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Gold: Coach Prime on a roll, but that QB room looks shaky

Another day, another massive splash for Deion Sanders up in Boulder.

The Buffaloes landed their biggest recruit in at least two decades on Thursday as 5-star cornerback Cormani McClain, ESPN’s No. 4-rated player in the class of 2023, announced he was flipping from Miami to Colorado.

This was an interception of the highest order. McClain had planned to sign with the Hurricanes but once Coach Prime landed in Colorado, his plans changed. The opportunity to learn under one of the best cornerbacks in the history of the game was too much for McClain to pass up, and now he forms arguably the most potent DB duo in the country along with transfer two-way threat Travis Hunter.

In a league full of incredible passing games, the formerly woeful Buffaloes have the perfect counter balance.

After surrendering 44.5 points per game last season, the most in the Pac-12 by more than a touchdown, Colorado will look to shave at least two scores off that weekly mark.

In so many ways, things are looking up for Colorado. After The Year of the Turnaround in the Pac-12, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Buffaloes become bowl eligible just a year after winning one game.

In one way in particular, though, the Buffaloes ought to be nervous.

If they don’t protect Shedeur Sanders, they’re in a heap of trouble.

Coach Prime the Second, Sanders was one of Sanders The Elder’s first, and most obvious, flips.

Sanders starred under his father at Jackson State as a freshman in 2021, completing 66 percent of his passes en route to 3,231 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. He was even better as a sophomore last season, completing nearly 71 percent of his passes for 3,732 yards, 40 touchdowns and six interceptions.

He instantly became the most talented quarterback on the Colorado campus the second he stepped foot in Boulder, and he would’ve been anointed still would have been named the starter had his last name been Smith and not Sanders.

Lest we forget: The Buffaloes were brutally bad on offense last season, bordering on offensive. Colorado quarterbacks managed to pass for an average of 172.92 yards per game, with a total of 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Under Karl Dorrell and then Mike Sanford, the Buffaloes barely even tried to move the ball down the field through the air, averaging just 5.76 yards per attempt. In very passing category, the Buffaloes were far-and-away the worst team in the conference.

Sophomore J.T. Shrout led all Colorado passers with 1,220 yards on 90 completions, but he needed 203 attempts to get there, connecting on just 44.3 percent of his passes. He threw just 7 touchdowns to 8 interceptions, finishing with a passer rating of 98.3. He won the starting gig away from incumbent starter Brendon Lewis, who split time in the home opener but then rode the pine after attempting just 6 passes in Week 2. Then there was Owen McCown, son of NFLer Josh McCown, who played in 4 games with 1 semi-decent performance against UCLA, before getting hurt and opting to preserve his redshirt.

Shrout started the 1st two games for Colorado, splitting time with Lewis early after beating him out in fall camp, but after proving ineffective in a 49-7 drubbing to Minnesota, McCown was given a shot. McCown played until Week 6 against Cal, when he suffered a blow to the midsection, giving way to Shrout, who came off the bench to lead the Buffs to the 20-13 in overtime win, their only win of the season.

But now Shrout is gone, entering the transfer portal on Tuesday, joining McCown (Texas San-Antonio), Lewis (Nevada) and Maddox Kopp, a former Houston transfer who now is moving on to Miami of Ohio.

That leaves redshirt sophomore Drew Carter as the only scholarship quarterback on the Buffaloes roster other than Sanders, though freshmen Ryan Staub and Kasen Weisman will join the fray.

Now Coach Prime is in a precarious position this year if anything should happen to Shed. Colorado has too much riding on the season ahead to stand pat at this point. But they’re caught between a boulder and a Boulder — what quarterback worth his salt is going to want to transfer to Colorado to sit behind the coach’s kid for one year if not two. There probably aren’t a ton of options left on the table. And it’s not like Sanders can fault the Buffs former quarterbacks for seeking better options for themselves. That’s life in the portal. It giveth, it taketh away.

I get the feeling like Sanders is going to worry about the backup quarterback position on another day, though.

He’s got some more dancing to do for now.

Jon Gold
Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold has won multiple state and national awards covering the Pac-12. You can read more of his work at and follow him on Instagram at @JonahMountain.

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