The world of college football is always generating new ways to play the victim. It can be found at Northwestern, with the team’s petulant response to a head coach’s firing over a hazing scandal, or at Michigan, with the Wolverines’ offense holding up four fingers as a tribute to head coach Jim Harbaugh, who did not die but is actually serving a school-imposed three-game suspension for recruiting violations. It also can be found in Colorado’s upset of No. 17 TCU, with Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders calling out the fools who doubted a program that went 1-11 last season and hadn’t beaten a top-20 team on the road since 2002.
The postgame presser was Sanders’s time to hold all of Colorado’s naysayers accountable, even if those naysayers were just setting realistic expectations for the worst team in the Pac-12. “Do you believe now?” he repeatedly asked ESPN’s Ed Werder. When Werder didn’t give him an answer he found satisfactory, he moved on to the next question.
“We told you we coming,” he said immediately after the Buffaloes’ 45-42 win over the Horned Frogs. “You thought we was joking. And guess what? We keep receipts.”
It’s encouraging to hear that the Prime Prep days have motivated Sanders to keep better financial records. But really: The Buffaloes were three-touchdown underdogs and sealed an enormous road win over a team that played in last season’s national title game. In particular, the Jackson State transfers showed out. Two-way player Travis Hunter had 11 catches for 119 yards and an interception, and Deion’s son Shedeur Sanders started at QB and threw for 510 yards and four touchdowns. There’s no value in projecting the rest of Colorado’s season from one game—although next Saturday’s opponent will be the astonishingly hapless Matt Rhule—but it’s a hell of an opening statement, and the victory ensured that Deion Sanders will be the biggest attention vacuum in college football for the foreseeable future.
Unless the Jim Harbaugh-less Wolverines find a way to lose to UNLV or Bowling Green, the early weeks of the season are set up to ensure a focus on Sanders. Many of the powerhouses will be chowing down on cupcakes, and really, how much is there to say about Georgia’s 48-7 win over the UT Martin Skyhawks? Meanwhile, here are the rest of the opponents for Colorado in September: Nebraska, Colorado State, Oregon, and USC. The Buffs could be 1-4 by October and people would still care more about them than the average college team.
That’s what Sanders brings to the sport: the hype that comes with being Deion Sanders. Well, that and an obscenely large pickup truck. But the hype is how Jackson State achieved airtime and regular updates on ESPN. It’ll be why the Pac-12 draws attention, even as it deteriorates. The teams at the top will suffer their occasional upsets, but those regimes tend to stay in power. As Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, and Alabama work through their carefully organized schedules, Colorado will get outsized media coverage because of who coaches there, regardless of outcome.
It remains to be seen whether a Pro Football Hall of Famer can carry a nobody-believed-in-us routine through the entirety of a season, since Saturday’s win demanded belief. The irony is that Sanders wouldn’t have believed in himself without proof. As a loud man once said, “Anybody here over 45? Didn’t we have to earn every darn thing we got?” Earn it, then.