Colorado has had 71 players enter the transfer portal since last August, causing a stir about what is happening in Boulder and how new coach Deion Sanders will manage the roster. It has been a staggering few months for the Buffs, who saw 47 players enter the transfer portal since the spring transfer window opened on April 15.
Some of it is expected, after all. When he met with the Buffaloes in December, he encouraged players to “hop in that portal” after a 1-11 season because he was going to be bringing in a lot of transfers to reshape the roster.
Some players from the 2022 roster were pushed out. Some wanted a change with Sanders and his new staff coming in and found other opportunities. Some transferred to Colorado in the winter, then re-entered the transfer portal in April.
“When [Sanders] first came in, he said, ‘there’s a lot of people here who may not be here,’ because he evaluated and looked at the talent on our team,” Colorado athletic director Rick George told ESPN’s Heather Dinich on Thursday. “He’s just publicly stated it, where a lot of people don’t. … Coach is doing what he thinks is best for this program.”
Colorado’s roster turnover serves as a new case study for coaches navigating the transfer portal and what the future of roster management could look like in the broader college football landscape.
Here is a look at some of the numbers that underscore how drastic Colorado’s roster makeover will be compared to 2022 and the names who are going out and coming in through the portal.
How does this compare to other teams’ turnovers?
Sanders and Colorado have had more players enter the transfer portal in a year’s span than any other program since the transfer portal was implemented in 2018, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 71 players are 21 more than the next program, Arkansas State, which saw 50 players enter the portal during the 2021-22 cycle.
Ole Miss‘ 2022-23 cycle is third on the list, as 48 players have left the program in this current transfer cycle. Tennessee‘s 2020-21 class is just behind the Rebels with 46. Oregon and South Florida have each had 44 players enter the portal this cycle.
In fairness to Sanders and his staff, it is difficult to compare numbers from past years because this is the first year with transfer windows, which allow players to enter the portal at specific dates.
The rise of the transfer portal
The portal has also increased in popularity since its inception. There were 4,076 NCAA football players to enter the portal during the entire 2018-19 cycle, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
By last year, that number more than doubled to 8,242 players. From Aug. 1 through May 1, 8,699 NCAA football players — including 3,284 at the FBS level — entered the portal.
From August 2018 through January 2019, there were 2,405 NCAA football players who entered the portal. In December 2022 alone, 2,729 players entered the portal.
The numbers in Boulder, specifically, are historic. Since Colorado hired Sanders in December, the team has lost 61 players to the portal.
By comparison, USC had 29 players enter the portal between the time Lincoln Riley was hired and the start of the 2022 season. Between the time LSU hired Brian Kelly and the start of the 2022 season, LSU had 25 players transfer out. Both of those schools combined would still have fewer portal entrants than Colorado.
Who has left Colorado?
Not every player has been a scholarship player, but there are quite a few notable names on the way out.
Colorado’s leading receiver, Jordyn Tyson, a sophomore who had 470 yards and four receiving touchdowns is leaving, as is second-leading receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig, who had 359 yards and three touchdowns.
Quarterback J.T. Shrout, who started nine games and threw for 1,220 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, is leaving the team.
Leading rusher, Deion Smith, is transferring, as is defensive back Nikko Reed, who had two interceptions and seven pass breakups in 2022. Linebacker Jeremy Mack Jr., who had 48 total tackles this past season, is also leaving the program.
Four players who transferred to Colorado during the winter re-entered the portal in April, including tight end Seydou Traore, who caught 50 passes for 655 yards and four touchdowns for Arkansas State in 2022.
Other notable names leaving:
Who is transferring in?
While the number of players leaving is bordering on alarming, the staff has brought in a large number of transfers to replace those who are on the way out. Sanders made it very clear from day one that he would bring his own luggage and turn the roster over if he didn’t feel that it was up to par.
He has made good on that word and added more than 35 players to the roster since last December.
The biggest names thus far have been former five-star athlete Travis Hunter, who signed with Sanders and Jackson State out of high school after decommitting from Florida State. Hunter played as a true freshman on both offense (18 catches, 190 yards, four TDs) and defense (two INTs, eight pass breakups) and should do the same for Colorado.
Sanders also brought his son, Shedeur Sanders, in to play quarterback. Shedeur had a ton of success at Jackson State, winning the Jerry Rice Award, given to the top FCS freshman, after the 2021 season. Shedeur, who threw for 70 touchdowns and 6,963 yards in two seasons, will be the starter for Colorado and has the talent to play at this level.
Sanders was even able to flip a transfer who had already committed to another school. Auburn receiver Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. originally committed to Cincinnati, but flipped to Colorado once given the opportunity to play for Sanders. Dawson was a redshirt freshman this past season and will still have three years of eligibility remaining.
The staff also added quite a bit on defense. Arkansas defensive lineman Jordan Domineck, who had 34 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks this past season, will help Colorado’s pass rush. He’ll be joined by Derrick McLendon II from Florida State, edge Taijh Alston from West Virginia, linebacker LaVonta Bentley from Clemson and Washington edge rusher Sav’ell Smalls, a former five-star recruit in the 2020 ESPN 300.
In addition to Hunter, Sanders is adding to the secondary with Florida State corner Omarion Cooper (30 total tackles, three INTs in two seasons), Alabama corner Jahquez Robinson and Kentucky safety Vito Tisdale.
Other notable names transferring in:
What comes next at Colorado?
The first game of the Deion Sanders era is less than four months away when the Buffaloes take on national runner-up TCU on Sept. 2. But with the influx of players in the portal, they are going to spend the next few weeks filling out their roster.
Sanders, who brought in the No. 23 recruiting class in the 2023 cycle, has a few more transfers he is eyeing.
Among that list include Houston offensive lineman Cam’Ron Johnson, who did not surrender a sack in 554 pass-blocking plays in 2022; James Madison edge rusher Isaac Ukwu, who has had 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons; and Houston running back Alton McCaskill, who ran for 961 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2021 before missing the 2022 season with a torn ACL.
College football teams are allotted 85 total scholarships each year. Colorado’s 2023 roster, still a work in progress, is working to fill them up.