As Deion Sanders turns 1-11 Colorado into the epicenter of the sports world, here’s a question:
What if Coach Prime had chosen to revamp 1-11 USF instead?
Talks last fall between the Bulls and Sanders weren’t exactly a secret. The Fort Myers native and Florida State/NFL legend said in a recent interview with longtime local radio host Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem that the interest was “authentic” and that the Bulls were “definitely in it.”
Instead, he chose the Buffaloes. Interest around Colorado has exploded, as evidenced by everything surrounding Saturday’s win over Colorado State.
Its 9.3 million viewers made it ESPN’s fifth-most watched regular-season college football game ever — despite the fact that it ended after 2 a.m. Eastern. Its average audience was 1 million more than USF-Alabama (4.8 million) and FSU-Boston College (3.5 million) combined. ESPN’s College GameDay was in Boulder and reported its best September viewership in 13 years (2.3 million).
Other data on the Coach Prime effect are staggering:
• MGM reported twice as many bets on Colorado to cover a 23 ½-point spread last week than any other college team. As of last Friday, MGM had more spread bets on that contest than any of that weekend’s NFL games.
• Soon after Colorado State coach Jay Norvell made a crack at Sanders’ sunglasses, the company that makes those shades went viral. Blenders Eyewear CEO Chase Fisher told Sports Illustrated called the impact “truly profound” and “earth-shattering in terms of the amount of interest and curiosity and eyeballs.”
• Three of the five most-viewed games this season have featured Colorado, according to Sports Media Watch. The only exceptions were top-12 matchups of blueblood programs: Florida State-LSU and Alabama-Texas.
• Sanders’ interview over the weekend on 60 Minutes was viewed on YouTube 2.4 million times as of Wednesday morning. That’s 10 times more than a segment from that same show with Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Sanders’ interview has the eighth-most YouTube views of any 60 Minutes segment this year. But the other seven clips (including an interview with Prince Harry and a story on the planet’s mass extinction) have all been up for at least four months; Coach Prime’s video is only a few days old.
The biggest beneficiary, however, has been Colorado. Some of the effects of this boom won’t become apparent for months with things like recruiting flips or admissions spikes. But some are already clear. The Buffaloes have sold out every home game for the first time in the 100-season history of Folsom Field. Their total attendance (106,382) is up by more than 15,000 compared to the first two home games of 2022.
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Not bad for a program that still has only the sixth-best odds to win the Pac-12.
So what would USF have looked like with Sanders in town? The Rock and Lil Wayne would have been in Tampa last week, not in Boulder. If a late-night game against a bad Mountain West team drew 9 million viewers, what would the ratings have been if Raymond James Stadium hosted the Aflac Bowl between two company pitchmen, Sanders and Nick Saban? The duck himself might have flown in to watch.
For the first time since 2007, USF would have been the center of college football. It would have been like the second coming of Tom Brady to the Bucs. Imagine how fundraising would be going for the Bulls’ $340 million on-campus stadium.
This does not mean the Bulls made a bad decision by hiring Alex Golesh. Sanders’ candidacy always seemed like a longshot because of his stated interest in joining a Power Five team. He told Clem that Florida, FSU and Miami “would always use the Power Five thing against me recruiting and all of that.”
It’s also important to note that the early returns on Golesh are encouraging. His loss to ‘Bama was one of USF’s best showings in years, and his 2024 recruiting class sits atop the AAC. If you contend USF missed out on Sanders, plenty of other teams did, too — including Florida State (though Mike Norvell has the ‘Noles in the top five).
As captivating as Sanders’ first three games have been, we still don’t know how he and his program will handle failure. We may find out soon, with No. 19 Colorado visiting No. 10 Oregon and hosting No. 5 USC in back-to-back weekends.
Regardless of what happens, Sanders has commandeered college football and made Colorado the center of sports. It’s worth wondering what could have been at USF.
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