and Tennessee-Florida.
Sure, there is a lot more viewing competition in the earlier TV windows. There’s also tons of people going to bed at a decent hour. Colorado-Colorado State kicked off at 10 p.m. on the East Coast and ended after 2 a.m.
Maybe Deion momentum will curtail by next year. Maybe Deion fatigue will set in. But some already claim Deion fatigue, and the phenomenon has not slowed a bit.
Deion doesn’t need a profile. He might not even need tradition. He certainly doesn’t need a Michigan or Florida or Oklahoma brand to attract ballplayers.
Coach Prime is showing us all that it’s a new day. We’ve analyzed and scrutinized the transfer portal and name, image, likeness and their effects on college football. But Deion has shown us that it’s a new age in marketing and attracting young football players.
Colorado’s roster includes just 10 scholarship players from last season. Deion has brought in 68 new scholarship players.
Not every school has to do it the Coach Prime way, but you’re a fool to think the Coach Prime way won’t work. Will it work long-term? How does anyone know how anything will work long-term in this new landscape?
Seems like there’s at least a fighting chance that Deion will be at Colorado for awhile. CU is not a place holding onto tradition. Holding onto protocols.
No one in Boulder is telling Deion what to do. Go to Florida or LSU or Texas or Texas A&M, and Deion might find it different. Power-brokers at traditional brands like to tell the coach what to do.
“Here’s the thing with Coach Sanders,” Gundy said. “I don’t know him, but here’s what I like. He’s going to do what he wants, the way he wants to do it, and he believes in it, and he doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks.
“He may be making more from Burger King and Aflac and whoever else, and it might not matter, which is all the power to him. But from a distance, what I see, this is what he believes in, and this is what he did.”
Colorado plays at Oregon on Saturday. The ratings will be boffo. Same for next week, Southern Cal comes to Boulder.
In 2024, those television ratings should be the property of the Big 12.
National rankings: Texas No. 1
Remember, I rank teams based on what they have done. Not what I think they will do. Who have you played, where did you play and how did you do?
- Texas 3-0: The victory at Alabama still reigns as the best win of the year, any team.
- Florida State 3-0: If the Seminoles win at Clemson, they are likely to move to No. 1.
- Colorado 3-0: Who else has three quality wins? The Buffs beat Texas Christian, Nebraska and blood-feud rival Colorado State.
- Utah 3-0: The Utes have two good wins, in Florida and Baylor.
- North Carolina 3-0: OK, so the Tar Heels have three good wins – South Carolina, Appalachian State, Minnesota.
- Duke 3-0: The Blue Devils will ride that win over Clemson as long as they can.
- Washington State 3-0: Hey, Washington State’s dominating win at Colorado State looks even better, after the Rams went to the wire with Colorado.
- Miami 3-0: The Hurricane’s win over Miami-Ohio looks better after the RedHawks upset Cincinnati.
- Washington 3-0: The Huskies look unstoppable on offense.
- Notre Dame 4-0: Major college football’s only 4-0 team.
ESPN Playoff Predictor loves the Sooners
ESPN has a contraption it calls the All State Playoff Predictor, which it weekly uses to gauge a team’s chances of making the playoff. The percentages change week to week.
And right now, the Sooners are given the second-best chance of making the playoff.
That’s right. Second-best.
I assume that’s because of OU’s chances of winning out, given its absurdly easy schedule. I still don’t understand why the Sooners have a 57% chance and Texas has just a 34% chance. OU’s schedule isn’t that much easier, and the Longhorns still should be favored in Red River 2½ weeks from now.
Heck, UT should have a much better chance than OU, if only because Texas would be a serious playoff contender at 12-1, courtesy of that win at Alabama. The Sooners have no such quality win to rely on.
Oh well. Who knows? According to the playoff predictor, here are the teams with at least a seven percent chance of making the playoff.
- Ohio State 57%: Is Ohio State the favorite because of the Notre Dame game? If the Buckeyes lose to Notre Dame on Saturday, they could win out and be 12-1 with a great loss and some great wins? Beat Notre Dame, and they’ve got a great win.
- Oklahoma 51%: I have no explanation for the Sooners at 51%. About 5.1 percent is more like it.
- Georgia 41%: The Bulldogs seem much more likely to make it than anyone else. Go 12-0 in the regular season, and Georgia is a virtual shoe-in. Even a loss in the SEC Championship Game shouldn’t curtail the Bulldogs. Just look at TCU a year ago.
- Texas 34%: I don’t know. Maybe about right, considering the Big 12 is down. A 12-1 Texas, with that win over Bama, probably gets in.
- Southern Cal 32%: The best chance among a lot of Pac-12 contenders.
- Florida State 26%: Beat Clemson on Saturday, and the Seminoles’ chances should skyrocket.
- Penn State 26%: The Nittany Lions have a much better chance than Michigan. Don’t know why.
- Oregon 24%: Man, the Pac-12 is interesting this year.
- Washington 18%: People forget that UW made the 2016 season playoff.
- Alabama 15%: If you look at the schedule and look at the name on the jersey, this number should be higher. If you look at how Alabama has played, lower.
