Hayes: What happens if Coach Prime's historic and controversial roster makeover actually works?
The question isn’t if it will work. The bigger issue is the long-term impact on college football if it does.
What if Deion Sanders’ massive roster overhaul as coach at Colorado translates to success? What if the Buffs, the worst Power 5 team in the nation in 2022, outperform expectations and are bowl eligible — or better — in 2023?
What does it say about the ruthless turnover of a roster that, by the time the season begins in September, will have more than 70 new scholarship players among the limit of 85?
It says no one is safe. On any roster, on any team, from any coaching staff.
“I’m a change agent,” Sanders said after Colorado’s spring game. “I’ll be darned, anything that I touch, it has no other possibility but to change, because that’s what we do.”
Now here’s the rub: players change, too. Not all — but the majority do over time.
They get better, they mature, they develop and either reach or exceed expectations. They’re not the same men they were when they first stepped on campus as bright-eyed freshmen.
That’s what will get lost if the Sanders Plan works. Because if gutting a roster by 90% of its players works for Coach Prime, it will work for others.
Or at the very least, others will try it. Maybe not to the same level, but significantly more than what we’re currently seeing. And those key growth years for some will be either stunted because of transfers, or eliminated.
Arizona State, with new coach Kenny Dillingham, is the closest thing to the Sanders Plan. He added 27 transfers, and with 20 freshman signees, has replaced more than 50% of his roster for 2023.
New Nebraska coach Matt Rhule has 39 new scholarship players (28 high school signees, 11 transfers), and is still recruiting the spring portal. Can you blame him?
Nebraska hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016, and just finished a brutal coaching run with a beloved son of the program who couldn’t make it work. At some point, you tear it down to the studs and start over.
This is where we are in the talent procurement phase of college football. The days of building through recruiting are gone.
Coaches want you to believe that high school recruiting and long-term development are still the lifeblood of the sport, and they are — for a select group. Georgia, Ohio State, Alabama, Clemson and LSU have proven in the Playoff era that they can build championship level programs through high school recruiting.
Everyone else needs portal help to put together a roster that can compete with the elite. Even the aforementioned 5 elite programs have used the portal (or graduate transfers) at specific positions to supplement high school recruiting. Thursday is the 5-year anniversary of Joe Burrow deciding to transfer to LSU, after all.
It’s not a matter of using the portal, it’s how much a program relies on it. And if Colorado does what Sanders believes it will, there will be more teardowns in the future.
He has changed the narrative before coaching his first game at the Power 5 level, and was honest about the process from Day 1. He strolled into his first team meeting at Colorado and told the team he was bringing his Gucci luggage (his players, his roster) with him — and the majority of the guys in that room wouldn’t be around for the ride to officially begin in the fall.
He has an elite quarterback (his son, Shedeur), the No. 1 player in the 2022 recruiting class (CB/WR Travis Hunter), and about 10-to-12 impact players from the transfer portal. More telling: at least 17 of the 22 starters (10-of-11 on defense) will be from the transfer portal.
Essentially a brand new team.
“This is the genesis of the new era, the new thing,” Sanders said.
Every new, major decision reveals a vacuum, and that vacuum is always filled. This time around, it was the de facto free agency moves by the NCAA.
To be fair, these moves were a long time coming. Players needed the ability to earn off their name, image and likeness, and needed the ability to move freely — once as an undergraduate — between schools.
But every move in such an expansive organization with multiple layers of governance has unintended consequences. Those consequences create vacuums that will be filled.
What did the NCAA think would happen when coaches, who make tens of millions to win games, were told their roster management would suddenly and drastically change — and they would be on the short end of it?
It took all of 2 years for coaches to figure it out and fill the vacuum left by newfound player power. The coaches simply took it back by forcing those who weren’t productive to the transfer portal.
No more patience, no more development of players over 2 or 3 years until they’re ready to start and contribute. If you‘re not playing in the first 2 years on campus — and in some cases, 1 year — you’re out the door.
By your own choice, or nudged out by a coach who needs a roster spot.
“This process is gonna be quick,” Sanders said. “It’s gonna be fast, but we’re gonna get it done. We are gonna roll.”
The Sanders Plan is here, everyone. And no player is safe.
Especially if Deion does the unthinkable and pulls it off in Year 1.