Colorado Buffs football: Mike Sanford striving for winning formula –– for now and future – The Denver Post

Game at a Glance

Matchup: Arizona State Sun Devils (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12) at Colorado Buffaloes (1-6, 1-3)

Kickoff: 5:35 p.m. MT

Where: Folsom Field in Boulder

Capacity: 50,183. Playing surface: Grass


Radio: KOA (850 or 630 AM & 94.1 FM)

Odds: Arizona State by 14

Series: ASU leads 9-3

Throughout his coaching career and in watching his father’s career, Mike Sanford has learned about the challenges of building a football program. Especially one loaded with inexperience.

As the interim head coach at Colorado, Sanford may or may not be around long enough to build the Buffaloes’ program, but he sees the blueprint and is doing his part for now.

Sanford and the Buffs will host Arizona State on Saturday at Folsom Field. Despite their own struggles, the Sun Devils are a 14-point favorite, which says much more about the Buffs than it does ASU.

The young Buffs are looking to rebound from a 42-9 loss at Oregon State last Saturday – their sixth blowout loss of the season. As Sanford reflected on what the Buffs could become in the future, he looked to OSU as an example.

“I thought Oregon State was a great model,” Sanford said this week. “A lot of those players that were playing against us on Saturday are guys that had gone through those tough years. But what they did is they had the continuity: how they were developed, the strength coach, the position coaches – all the way down to where you see them grow up and become a veteran team that looked like a true Power 5, upper echelon of a conference type of a team.”

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Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith was hired after the Beavers went through a 1-11 season in 2017. Smith’s Beavers went 2-10 his first year, 5-7 in his second, and 2-5 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. They finally broke through with a 7-6 mark last year, reaching a bowl for the first time since 2013.

In beating the Buffs last week, OSU improved to 6-2 and achieved bowl eligibility for the second year in a row and it could be a factor in the Pac-12 title race in November.

While Oregon State has filled some holes with transfers, the Beavers were mainly built by high school recruits. Of the 44 Beavers who played against CU, 32 were recruited out of high school and developed in Smith’s program in Corvallis, Ore.

Sanford views that as being CU’s key to future success, as well.

“I think we have to continue to develop, I’d say, those first-, second- and third-year players,” he said. “We know the critical importance of those players who are getting real reps.

“I think it’s that development (that OSU has had).”

The key, of course, is keeping players from leaving. CU has had numerous coaching changes in recent years and it’s not a coincidence that 23 players, including six starters, left as transfers last winter. With another coaching change this season, CU could lose more players this winter, but Sanford said CU has to figure out how to keep them around.

“The way you do it now, in 2022, is … we have to invest in those relationships with those players, because a lot of these players didn’t come to Boulder from the state of Colorado,” Sanford said. “So you’ve got to think about what’s keeping them here at Colorado if they’re putting good tape out there. It’s got to be that we as a football program, we as an athletic department, we as a fan base, are wrapping our arms around those players.”

Sanford added that name, image and likeness (NIL) efforts are going to be a part of that process and it’s important for CU to do what it can to keep the younger players that are taking their lumps now. True and redshirt freshmen are playing all over the field and filling main roles for the Buffs this season, including quarterback Owen McCown, who was still in high school six months ago.

“Make sure that those players know that these are the players of the future,” Sanford said. “There’s growing pains with that, similar to that of which Oregon State had in their leaner years. You’re playing with young players. You’re playing with guys that are gonna see really good football in the coming days, weeks, months and years. But (the Beavers) stayed with those players and those players stayed with that program. Therefore, you see the fruits of their labor.

“I think that’s the blueprint is developing it from a from a freshman, sophomore class currently. Love up these seniors and empower them to take leadership roles, and then fill in all those gaps by being aggressive in the portal, which is something that we’re going to absolutely do and we’re already in the process of doing.”

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