The TCU Horned Frogs kick off the 2023 campaign in Amon G. Carter Stadium with the national spotlight of Big Noon Kickoff vs. future Big 12 conference mate Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday September 2 at 11 AM Central. It’s the return trip of a home-and-home with the Buffs, as last season’s victory in Boulder set the course for the Frogs’ magical run.
It’s been an active off season for Colorado, with a high profile new coach and roster overhaul, bringing in Deion Sanders from Jackson State and transfer portal talent from all over the country, and serving as the first domino of the next round of conference realignment by announcing a return to the Big 12 in 2024. With an entirely new roster taking the field in Fort Worth than what the Frogs faced in 2022, we got with Tony Cosolo of USA Today’s Buffaloes Wire for the inside scoop to better understand what the Frogs are up against this week.
Frogs O’ War: Bringing in Deion Sanders as head coach has put Colorado in the national spotlight and generated a ton of buzz through the offseason. How do you see that translating to the on-field product and what are the expectations for Year One with Coach Prime?
Buffaloes Wire: I have been bullish on how quickly I believe CU can get turned around under Coach Prime. In a way too early prediction before spring ball, I went with 8-4 as a season record. A safer bet would be to put us in bowl contention. Coach Prime was able to turn a 4-8 JSU team into a 4-3 team in his first year before going a combined 23-3 over his last two seasons by completely revamping the team and enticing big-time prospects to come to the Tigers. This trend will continue in Boulder.
FOW: Former #1 overall recruit Travis Hunter has followed Coach Sanders to Boulder from Jackson State, an elite prospect at both defensive back and wide receiver. In the season opener will he be on the field for nearly every play on both sides of the ball or is he expected to focus on one position?
BW: Travis Hunter is scary talented. Earlier in the off-season, Coach Sanders was quoted as saying Hunter needed to focus on playing receiver because he can fall out of bed and play corner. So far from what I have seen from Hunter, I cannot argue with his assessment. Hunter seems to have taken a step forward in his offensive progression as he is cleaner in and out of his breaks to go along with tremendous athleticism and nose for the ball. Expect to see a lot of number 12 on both sides of the ball when the Buffs kick off against TCU on September 2nd.
FOW: Coach Sanders also brought his son Shedeur to lead the offense at quarterback, along with former Kent State head coach Sean Lewis as Offensive Coordinator. How will this combo attack the Horned Frogs defense and who else from this new-look offense do you expect to break out?
BW: The Buffs will run a spread look that will utilize an up-tempo style based on what I have seen from past versions of Sean Lewis’ Kent State offense and quotes from the offense during spring and fall camps. But fans should not look at this and think the Buffaloes are only going to air it out as Lewis hails from the University of Wisconsin and his “Badger Blood’ shines through in blending in a power run game to those spread formations.
When CU does look to pass, Shedeur Sanders is more than capable of slinging the ball around the field. I think there is a tendency to see the name Sanders first and foremost when looking at the QB’s game and playing at a Power Five level should change that sentiment. Sanders has the makings of a first-round talent if he can make the jump to division one ball as quickly as he made the jump from high school to JSU. Accuracy and athleticism are his main hallmarks as Sanders can fit the ball into tight windows or take off and run for a first down when the game calls for that.
FOW: The Buffaloes were able to bottle up the Chandler Morris-led TCU offense in the first half in Boulder last season. With a fully rebuilt defensive roster, who are the players you expect to cause problems for the Frogs in Fort Worth?
BW: New defensive coordinator Charles Kelly and Coach Prime were able to restock the defense with a lot of transfer talent from the Power Five and Junior College ranks to go along with some highly rated high school players, but the best of the bunch may come to Boulder from the Ivy League. Shane Cokes has made a name for himself in his short time at CU. The defensive lineman has enough size and versatility to his game that he can play on the interior or exterior of the d-line and the motor to get after the ground or pass attacks.
Demouy Kennedy spent his first few seasons playing on special teams and in spot duty for coach Kelly at Alabama and has brought a starting level to his game so far in fall camp. Kennedy has a lot of speed for a linebacker and should be an every-down type LB for CU.
The Buffaloes are loaded in the defensive backfield as the coaches did a good job of bringing in depth and athletes at safety and corner. Guys like Omarion Cooper (FSU), Kyndrich Breedlove (Old Miss), Shilo Sanders (JSU), Myles Slusher (Arkansas) and Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig (JSU) have joined Travis Hunter as weapons to be deployed to counter opposing offenses next season.
FOW: When we talked about conference realignment scenarios before the game in Boulder last season, you said the best case for Colorado would be to join the Big 12 with Arizona, ASU, and Utah in tow. Now that this is exactly how it has played out a year later, how are you feeling about the Buff’s return to the Big 12?
BW: I could not be more excited to be back in the Big 12. The Buffaloes were a Big 12 school when I was in college (dating myself) and to see the passion that Big 12 fan bases have shown in the interactions I have had since the announcement of CU’s return home. The Pac-12 was a mismanaged mess of a conference ever since CU joined and the football passion was just never the same as what I had grown accustomed to. You can grade the conferences on how well they have handled the loss of some of their premier universities. The Big 12 has done a masterful job of reloading while the Pac-12 remains on life support.
FOW: What is your prediction for this season opener and what is the path to the Buffaloes pulling the upset in Fort Worth?
BW: You mentioned it above, but Colorado must slow down TCU’s offensive attack. If they can use the first half from last season and harass Chandler Morris into stops, then CU has a chance to grab some early points. The Buffaloes should be feeling loose as a big road underdog so if their new-look offense can finish drives that last year’s team could not, then maybe we can have the Horned Frogs and their fans feeling uneasy in the Texas heat.
To expect TCU not to score would be a foolish proposition but I expect Colorado to keep pace with their new offensive attack. Colorado puts up some early points but TCU’s offense gets it going in the second half like they did last year. I will go the homer route and say Colorado makes enough plays to steal the game against a ranked TCU and score a giant upset in Coach Prime’s debut. Then after that, it will be a Big 12 conference matchup I can look forward to!
Big thanks to Tony for taking the time to chat with us ahead of Saturday’s season opener. You can follow Buffaloes Wire for all his Colorado coverage this season and looking forward to his coverage as part of the Big 12 next season. You can find portions of my responses to his questions, including a look at the TCU roster and how the Horned Frogs will replace departing production