This month, Colorado became Ohio State and Michigan. Forget the century-old tradition, Heisman Trophies and championships of those long-established powers. Through the first two weeks of September, Colorado matched – maybe surpassed -- the Buckeyes and Wolverines in terms of brand value.
That's how one TV executive described the way Colorado now resonates with Deion Sanders as coach. Viewers, advertisers and programmers are on board with the Prime Effect. Sanders is why last week's Colorado-Nebraska game -- featuring teams who were a combined 19-43 since 2020 -- was the highest rated of the day, according to Sports Media Watch. That includes beating out Alabama-Texas.
That's why both ESPN's "College Game Day" and Fox's "Big Noon Kickoff" will air from Boulder, Colorado, on Saturday as the No. 18 Buffaloes host lowly Colorado State with a 10 p.m. ET kickoff. That's why, during the game broadcast, you'll likely see Sanders in both sides of the split screen during commercial breaks (in one, coaching, and in the other, hawking chicken wings).
Deion sells. Make that, Deion sells big. More to the point, people like watching Deion wherever, whenever. This is Beatlemania with an.
This is the cult of personality with a whistle. Sanders was a Pro Football Hall of Famer, media mogul and product endorser before he put on a headset. Now, we're learning he can coach.
As such, the question must be asked heading into Week 3: If Sanders had arrived a year ago with all the current hype, success and fanfare, could his presence alone have saved the Pac-12?
"He absolutely adds value to the league," Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told reporters in December 2022 after CU hired Sanders.
Some of us scoffed at the time. However, the aforementioned TV executive said the mere presence of Sanders a year ago would have gotten the Pac-12 closer to what it needed to stay together -- a $32-million-per-team offer that would have put Pac-12 teams in line with their Big 12 counterparts.
"No network or streaming service would have wanted to let him get away," said Jim Williams, a seven-time Emmy Award winning sports producer well versed in the industry. "They might have gotten $40 million [per school], which would have kept them together. … There would not be a city in the conference where, when Colorado came to town, they would not sell out."
Again, that's if Sanders had arrived a year ago. It's another reason for the Pac-12 to kick itself during this spectacular final season, one in which it has the leading Heisman candidate (USC quarterback Caleb Williams) and eight ranked teams in the AP Top 25. (Only the SEC has accomplished the latter previously.)
It's also worth a reminder that the two networks falling all over themselves this week to get Sanders, ESPN and Fox, had little interest in renewing their Pac-12 partnership.
Now, they and everyone else are dealing with the Prime Effect.
In college sports, it's usually the schools that turn TVs on. Sanders is one of the lone individuals who can guarantee viewership.
Coach Prime has embodied the hypocrisy of those condemning the game to death amid NIL and the transfer portal. Remember when the rich would only get richer? The SEC is 3-6 against the Power Five. Alabama and Texas A&M just lost by a combined 25 points. The Pac-12 is 21-4 in nonconference play standing as arguably the nation's best league through two weeks.
Oh yeah, and Sanders flipped the Colorado roster quicker than a hiccup. The Buffs suddenly matter. Just like that.
Week 3 deep dive
No. 11 Tennessee at Florida qualifies as the overreaction game of the week. Not regarding the hype going in but the prospects for the loser coming out. If the Gators are smart, they will give Billy Napier time to turn the program around. So far in Year 2, it looks like it will take a while. Florida is a home underdog to Tennessee in what qualifies as a must-win game for both teams. A loss would drop the Gators to under .500 after three games in a season for the first time since 1992.
Once again, quarterback Graham Mertz seems to be the leading indicator of success Saturday. As a starter, Mertz is 14-1 when he doesn't throw an interception. He is 6-13 otherwise. Mertz is 2-8 against top 25 opponents. Tennessee, meanwhile, .
No. 1 Georgia eases into the SEC schedule against South Carolina with minor concerns. The Bulldogs inexplicably struggled to run the ball against Ball State and are ninth in the SEC in that category. Something has to give. Georgia is 86th nationally in pressure rate (one sack in 70 pass rushes). Only Colorado (12) has given up more sacks among Power Five teams than South Carolina (10). The Gamecocks are the last team to win at Sanford Stadium, four years ago in double overtime.
Michigan State hosts No. 8 Washington. Coach Mel Tucker is suspended and may have led the Spartans for the last time. Meanwhile, that retired coach -- Mark Dantonio -- has returned as associate head coach helping out acting coach Harlon Bennett. Dantonio, 67, is a legend in East Lansing, Michigan. Arguably the program's greatest coach -- certainly the winningest (114 wins, more than Duffy Daugherty) -- don't look for Coach D to shrink into the background. If the Spartans upset the Huskies, their season is redefined. More than that, Dantonio will get a lot of the credit. If Tucker is indeed let go and if the Spartans continue winning, is the answer to Michigan State's coaching issues already on the sideline?The winningest coach in school history -- still technically retired -- is on the sidelines ... wearing a headset. Talk about distractions as
The depth of Nebraska's woes continue to grow. Coach Matt Rhule is sticking with turnover machine Jeff Sims at QB this week against Northern Illinois. Sims has more turnovers (six -- four interceptions, two fumbles) than 123 of the 133 FBS schools. There is hope for the Huskers. FBS schools had been 45-0 against FCS this season until Southern Illinois took down the Huskies last week.
The last time No. 7 Penn State lost to an unranked opponent was two years ago against this week's opponent, Illinois. That nine-overtime classic helped change the NCAA post-regulation rules. Former Illini defensive coordinator Ryan Walters matters, by the way. Illinois has gone from leading the nation in scoring defense under Walters (now coach at Purdue) to tied for 106th.
The schedule suddenly looks daunting for No. 10 Alabama, which heads to South Florida following a rare nonconference home loss. Ahead are No. 17 Ole Miss at home plus trips to Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Yes, the Aggies are an uncooked prime filet at times, but Connor Weigman right now is playing better than Jalen Milroe.
There are no games between top 25 opponents this week. This marks the earliest week in a season that there have been no such matchups since 2019 (also Week 3). That week, the top 15 teams all won, but teams in the top 25 went 19-3 overall.
Vanderbilt wide receiver Will Sheppard leads the FBS with six touchdowns (No. 2 nationally with 20 catches) heading to UNLV. Sheppard is the first player to catch a pair of touchdowns in each of the first three games since Alabama's Jerry Jeudy in 2018.
Will No. 14 LSU rebound? The Tigers travel to Mississippi State but are 8-12 away from Death Valley since the beginning of 2020.
The transition from Mike Leach in StarkVegas is going to be interesting. The Bulldogs are predictably running more under new coach Zach Arnett (63% of the time). Still, QB Will Rogers -- the FBS leader in pass attempts last season -- might still be Mississippi State's best weapon. Despite throwing less, Rogers is averaging a career-best 8.5 yards per pass and has yet to throw an interception. He's tied with Arkansas' KJ Jefferson for most TD passes without a pick among SEC QBs (5-0). In three seasons under Leach, MSU passed on a staggering 79% of snaps.
Signing off with Coach Prime.