Gold: Like it or not, Lincoln Riley and Coach Prime need each other
College football coaches, fans and media alike don’t want to admit it, but we need hype. We love hype. We feed off hype like family reunions at a buffet. Hype to a college football follower is oxygen.
We can pretend like we’re over the Deion Sanders Show, that the time for Prime has come and gone, that we’re ready for all this noise to end. It’s loud. We’re tired. We’re old. We’re cranky.
But that’s ridiculous. We live for this stuff.
And even though the shine is gone from what would have been the glitziest game this entire year — a would-be undefeated Colorado team coming off a stunning upset of No. 10 Oregon, a win that most certainly would’ve vaulted the Buffaloes into the top 10, stacked up against the prohibitive Pac-12 favorite, USC, blessed with a Heisman winner at quarterback and more weapons than an arms dealer — that doesn’t make Saturday’s game a dud.
In fact, it’s just the kind of game that the Pac-12 — and especially the Trojans — needs this time of year.
For the most part, the Week 5 slate nationally is pretty barren.
There are just 4 games featuring games between ranked opponents, down from 6 in Week 4. After 3 such games last Saturday, the Pac-12 has just 1 this weekend — No. 10 Utah vs. No. 19 Oregon State — and that game is on Friday. Then there’s No. 24 Kansas at No. 3 Texas, No. 13 LSU at No. 20 Ole Miss and No. 11 Notre Dame at No. 17 Duke on Saturday.
There also are the likes of No. 9 Oregon vs. Stanford, No. 2 Michigan vs. Nebraska and No. 14 Oklahoma vs. Iowa State. Junk games, each of them, right into the trash heap.
And that would have been just where this USC-Colorado game would’ve gone except for Coach Prime’s histrionics and heroics.
A year ago, that’s exactly what it was, a 55-17 Trojans win that was about as competitive as a lion taking on a squirrel. Colorado was barely a meal for USC. Barely a toothpick. USC had 531 yards and the Buffaloes managed just 259 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Buffs were historically bad last year.
But this year, even if their final record doesn’t show it, they’re at least interesting.
A year ago, the shoe was on the other foot.
Coming off what was, by USC’s standards, a historically bad season — for the Trojans, 4-8 might as well be 1-11 — Lincoln Riley was brought to Heritage Hall not just to resurrect an offense gone south and bring the program back to its rightful place among the game’s elites.
He was hired to bring the buzz back to Hollywood.
And he did so by treating the transfer portal like his personal shopping catalog. Ooh, I’ll take this one and that one and this one.
And it worked. The Trojans improved by 7 wins and were in the College Football Playoff conversation until the very last minute.
Flash forward a year, and Colorado’s brain trust shocked the world by jacking Coach Prime from Jackson State, a swipe similarly brazen to USC’s poaching of Riley from Oklahoma.
Then Prime went about treating the 2023 transfer portal like a wholesale market and everyone was up in arms. What is he doing to college football?
Everyone except Riley, of course.
“I give (Sanders) credit,” Riley said at Pac-12 Media Day. “We all know what the rules are. We all know what the parameters are. And our job is to build the best teams that we can for the universities that give us the opportunity to do it. No excuses. … From the outside looking in, it looks like they’ve done a great job transforming that roster, bringing in some really good players.”
Just not enough to compete with the USCs of the world. Not yet, anyway.
Coach Prime learned that the hard way on Saturday in a 42-6 smashing against the Ducks. Colorado’s offensive line was bullied and battered against a talented Oregon defense, one that sent Shedeur Sanders running for his life. He came into the game averaging 5 sacks allowed — he was taken down 7 times. At times, it didn’t even look fair. Especially without his 2-way All-America candidate Travis Hunter, who also will miss the USC game.
But this game — and this season — is not about Colorado competing with the top-10 Trojans.
This game is about the nationally televised platform it will provide USC and Caleb Williams, with a noon EST kickoff, the most intriguing game of the early slot.
SEC fans can flatter themselves pretend that Florida at Kentucky matters, and ACC fans outside of South Carolina may be eager to see Syracuse move to 5-0 by dismissing 2-2 Clemson. But neither is as compelling as Coach Prime, win or lose.
The proof is in the viewership: Colorado’s games drew record television audiences as the Buffaloes built up a 3-0 record. Even the Colorado-Colorado State matchup was must-see television.
In fact, University of Colorado spokesperson Steve Hurlbert told Olivia Doak of the Boulder Daily Camera that the school ran a report to determine the “equivalent ad value” of Colorado’s media coverage this season, and it totaled $90.55 million.
“CU Boulder has been the epicenter of the national sports world, which has provided unprecedented exposure for our university across the country,” Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano said. “I am impressed by the excitement that has permeated campus, which is less quantifiable but certainly as important as record-setting merchandise and ticket sales.”
The best way to tell the Coach Prime effect on this game and an on the Pac-12?
Without him, this game would probably be on the Pac-12 Network.
LOL, can you even imagine?