College Football
With Travis Hunter a two-way threat, Colorado looks to challenge Pac-12 hierarchy
College Football

With Travis Hunter a two-way threat, Colorado looks to challenge Pac-12 hierarchy

Updated Mar. 29, 2023 6:04 p.m. ET

Colorado is M'Baku, T'Challa is USC, Erik Killmonger is Utah and 2023 is a season-long "Challenge Day" in the Pac-12.

(Course this also makes the Pac-12 Wakanda, which, honestly, I don't hate.)

Deion Sanders and his Buffaloes are a stress test personified in Boulder. How deep is the Pac-12? How hard is it to walk into a place thin on tradition and hapless in the CFP era and win right away?

Pac-12 and many college football fans would like to think it's hard. They'd like to think Coach Prime can't show up with the crew from an HBCU, Jackson State, and challenge for the throne.


But as they challenge, they will with one of the singular players in the sport today: Travis Hunter, who will play both ways for a second consecutive season.

He is a cornerback who also played receiver in his last four games at Jackson State and made 11 catches for 135 yards, with four touchdowns.

In the Celebration Bowl alone, he caught four passes for 47 yards. The last one, a 19-yard catch, tied the game against North Carolina Central to send the game into overtime.

The only difference for him in 2023 is he could do this on national TV every week.

It's rare to see a player play both ways in the sport. It's so rare that we feel the need to cite it, mark it, note it.

We remember Champ Bailey caught 47 passes for 744 yards and made three INTs at Georgia in 1998.

We remember Chris Gamble played cornerback and wideout, returned punts and kicks, had 31 catches for 499 yards and made four picks at Ohio State in 2002.

We remember Eric Weddle played both ways at Utah, making 65 tackles and seven INTs — returning two of them for TDs — and rushing for five TDs in 2006.

We remember Iowa State's Joel Lanning played quarterback, threw for at least 1,200 yards and rushed for at least 300 more in back-to-back seasons (2015, 2016) before converting to middle linebacker, where he recorded 114 tackles in 2017.

We remember Charles Woodson won the Heisman at Michigan going both ways. Hunter is that kind of talent.

But the one that most people remember isn't in our sport but in the movie "Remember the Titans." With the state title on the line, Coach Yoast asked Coach Boone for his help because he was "getting my ass kicked out there."

Boone didn't come up with a new defense against Ed Henry's Statesmen. He didn't ask to call plays.

Before the second half, he simply called Reggies and Robs — Boone bet that his Titan Reggies were better than George C. Marshall's Robs.

Can Utah and USC be challenged in Pac-12?

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"They're spreading us out too far," he said. "We're gonna put Sunshine, Alan, Glascoe, Davis — you're gonna play both ways for the rest of the game. I don't want a receiver to get across that line of scrimmage. Coach Yoast will tell you where you're playing."

(Boone and Yoast still were gonna let Alan Bosley get cooked like Lincoln Riley's brisket before Bosley did the right thing and put Petey Jones in at DB. Damn near lost the game on that personnel decision. Woof.)

With this example, Boone threw talent at a weakness on his team. Perhaps the same could be said about Colorado coach Deion Sanders and how he chooses to deploy Hunter — his best defender — as an offensive weapon.

While Hunter is the best cornerback of the 2022 class, his heart is at receiver. Buffalo coordinators expect to make use of him in 2023.

"He's gonna be able to help us on both sides of the ball," Lewis told Buff Zone. He has a very unique skill set that's going to help the team in a lot of different phases. Offensively, he needs to do a great job just refining his route running because he's one of the freakiest athletes on any field he's ever stepped on. 

"We're gonna get on the field in a very competitive league with really elite (defensive backs) and when he comes across a DB as a wide receiver, particularly, where talent is equal, well, how are you going to win? That's where it comes down to techniques and fundamentals in your approach and your work that you do. So as he continues to trend the right way, I think he's gonna be able to add some value, again, in all phases of the game."

Charles Kelly, who comes from Alabama as a secondary coach and coordinates the Buffalo defense, knows exactly what kind of player Hunter is because he was desperately trying to win his commitment two years ago.

"Guys can play both positions and especially when you're wired the right way, and Travis is definitely wired that way," Kelly said.

So it's no longer a question of whether Hunter plays both ways, but how often Coach Prime will allow it, according to Kelly. 

"I think coach Prime will manage it like he sees fit, the percentage of time that he spends with what group," Kelly said.

This is a remarkable statement from a defensive coordinator, as they are usually protective of how their best players are allocated across teams. They need their stars more than the offense because defenses are always at an inherent disadvantage in football.

It's almost as remarkable as Kelly saying 2020 Heisman winner DeVonta Smith was "probably one of our better corners" at Alabama.


Hunter's offensive snaps could come down to just how quickly Cormani McClain, the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the class of 2023, picks up the defense. McClain's maturation is an important arc in CU's narrative this spring, as is Shedeur Sanders' maturation in Lewis' offense.

Lewis has brought an offense to CU that ran the fourth-most offensive plays in FBS last year. Here's how he described his philosophy:

"When you're operating this offense, it's like riding a bike down a volcano that's erupting," he said. "You can't be thinking about the bike. You got to know the bike. And that's what our offense is, and that's what we're doing right now — we're teaching the bike, we're teaching the offense. We're teaching them to be elite problem solvers so that no matter what problems present themselves, the guys have the tools, the techniques and the fundamentals to be able to apply it and think fast, know fast, do fast."

A bike flying down the side of an erupting volcano with Shedeur Sanders pumping the pedals? I'm giddy because Sanders is capable of helping CU light up Folsom with fireworks provided in Lewis' offense.

Why so bullish on Sanders? Peep game: He threw for 3,732, 40 TDs and six INTs in 2022. Here's a list of other QBs who threw for at least 3,500 yards, 40 TDs and six INTs or fewer in FBS 2022: 

1. Caleb Williams.

2. C.J. Stroud.

3. Shedeur Sanders.

That's the list. 

"But, RJ, Sanders is stepping up in competition from FCS to FBS. He just padded his numbers against inferior competition." 

I don't know. Did he? Let's check the stats: 

Siri, which FCS quarterbacks threw for at least 3,500 yards, 40 TDs and six INTs or fewer in 2022?

1. Shedeur Sanders.

That's the list.

But spring might be less about Sanders learning the offense and more about finding out who CU can trust to back him up.

Right now the candidates are Colton Allen, Drew Carter and Ryan Staub. The only one of those guys to see previous action at CU is Carter, who was 5-for-12 for 35 yards in six appearances as a freshman last year.

Staub threw for 3,008 yards with 37 touchdowns to just five interceptions while leading West Ranch to an 11-1 record in Stevenson Ranch, California, last year.

But with respect to Sanders' talent, the rest of the CU quarterback room has work to do. With this knowledge, Sanders might be more valuable to CU than Caleb Williams is to USC or Cam Rising to Utah — both of which are on the schedule this season for the Buffaloes.

With national title runner-up TCU on the schedule, it's an opportunity for Colorado to matter for the first time in more than a decade with singular talent.

Shedeur Sanders is singular, prime. Hunter is singular, prime. Deion Sanders is singular, Prime. Why can't they have a singular spring, a singular season?

It's Challenge Day.

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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