BOULDER, Colo.—The September of Deion in college football has come to an end. And man, it was fun. But don’t think this was just a cute fluke that exposed a hype-inflated program that quickly will recede.

The Era of Deion is not over. It’s just starting.

“If you can’t see what’s coming with CU football, you’ve lost your mind,” Deion Sanders said Saturday, after No. 8 USC outlasted his Buffaloes, 48-41. “You’re just a flat-out hater. If you can’t see what’s going on, and what’s going to transpire over the next couple of months, there’s something wrong with you.”

Oh, there are haters out there. They had a second successive Saturday in which to sack dance over a Buffaloes’ loss. For the people who have found this program too brash, too flashy, too loud, too something—they’ve had their moments against Oregon and USC. But if the haters are telling the truth, they had to come away from this result a little unsettled.

This great football experiment is working. This defeat was tinged with hope and optimism.

First, Colorado fought. That wasn’t much of a surprise, but when the Trojans were leading 34-7 with less than a minute left in the first half, it was fair to wonder whether the bleachers at Folsom Field would empty shortly after halftime. Instead, the Buffs closed to within one score in the final two minutes, with USC not putting it away until recovering an onside kick.

Quarterback Shedeur Sanders and the Colorado Buffaloes closed in on undefeated USC in the last quarter.

Chet Strange/USA TODAY Sports

Second, Colorado ran the ball. That had not happened all season. The Buffs entered the game last in the nation in rushing offense at 55.75 yards per game and 1.91 yards per rush. Then they put 193 yards on the board, most since November 2021. (This could also be interpreted as yet another red flag flapping over the Trojans’ chronically pliable defense.)

Third, Colorado got some defensive stops to give itself a chance. USC’s final three possessions ended with an interception, a punt and a missed field goal, as the Buffaloes finally found some methods for keeping reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams out of the end zone after he’d already thrown six touchdown passes.

Fourth, Colorado debuted yet another offensive weapon. Freshman Omarion Miller, who had not recorded a college catch, lit up USC for 191 yards on seven catches and a touchdown. The Buffs’ deep receiving corps added a new element with the 6’2” Miller, who combines size with speed and hands. Miller’s scoring play was a jaw-dropper from quarterback Shedeur Sanders, quite frankly the most impressive throw of the day even with Williams’ six TDs factored in.

So, a lot of good things. But also a third straight stumbling start, with Colorado’s offense taking a long time to hit stride and its defense being gouged. First-half score of the last three games: opponents 90, Buffs 28.

“I’ve got to fix that myself, personally,” Shedeur Sanders said.

He rejected the notion of a moral victory. But he did say, several times, that he was proud of his team. This was a good performance from an incomplete team, a building program, a place that was lost in the college football landscape and now has been found.

The Buffaloes are 3-2. That’s not the stuff of a College Football Playoff contender, but it’s assuredly better than almost everyone anticipated. The optimistic guess was a 2-3 start, with 1-4 more realistic. In August, nobody was predicting a road win over TCU as a 21-point underdog; a 22-point thumping of Nebraska; or losing to USC by seven as a 20.5-point ‘dog.

Colorado is better—much better—than expected. And this galvanizing start has accelerated the CPR—Coach Prime Revival—timetable.

The pregame scene was another testament to the charisma of the program, with celebrities (and near-celebrities) all over the field before and during warmups. Among those spotted on the field: rapper DaBaby, NBA Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and former NFL stars Michael Irvin, Terrell Owens, DeSean Sanders and Warren Sapp. The rumored guest list also had the likes Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, LeBron James and Will Ferrell scheduled to attend, but their presence was not confirmed during the game. At Colorado’s previous home game, The Rock and Lil Wayne were in attendance.

This had the feel of a marquee Las Vegas boxing match, except it was 9 a.m. instead of midnight.

Recruits who were wide-eyed taking in the glam scene before the game re-emerged a couple of hours after it. Colorado staffers were out at midfield outfitting recruits in uniforms and snapping pictures of the prospective Buffs. At least five four-star or five-star recruits from the classes of 2024 and ’25 were expected to be at the game, plus a handful of Class of ’26 standouts who haven’t yet been rated.

Then there’s the transfer portal. Sanders isn’t going to restock in bulk there the way he did last year, but rest assured the Buffs will be active and successful in landing proven college players.

“We’ve got a couple recruits who can’t wait to get here in the spring and get going,” Sanders said.

What the current team has: a truly exceptional quarterback, an elite play caller and some dazzling skill talent. There is much work to do—especially on the lines—but the duration of Shedeur Sanders’ college career could have a huge effect on how big a step Colorado can take in 2024 in a new conference.

If Caleb Williams is the landslide No. 1 draft pick in the spring, Shedeur can’t be far behind. But he also could stay in school and play another year for his dad. Shedeur is making plenty of money via NIL and comes from money, so even a high-first-round draft grade might not be a deciding factor.

He threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns despite being under significantly more pressure than Williams (who threw for 403 and six TDs). Sanders also ran for 50 yards and a touchdown, showing an increasingly advanced feel for when to run. And his dad said that if Colorado had gotten the final possession, he was sure Shedeur would have led a tying (or winning) drive—just as he did against Colorado State two weeks ago.

“He’s a baller,” Deion said of Shedeur, mentioning his maturity-based nickname, “Grown,” yet again. “He’s a now player. He’s a today player. Young men all around the country want to play with him as well, so they’re encouraging him not to look down the street too far. And all are encouraging him, because we understand what’s coming.”

What’s coming: more players, more celebs, more success. The September of Deion is over, with viral allure and better-than-expected results. The Era of Deion is just cranking up.