- Notre Dame 13%: Beat Ohio State, and this number zooms.
- Ole Miss 12%: Rough path for the Rebels. Alabama, LSU and potentially Georgia await.
- LSU 10%: The Tigers are one more loss from virtual elimination.
- Michigan 9%: Why are the Wolverines so much lower than Penn State?
- Miami 8%: A true darkhorse.
Big 12 rankings: Texas remains No. 1
- Texas 3-0: Alabama’s struggles raise the question of how great was the Longhorn victory in Tuscaloosa, but no matter, it was great.
- Brigham Young 3-0: Were the Cougars playing possum before winning at Arkansas?
- Central Florida 3-0: The Knights are welcomed to the Big 12 with a trip to Kansas State, the league’s toughest environment for visitors.
- Kansas 3-0: There is Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s tutor. There is Moses parting the Red Sea. And there is Lance Leipold, turning the Jayhawks into football relevancy.
- TCU 2-1: The Horned Frogs are four points against Colorado from being highly-ranked and on the same trek as a year ago.
- Oklahoma 3-0: The Sooners look good, but when do the real games begin?
- West Virginia 2-1: Bully for the Mountaineers, off to a decent start against a difficult schedule.
- Kansas State 2-1: The Wildcats let down the Big 12 in Columbia, Missouri.
- Cincinnati 2-1: Losing at home to Miami-Ohio is not as bad as it sounds, since it’s an historic rivalry. But it’s bad.
- Texas Tech 1-2: The Red Raiders’ season has gone sideways with losses to Wyoming and Oregon. It goes off the cliff with a loss at West Virginia on Saturday.
- Oklahoma State 2-1: Going to Iowa State is just what OSU needs after that debilitating loss to South Alabama.
- Houston 1-2: This looks like a rough maiden Big 12 season for the Cougars.
- Iowa State 1-2: Hosting OSU is just what ISU needs after that debilitating loss at Ohio U.
- Baylor 1-2: Why Iowa State ahead of Baylor? Both lost close home games to good teams (Iowa, Utah). Both beat Division I-AA foes. Both lost to good mid-majors (Ohio, Texas State). But on the latter, at least Iowa State lost on the road.
Coaches on the hot seat
National — Ohio State’s Ryan Day: Ryan Day is 48-6 as the Buckeye coach. Forty-eight and six! That’s a winning percentage of .889, which is better than Frank Leahy’s 864 and Knute Rockne’s .881. You stay ahead of the Notre Dame legends, and you’re winning some football games.
But Day hasn’t beaten Michigan since 2019. Ohio State lost 45-23 at home to the Wolverines last season and 42-27 at Michigan the year before. Covid zapped the 2020 showdown.
Losing to Michigan puts the Ohio State crowd in a bad mood, and nothing assuages that feeling. Not even a win Saturday at Notre Dame. But a loss would exacerbate that feeling.
The Fighting Irish are better than we thought, courtesy of quarterback Sam Hartman. Meanwhile, Buckeye QB Kyle McCord hasn’t shined bright in his attempts to replace the renowned C.J. Stroud. Notre Dame rarely has the quarterback edge in a showdown game, but they do this time.
So the pressure is on Day to get McCord playing at a high level and get the Buckeyes in position to beat Notre Dame, which isn’t Michigan but will at least take Ohio State minds off their drought.
Big 12 — Iowa State’s Matt Campbell: Matt Campbell is beloved at Iowa State. He coached the Cyclones to a first-place finish in the Big 12 (2020) and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oregon. Those are heady times for the Cyclones.
But Iowa State was a disappointment in 2021 (7-6) and fell to 4-8 last season, with a slew of close defeats. That trend has continued, with a 20-13 loss to Iowa and a 10-7 stunner last week against Ohio U.
After the game, Campbell was videoed going after an ISU heckler, though he was held up by staff members and later apologized.
Campbell is a wonderful coach; his 47-44 record at Iowa State puts him in company with Earle Bruce as the only ISU coaches since 1914 with a winning record.
But will Campbell have a winning record by season’s end? The Cyclones host OSU on Saturday, and the Cowboys are floundering, too. Both teams struggle to score, and the loser faces the possibility of a long season.
Campbell has been committed to Iowa State, a tough job that rarely keeps a good coach for long. Another discouraging season could make Campbell think about coaching elsewhere and could make Iowa State not as devastated at the thought of losing him.
Top 10 games of the week
- Ohio State at Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m., NBC: This will be the sixth meeting since 1994, but the series got off to a rousing start with a home-and-home in 1935-36.
- Florida State at Clemson, 11 a.m., ABC: The Tigers could be handed their second Atlantic Coast Conference loss, even before October arrives.
- Colorado at Oregon, 2:30 p.m., ABC: If the Buffaloes win this one, the Prime Time train will have left the rails and soared into the sky, like that car at the end of “Grease.”
- Ole Miss at Alabama, 2:30 p.m., CBS: Wish William Faulkner was alive to write up this stuff.
- UCLA at Utah, 2:30 p.m., Fox: The Under-the-Radar Bowl. UCLA somehow goes undetected while being in Los Angeles, while the Utes just play hard-nosed, solid football year after year.
- Iowa at Penn State, 6:30 p.m., CBS: CBS now is in the Big Ten business, but bummer for the Columbia Broadcast System. This good game goes head-to-head with Notre Dame-Ohio State.
- Oregon State at Washington State, 6 p.m., Fox: The television ratings should be interesting for this game. Two very good teams, in crazy circumstances as the lone schools left in the Pac-12 after this season, both unbeaten. But will this game draw even a million viewers?
- Brigham Young at Kansas, 2:30 p.m, ESPN: These schools have played just once, back in the 1992 Aloha Bowl, a 23-20 Jayhawk victory.
- Memphis vs. Missouri in St. Louis, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU: Underrated game on a neutral field. Both are unbeaten. Memphis can make a big statement by beating Mizzou.
- Central Florida at Kansas State, 7 p.m., FS1: Some of us believe UCF will fare well in the Big 12. We start finding out in Manhattan.
National — Ole Miss over Alabama: Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin likes nothing better than to troll his former boss, Nick Saban.
We know that because Kiffin keeps doing it. Alabama hosts Ole Miss on Saturday, and Kiffin is up to his old tricks.
First, Kiffin suggested that Bama defensive coordinator Kevin Steele had been secretly demoted and revealed that Crimson Tide sources had spilled the beans to Rebel coaches. Then Kiffin tweeted about a Taylor Swift song, “Crumbling Castles,” which contains lyrics that can be easily translated into the current troubles of Saban and Alabama.
“Once, I had an empire in a golden age;
“I was held up so high, I used to be great;
“They used to cheer when they saw my face;
“Now, I fear I have fallen from grace.”
Kiffin isn’t referring to Sam Pittman.
Kiffin is 0-4 vs. Saban, counting Kiffin’s 2009 season at Tennessee. Kiffin was Saban’s offensive coordinator 2014-16, but Saban fired Kiffin before the national championship game, believing that Kiffin was working too hard on his other job, new head coach at Florida Atlantic.
Kiffin has poked the bear ever since, and while he hasn’t beaten Alabama, his Rebels have played the Crimson Tide tough. Bama’s three victories over Ole Miss in the Kiffin era are 30-24, 42-21, 63-48, nail-biters by Alabama standards.
But this year is different. Bama has struggled offensively and lost 34-24 to Texas. The Tide led South Florida just 10-3 in the final minute last week before a late touchdown.
Meanwhile, Mississippi has two solid wins, at Tulane and over Georgia Tech.
The Crimson Tide is a 6½-point favorite, playing at home, but give Ole Miss credit. Its coach doesn’t fear Alabama. Let’s go with the Rebels in the upset.
National upset special record: 2-1.
Big 12 — BYU over Kansas: Brigham Young was a great unknown this season. The Cougars were picked 11th in the Big 12 preseason poll. Forty-nine teams received a vote in The Associated Press preseason poll; BYU was not in the group.
Then the Cougars got off to a squishy start, including a 14-0 victory over Sam Houston. But last Saturday, BYU beat Arkansas 38-31 in the Ozarks.
Kansas is 3-0 also, and the Jayhawks have a commanding 34-23 victory over Illinois.
BYU’s recent success has centered on defense, which is different from its offensive salad days of legendary coach Lavell Edwards. The Cougars held Arkansas to 24 offensive points.
Kansas has a potent offense, led by quarterback Jalon Daniels, and the Jayhawks inexplicably are an 8½-point favorite. But this is BYU’s Big 12 debut, and the Cougars figure to be jacked. Let’s go with Brigham Young in the upset.
Big 12 upset special record: 2-1.
Ranking the Big 12 games
- Brigham Young at Kansas, 2:30 p.m., ESPN: KU’s Memorial Stadium is sold out for the game. More Lance Leipold magic.
- Central Florida at Kansas State, 7 p.m., FS1: The winner takes a big jump in the race for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.
- Texas at Baylor, 6:30 p.m., ABC: The home team has won every game in this series since 2017.
- Oklahoma at Cincinnati, 11 a.m., Fox: In OU’s only other trip to Cincinnati, the Sooners beat UC 31-29 at Paul Brown Stadium, in 2010.
- Texas Tech at West Virginia, 2:30 p.m., ESPN Plus: The Mountaineers play defense. WVU held Penn State to just 14 points through 35 minutes, and the Mountaineers beat Pittsburgh 17-6.
- Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 3 p.m., FS1: OSU’s most recent trip to Ames, 2021, resulted in the Cowboys’ only regular-season loss, 24-21, when officials spotted Brennan Presley inches short of a first down inside Cyclone territory late in the game.
- Southern Methodist at Texas Christian, 11 a.m., FS1: Good barometer for OU. Will the Mustangs struggle to score, like they did in a 28-11 loss to the Sooners?
- Sam Houston at Houston, 6 p.m., Big 12 Plus: Houston coach Dana Holgorsen can ill-afford another loss to a Houston-area opponent.