Is PrimeTime Ready For Prime Time Now?

There hasn’t been a live episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE since April, and there hasn’t been a contingent of their performers known as the Not Ready For Prime Time Players since well before Deion Sanders burst onto the national scene, first as a college standout at Florida State University and then a two-sport star in the 90s, particularly in the NFL.  Prahhme Time!!  Prahhme Time!!, was a phrase one would come to expect would be intoned by Chris Berman during his highlight show of the same name, as if Deion’s exploits were a de facto promo reel (they often were).

Well, Coach Prime and his Colorado Buffaloes have arguably been THE story of the 2023 college football season so far, having come out of the gate with a stunning road win against future Big 12 conference foe and defending conference champion TCU and then a convincing home opener against onetime Big Eight archrival Nebraska.  But those exploits were relegated to FOX and the afternoon.  This week, with an intrastate showndown against Colorado State on tap, ESPN joined the party.

From the early morning hours where Sanders was the star attraction on College Game Day, which was produced in the shadow of both 100-year-old Folsom Field and the majestic Rockies themselves, and which featured someone nearly as old as both, Lee Corso, predicted a Buffs’ win, an otherwise moribund day of college action built toward the Buffs’ first evening outing of the season.  Prime Time, at least in the Mountain time zone.

And as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Thomas Neumann recounted, it turned out to be a compelling live Saturday night broadcast that even eclipsed the comedy that used to come from New York’s Studio 8H:

The story just keeps getting better for the Colorado football team.

The Buffaloes improved to 3-0 under coach Deion Sanders after rallying from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to thwart upset-minded Colorado State, 43-35, in double overtime late Saturday night in Boulder.

It was a chippy game befitting a bitter intrastate rivalry, having taken on added intensity after Rams coach Jay Norvell took a verbal jab at Sanders earlier in the week about his sunglasses. Indeed, tempers simmered in a pregame dust-up between the teams at midfield. Buffaloes two-way star Travis Hunter was knocked out of the game after taking a brutal late hit. 

Ultimately, Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders engineered a 98-yard drive and subsequent two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. The younger Sanders then connected with tight end Michael Harrison on touchdown passes in both extra periods as the Buffaloes outlasted the underdog Rams.

Incredibly, a good deal of the post-mortem was focused not on how the Sanders family overcame the first true wave of adversity they had faced, particularly with the loss of the coveted and prolific Hunter, who ended the night in a Boulder hospital.   When the Rams got what turned out to be their last regulation score early in the fourth quarter, for the first time all year Deion had a look of concern on his face.  And, honestly, I can’t ever recall that being the case at any point in his career, even when he was an underachieving showboat for the last place 1990 New York Yankees.

Many tweets from exasperated college football pundits mirrored this summative X-missive from Matt Fontana:

It’s just one game, and it’s just one week, but this was Jay Norvell’s and Colorado State’s first real time in the spotlight, and it’s hard not to say that the team’s reckless ways tonight were a reflection of its coach.  Colorado State lost a rivalry game in which it had a 99.4% win probability with 2:06 left. The Rams had 17 penalties for 187 yards, had a late hit that knocked out one of Colorado’s best players and turned the ball over 4 times. Just a complete meltdown. No other way around it.

But, on the other hand, there were more appreciative and nuanced observations from the likes of ESPN analyst Robert Griffin III, who had his own share of hyperbolic moments during his college and meteoric pro career:

Colorado Fans storming the field after beating a team they were favored to beat, is the clearest example of the hope Coach Prime has brought to a fan base that hasn’t won or had this type of spotlight in a long time.

So CU is indeed now 3-0, and will begin what the final Pac 12 season this coming Saturday in equally picturesque Eugene, where the 3-0 Ducks await.  And as THE OREGONIAN’s Joe Freeman wrote yesterday, the anticipation is already mounting:

When Bo Nix tossed a beautiful 49-yard touchdown pass to Tez Johnson on the Oregon Ducks’ second play from scrimmage, an unexpected thought crossed my mind.

Bring on Deion.

When Jordan James sped away for a 22-yard touchdown run two possessions later, the same thing crept into my head.

Bring on Deion.

After every flea-flicker, every vicious special teams collision, every imposing defensive stop Saturday at Autzen Stadium, I couldn’t help myself.

Bring on Deion.

We didn’t learn anything about No. 13 Oregon as it steamrolled the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors 55-10. But we will next week when the 18th-ranked Colorado Buffaloes and their trash-talking, headline-grabbing coach, Deion Sanders, visit Eugene for one of the most alluring and fascinating games in the state this season.

Are the Ducks (3-0) capable of stealing the Pac-12 spotlight away from Sanders and the Buffaloes? Is Nix ready to kidnap the Heisman hype from Shedeur Sanders and justify that billboard in midtown Manhattan? Can the new-look Oregon secondary hold its own against the high-powered Colorado offense?

Are the Ducks for real?

We should find out next weekend.

But, at least right now, that game is scheduled for a late afternoon slot on ABC, or just past lunchtime for each of the school’s fans.  It’s a prestigious time period to be sure, one that for decades was far and away the most prominent for any college football game anywhere, the slot that often featured Chris Schenkel and then Keith Jackson crowing about how “college football was the perfect way to spend an autumn afternoon”.

But it wasn’t, and it still isn’t, prime time for PrimeTime.

At the moment, FOX has what next year could be THE matchup of the Pac-whatever conference for their 7 PM ET window,  Oregon State at Washington State.  The Lawsuit Bowl, I suppose.

I’m not sure exactly what guarantees or potential tweaking are possible.  I can’t fathom FOX Sports wouldn’t want to pull a switch.  Not even Krapopolis has the ratings potential that a dose of Deion, unbeaten and facing a fellow Top 20-ranked conference opponent, could offer.

But then again, FOX never mounted anything close to the ratings of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE when it programmed against it for decades.  The best they could do was a modestly successful younger-skewing sketch show called MAD TV.  Which, I suppose, will describe many viewers who might want to settle in for something as compelling as last night’s exploits under the lights this coming Saturday, but will need to either give up what will likely be a gorgeous first autumn afternoon like the kind Schenkel and Jackson waxed poetic about, or multitask on a device to enjoy.

Guess which way I’ll be watching?



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