2023 CU football preview: Shedeur Sanders key to success for Buffs offense

7-9 minutes 8/27/2023
Entering his third season as a starting quarterback in college football, Shedeur Sanders is also learning his third different offensive system.
The talented junior hasn’t been fazed by the challenge, however.
“I mean, passing is passing. You throw the ball, it’s throwing the ball,” Sanders said. “It’s just a different scheme, it’s a different way to call it – as long as everything makes sense. Of course I like it.”
What he likes the most is surveying the field and seeing the plethora of weapons next to him.
“In that offense, there’s a lot of electric things you can do, especially when you’ve got playmakers,” he said.
It’s been a long time since the Buffs were electric on offense and it’s been three years since they were even competent on that side of the ball.
One of the worst offenses in the country last year, the Buffs averaged just 15.4 points per game – the lowest average for any team in the Pac-12 era (since 2011). They also managed just 281.3 yards per game. Of course, there’s almost nobody left from last year’s offense and Sanders is leading the revamped attack. In two seasons at Jackson State, he threw 70 touchdown passes (CU quarterbacks combined for 20 in that same span).
The entire receiving corps is new, as well, led by the electric Travis Hunter, who played with Sanders at JSU. The top two receivers at South Florida in 2022 – Xavier Weaver and Jimmy Horn Jr. – are also now with the Buffs and making plays routinely in practice. Javon Antonio is a big target who had big production at Northwestern State and Omarion Miller leads an exceptional group of freshmen.
“All those guys are so versatile and they can score from anywhere and that presents a tremendous threat to defensive backs,” head coach Deion Sanders said. “I can’t wait until you get an opportunity to see them work because they definitely have a quarterback that can get it to them. We just have to protect him.”
It’s a reworked offensive line, as well, but a group that has a lot to prove. Ten linemen were starters at the college level last year, but most of them at lower levels, including four junior college transfers. The Buffs have been encouraged by the group in camp, however.
“The offensive line is really good,” running back Alton McCaskill IV said. “People are saying they’ve got some doubts, but I don’t know. I don’t be seeing what people are talking about, at all. We’ve got a good O-line, definitely. They’re gonna get the job done. They’re fine. Our O-line is just fine. They’re jelling together pretty well. We’ve got some really good guys out there.”
Shedeur Sanders certainly hopes so, as does McCaskill. He leads what appears to be a deep and talented group of running backs.
The AAC rookie of the year in 2021 while at Houston, McCaskill is fully recovered from a torn ACL that cost him the 2022 season. Kavosiey Smoke (Kentucky) and Sy’veon Wilkerson (Jackson State) have been highly productive in their college careers, while Anthony Hankerson and Charlie Offerdahl return to the Buffs after being in the rotation last year.
Dylan Edwards is another weapon that excites Shedeur Sanders and the Buffs. The true freshman running back has blazing speed and might also play at receiver.
Dylan Edwards is a phenomenal, electrifying player,” Coach Prime said.
With all the potential electricity on offense, the Buffs might finally have an attack that can light up the scoreboard. Around the country, 54 FBS teams averaged at least 30 points per game in 2022, including seven teams in the Pac-12.
CU has averaged at least 30 points just once in the last 21 seasons (31.1 in 2016), but with Shedeur Sanders leading the way, that could change.
“Shedeur can play the darn game,” Coach Prime said. “Shedeur is smart as a whip and we’ve got to take advantage of that. He’s been very successful before he got here and we’ve got to glean from some of the things that he did to make it to this point and make sure he’s comfortable with the offense.
“And the main thing really, we’ve just got to protect the kid. If we keep him upright, I can’t wait ’til you see what he does, especially with the plethora of receivers that we have that can straight out ball. And, they can run like the wind.”
Returners: Colton Allen, R-Fr. (walk-on)
Newcomers: Shedeur Sanders, Jr.; Ryan Staub, T-Fr.; Kasen Weisman, T-Fr.; Gavin Kuld, Jr. (walk-on)
Outlook: Sanders is the clear starter after excelling at Jackson State the last two seasons. He has elite talent and the ability to be one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12. Behind him, the Buffs lack experience, but continue searching for the top backup.
Running backs
Returners: Anthony Hankerson, So.; Charlie Offerdahl, So. (walk-on); Christian Sarem, R-Fr. (walk-on).
Newcomers: Kavosiey Smoke, Sr.; Sy’veon Wilkerson, Jr.; Alton McCaskill IV, So.; Dylan Edwards, T-Fr.; Ahmir McGee, Jr. (Portland State; walk-on).
Outlook: Early in camp McCaskill (a transfer from Houston) and Smoke (a transfer from Kentucky) were leading the competition, but Edwards is a dynamic playmaker who will have the ball in his hands a lot. Hankerson, Wilkerson and Offerdahl are dependable, as well.
Wide receivers
Returners: Cole Boscia, R-Fr. (walk-on); Dante Capolungo, R-Fr. (walk-on); Chernet Estes, R-Fr. (walk-on).
Newcomers: Javon Antonio, Sr.; Xavier Weaver, Sr.; Jaylen Ellis, Jr.; Willie Gaines, Jr.; Jimmy Horn, Jr.; Tar’Varish Dawson Jr., So.; Travis Hunter, So.; Isaiah Hardge, T-Fr.; Adam Hopkins, T-Fr.; Omarion Miller, T-Fr.; Jordan Onovughe, T-Fr.; Jacob Page, T-Fr.; Asaad Waseem, T-Fr.; Gavin Marsh, T-Fr. (walk-on); Kaleb Mathis, T-Fr. (walk-on); Kendal Stewart, T-Fr. (walk-on).
Outlook: Although he’ll play a lot at cornerback, Hunter could be the leader of this group. This is a deep group, however, as Antonio, Weaver and Horn have made big plays throughout camp. Miller has been exceptional, as well, as he leads a talent group of true freshmen.
Tight ends
Returners: Caleb Fauria, So.; Louis Passarello, So.; Michael Harrison, Jr. (walk-on); Brady Kopetz, R-Fr. (walk-on).
Newcomers: Antonio Posadas, So. (walk-on); Elijah Yelverton, So. (walk-on)
Outlook: The Buffs are going to lean on a lot of walk-ons. Fauria and Passarello have been out with injuries, but the staff has been impressed with Harrison – a converted wide receiver – and Yelverton, who played for Coach Prime in high school. This offense doesn’t typically use the tight end as a receiver, but they’ll be key in the run game at times.
Offensive line
Returners: Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan, Jr.; Van Wells, So.; Carter Edwards, R-Fr.; Evan Kistler, Sr. (walk-on); Ben Reznik, So. (walk-on); Jack Seavall, So. (walk-on).
Newcomers: Landon Bebee, Sr.; Reggie Young, Sr.; Jack Bailey, Jr.; Tyler Brown, Jr.; Isaiah Jatta, Jr.; Kareem Harden, Jr.; Jeremiah McCrimmon, So.; Savion Washington, So.; Jack Wilty, So.; David Conner, R-Fr.; Hank Zalinskas, T-Fr.; Owen Westemeyer, T-Fr. (walk-on).
Outlook: There’s a lot of college experience among the group, but the only two with Power Five experience are Christian-Lichtenhan (left tackle) and Wells (center), who each started eight games for the Buffs in 2022. Both have worked with the first team offense in camp. Washington has been a regular with the first unit at right tackle, while Bailey and Wilty have often worked at the guard spots. Bebee is competing for a spot on the interior, as well. Brown will have to sit out the season after transferring from Jackson State.

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