Last Updated on September 30, 2023
BOULDER, Colo. — With every game on their 2023 schedule, the Colorado Buffaloes and head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders are authoring one of the the most sensational stories in recent college football history — and captivating a national audience in the process.
The chapters have included a season-opening statement win against 2022 championship runner-up TCU as massive underdogs, a 36-14 dismantling of Nebraska at home, a 43-35 double-overtime thriller against archrival Colorado State in primetime and a rude awakening against Oregon in the Buffaloes’ first conference game. The context of this success — with Colorado coming of a 1-11 season in 2022 and generating unprecedented roster turnover — has made the program’s ascension even more unique and newsworthy.
That unprecedented combination of momentum, spectacle and narrative culminated in one of the most-hyped games of the college football schedule on Saturday: Colorado’s home contest against reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams and the No. 8 USC Trojans at a lively and filled-to-the-brim Folsom Field in Boulder.
While the game itself lacked the competitiveness to live up to its billing from a football perspective for most of the game — the Trojans were in control for the first three quarters before foiling a late Colorado comeback attempt to win — USC’s 48-41 win was a fascinating look into the business side of the college football landscape, touching on issues as widespread as NIL, conference realignment, TV ratings and athletic department revenue. Here are four numbers that follow the money and help illustrate the magnitude of the Colorado-USC clash.
– 23 Days. Colorado Athletics announced on Sept. 7 that the Buffaloes’ games against USC and Colorado State had sold out, boosting the total of sold-out matchups to four. By Sept. 19, Colorado made history with its first season with sellouts in each of its six home matchups. In the spring, the Buffaloes announced that all 2023 season tickets had sold out, just months after Sanders’ arrival in Boulder. The game had an announced attendance of 54,032 spectators, besting Colorado’s attendance marks from their previous home games against Nebraska and Colorado State and easily clearing the Buffaloes’ 2022 per-game average of 42,848.
– 12 Games. Saturday’s matchup marked the 12th and final conference game between Colorado and USC. The Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 in 2011, but they never defeated the Trojans in the teams’ 12 conference games. Next season, Colorado will move to the Big 12 Conference and USC will bolt for the coast-to-coast Big Ten Conference in two of the most significant changes in the upcoming wave of conference realignment.
– Four Straight Weeks. Prior to Colorado-USC’s clash in FOX’s early 12 p.m. ET window, the Buffaloes had played in either the first or second most-viewed college football game of the week for four consecutive weeks, according to SportsMediaWatch.com. In addition, Colorado’s games against Nebraska, Colorado State and Oregon each earned the highest rating of their respective week, and the Buffaloes’ Pac-12 opener against Oregon was the only college football game to exceed 10 million viewers through the season’s first four weeks. Ratings for Colorado-USC could set the bar even higher when the data is released.
– Two potential first-round quarterbacks (and NIL stars). The quarterback duel between USC quarterback Caleb Williams and Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders piqued the interest of talent evaluators across the NFL, and the battle lived up to the hype with a combined 10 touchdown passes. But the two quarterbacks aren’t waiting for their prospective pro careers to delve into big-time business ventures. Williams and Sanders have fully embraced the name, image and likeness sphere and boast impressive NIL profiles. Business of College Sports’ Kristi Dosh compared the two stars’ NIL deals ahead of Saturday’s matchup, along with other innovative off-the-field opportunities from both players.
Looking ahead, Colorado might fall short of the prolific TV numbers and seismic economic impact estimates that characterized its magical September, a byproduct of less nationally appealing matchups remaining on the schedule and the Buffaloes’ slide out of the AP Top 25 rankings. Still, Saturday’s stellar second half suggested that Colorado will remain one of the biggest stories of the 2023 season — and one of the biggest draws in the sport on TV and in Folsom Field, while USC continues to forge its College Football Playoff resume.