College Football
What is Colorado's contingency plan once Shedeur Sanders, Travis Hunter & Co. leave?
College Football

What is Colorado's contingency plan once Shedeur Sanders, Travis Hunter & Co. leave?

Updated May. 9, 2024 9:03 a.m. ET

The first visible fissure in Colorado's 2023 season didn't come with the loss to USC or Oregon — two teams that were expected to beat the Buffaloes. It came when Stanford wide out Elic Ayomanor torched Travis Hunter and the Colorado secondary with 13 catches, 294 receiving yards — second all-time in Pac-12 history — and three touchdowns in a game where CU blew a 29-0 halftime lead to lose 46-43 at home.

The second fissure showed itself after three straight losses to ranked Pac-12 opponents, as Washington State and Utah combined to beat Colorado 79-31 on the road. Colorado's season ended on Nov. 25, 2023. 

On Nov. 26, 2023, four-star QB Antwaan Hill decommitted from the program. The next day, three-star QB Danny O'Neill decommitted as well. Since then, Deion "Coach Prime" Sanders hasn't moved with much urgency in finding a premier player to step in to follow his son at quarterback.

That means, heading into Year 2 at Colorado, Prime has not earned the signature of a high school quarterback as sitting head coach since he first "flipped" his son, Shedeur Sanders, from Florida Atlantic to Jackson State.


The plan is simply to "wait and see." But "wait and see" ended with a 4-8 record last season, partly because "wait and see" hasn't built depth at important positions, notably QB, offensive line and defensive line.

So, what happens after Shedeur heads to the NFL in 2025? For the time being, Ryan Staub is the backup and the most experienced quarterback after his son, a projected first-round pick in next year's NFL Draft. In his only start last year, Staub completed 17 of 24 pass attempts for 195 yards and a TD in a 23-17 loss to Utah.

Behind Staub is Destin Wade, a former four-star prospect who transferred from Kentucky. Wade was the 418th-ranked player in the 2022 recruiting class, according to 247Sports Composite.

Prime has said he's comfortable with Staub as CU's backup and hasn't been aggressive in the portal ahead of the 2024 season. Last season, Staub was forced to start after Sanders suffered a fractured vertebrae following CU's 56-14 blowout loss to a 5-7 Washington State team.

Through 11 games last season, Sanders was sacked 52 times. He was sacked four times against Washington State, a team that ranked 106th in total sacks among FBS programs before kicking off against the Buffaloes.

Colorado's offensive line, as has been documented, was woeful last year and played a large part in the Buffaloes finishing 1-7 in conference play and 4-8 overall – Prime's first losing season as a head coach.

In 2024, Prime's philosophy for roster recruitment and management hasn't changed since he first began his collegiate coaching career at Jackson State in September 2020. He wants the makeup of his roster to remain 40-40-20 — 40% transfers, 40% grad transfers and 20% incoming high school recruits. In the 2024 recruiting cycle, he's seen five freshmen enroll, and 39 players added as transfers to his program.

What's striking about Year 2 for Prime is how few veteran players from last year's team he's been able —or wanted —to keep. Important contributors and developing players like running back Dylan Edwards and cornerbacks Jahquez Robinson, Cormani McClain and Omarion Cooper have elected to transfer.

Robinson, who transferred to Colorado from Alabama, claims to have entered the portal as a grad transfer with two years of eligibility left. He fits the profile of not just the kind of player Prime would normally want, but the kind of player a Power 4 general manager told me foots the bill for him too.

"I'd love to know why he'd let a kid with that profile leave without a fight."

Expectations for Ohio State & Colorado this upcoming 2024 season

As Prime continues to run a playbook that worked for him at JSU, it will be interesting to see what the NFL thinks of players not named Travis Hunter or Shedeur Sanders next year who played at Colorado. But it will be even more interesting to see what Colorado football looks like after Shedeur and Shilo Sanders leave.

Twelve of the 16 Big 12 teams have every right to believe they have a chance to win at least nine games, play in the Big 12 title game, and make the 12-team College Football Playoff. Colorado doesn't yet look like one of those 12 teams. 

With a non-conference schedule that features FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, a Nebraska team that expects to be stout defensively, and a Colorado State team that Sanders needed to orchestrate a 98-yard, two-minute drive to beat, the Buffs won't have the luxury of starting slow.

Six of the final seven Big 12 opponents on Colorado's 2024 schedule played in bowl games last year. Baylor, Central Florida and Cincinnati won't be looking to lay down either.

These games are 2024 problems, and there won't be a lot of patience among fans if Colorado puts together another 4-8 season. Sooner or later, winning at a high level will be the demand. It's up to Prime to meet those expectations — or have a contingency plan if he doesn't.

Some might say Prime doesn't need a backup plan. He doesn't need options because he's made his choice. 

But burning the ships only works when you've found land. Burning the ships is not an option when you're still lost at sea.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The Number One College Football Show." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube.


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