Deion Sanders rapidly raising profile of No. 18 Colorado on and off the field

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — The turnaround for a Colorado team that went 1-11 last season is happening at lightning speed. Just don’t ask coach Deion Sanders about stopping to soak any of it in.

He’s much too busy to fully wrap his mind around Boulder being the center of the college football universe.

“Santa don’t have time. He’s got to deliver the gifts. He ain’t got time to enjoy his cookies. That's all he gets,” Sanders said Tuesday as the 18th-ranked Buffaloes (2-0) prepare to host rival Colorado State (0-1) this weekend. “I’ve got to keep it going. I’ve got to keep this machine going, and make sure we stay on the right path and make sure we’re locked in and we’re focused on the right things.

“It’s a lot driving this train. It’s not easy.”

Sanders has not only boosted Colorado’s image on the field but off it as well. Merchandise sales have increased roughly 525% from 2021. September is already the second biggest month ever on the school store's website. The biggest was December, when Sanders first joined Colorado from Jackson State.

What’s more, Colorado’s main athletics account has increased by 59% on Instagram since Sept. 1. There have been 29.3 million total impressions on Facebook between the school’s main and football accounts.

And star power is flocking to Folsom Field to catch a glimpse of Sanders leading Colorado back to prominence. Hall of Fame receivers Terrell Owens and Michael Irvin made their way to the field last weekend. Even the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan showed up. This Saturday, ESPN’s “College GameDay ” and Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” will be in town when Colorado hosts the Rams.

Sanders and his overhauled roster have transformed the Buffaloes into one of the hottest tickets around. The Buffs have sold out four games — including Colorado State — with another (Oregon State, Nov. 4) close to being a full house. Should the Arizona game on Nov. 11 reach capacity, it would mark the first time in school history that all six homes games were sellouts.

“The atmosphere was astonishing, impeccable. It's grand,” Sanders said of the 53,241 fans at Folsom to see a 36-14 win over longtime rival Nebraska for his home debut last weekend. “First time ever, truly, experiencing that at the college level. Tremendous to see all the celebs ... and alumni. It was tremendous. And seeing the kids take the field at the conclusion of the game was unbelievable.”

Yet his team is taking it all in stride — even if it seems almost surreal at times. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders warmed up with Owens on the sideline last weekend.

“They all have been level-headed, down-to-earth people,” receiver Xavier Weaver said when asked about having NFL greats hanging around. “You think: ‘Oh, he’s in the Hall of Fame. He thinks he's better.' But he's just like us. He's coming to teach us, coach us up, and stuff like that. You can ask any question you want. So it’s a blessing."

The spotlight doesn’t seem too big for the team, either. Then again, they’re used to being followed by cameras for TV and YouTube content.

“I’ve been training and practicing for moments like these pretty much my whole life,” said Weaver, who has 16 catches for 288 yards this season. “Now that we’re on the stage that I want to be on, it’s starting to come to light.”

The mentality of the Buffaloes remains the same, he said, no matter if they're a big underdog (in a 45-52 win at TCU) or a slight favorite (Nebraska) or this week as heavy favorites ( 22 1/2 points over Colorado State, according to FanDuel Sportsbook).

“Every game we’re going to have a big target on our back, no matter who we play,” Weaver said. "It could be Alabama we've got to play — we've got to come out strong.

“It’s everybody’s Super Bowl when they play CU. They want to get this ‘W’ because they know the stage they’re going to be on as well.”

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll