Nov 11, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes defensive lineman Leonard Payne Jr. (55) before the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado DT Leonard Payne Jr. declares for NFL draft

Rather than be part of a college program for a seventh season, Colorado defensive tackle Leonard Payne Jr. is moving on to the NFL.

Payne posted on Instagram that he has decided to declare for the NFL draft.

“To Buff Nation, I would like to thank you guys for all the love and support throughout the season you guys deserve what’s coming your way in Boulder! With that being said I would like to announce I will be pursuing my dreams and entering the 2024 NFL draft.”

Payne spent five seasons at Fresno State before moving to Colorado for the 2023 season. He redshirted at Fresno State in 2018 and sat out the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.

He had 10 tackles and two sacks to go with a forced fumble in 12 games for the Buffaloes. Overall, Payne made 45 tackles and collected 7.5 sacks in four on-field seasons.

–Field Level Media

Oct 28, 2023; Pasadena, California, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders reacts against the UCLA Bruins in the second half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado’s Deion Sanders named SI’s Sportsperson of Year

Colorado head coach Deion Sanders was named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated, the magazine announced Thursday.

The selection of Sanders is a curious one given the Buffaloes followed up a 3-0 start to the season with losses in eight of their final nine games.

Sanders, however, took over a Colorado club that limped to a 1-11 record in 2022 and promptly welcomed players to “go ahead and jump in the portal,” an obvious sign that a roster overhaul was on the way. Accompanying the Pro Football Hall of Famer were others from Jackson State, including his son Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter.

Colorado’s games became appointment-viewing given his star power and over-the-top style. So much so that the team sold out its home games for the season for the first time in history.

“Deion Sanders dominated the sports conversation in 2023 as a transformative figure not just in Colorado, but for the entire realm of college sports,” Stephen Cannella, editor in chief of Sports Illustrated, said in a statement. “On and off the field, he represents a new model for the modern college coach.”

Sanders, 56, was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time All-Pro during his NFL career. He won two Super Bowl titles and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

–Field Level Media

Nov 11, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders (2) celebrates after a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats in the second quarter at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

No. 21 Arizona beats Colorado on last-second FG

Jonah Coleman ran for a career-high 179 yards and Tyler Loop kicked a 24-yard field goal on the final play of the game to lift No. 21 Arizona over Colorado 34-31 on Saturday in Boulder, Colo.

The Wildcats (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12), who won their fourth consecutive game for the first time since early in the 2019 season, never led Saturday until there was no time left. Colorado (4-6, 1-6) lost its fourth game in a row and needs to win its final two to be bowl eligible.

The game was tied at 7, 14, 24 and then 31 when Arizona’s DJ Williams rushed for a 7-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter. It was still 31-all when Colorado had a chance to take the lead with five minutes left, but Alejandro Mata’s 44-yard field goal attempt barely slid right.

After Arizona took over at its 26-yard line, Coleman ripped off runs of 21 and 24 yards to get the Wildcats into scoring range. They reached first-and-goal from the 1 with 1:04 left and ran the clock down for the final kick.

Coleman rushed 11 times, including gains of 49 and 54 yards. Noah Fifita completed 21 of 35 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Tetairoa McMillan caught nine passes for 107 yards and a score.

Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders was 22 of 35 for 262 yards and two touchdowns, also rushing for a team-high 42 yards on 13 attempts. Neither quarterback was intercepted.

Sanders often was masterful extending plays, including a fourth-and-7 scramble that kept alive a drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Michael Harris that put Colorado up 31-24 with 3:22 to go in the third quarter.

Colorado took advantage of favorable early field position, scoring touchdowns on two drives that started on Arizona’s half of the field and going up 14-7 late in the first quarter on Sanders’ 20-yard pass to Jimmy Horn Jr.

The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter before exchanging field goals in the final 1:32. Loop connected from 52 for Arizona and Mata hit from 39 on the last play of the half to put Colorado up 24-17.

–Field Level Media

Oct 28, 2023; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Arizona Wildcats quarterback Noah Fifita #11 drops back to make a pass against Oregon State Beavers defensive lineman Sione Lolohea #8 during the first half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

Noah Fifita, No. 21 Arizona set to challenge Colorado

No. 21 Arizona, coming off three consecutive victories over ranked teams, will try to keep the momentum going when it plays a stalled Colorado team on Saturday in Boulder, Colo.

The Buffaloes (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) were the darlings of the college football world through the first three weeks of the season but have won just one game since – a three-point decision at Arizona State on Oct. 7. Coach Deion Sanders’ team has lost three in a row and is second-to-last nationally in total defense, allowing 469.0 yards per game.

“There’s a tremendous amount of positives that we must lean on with these young men because they’re playing their butts off,” Sanders said. “There’s no quit in them and that’s one thing that draws me closer and closer to them and I love it. They have not shut it down.”

The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) are one of the new darlings of college football, bowl eligible for the first time since 2017 and appearing in the College Football Playoff rankings for the first time since the initial release in 2017 (No. 22). Arizona is surging behind a much-improved defense and redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita.

Fifita entered the lineup when Jayden de Laura was injured late in the fourth game against Stanford, and he’s not giving back the starting job, even though de Laura is healthy again. Fifita’s five starts have all come against ranked teams, a stretch that started with a seven-point loss to then-No. 7 Washington and a triple-overtime loss at No. 9 Southern California.

Since then, Arizona has ripped off a 44-6 win at No. 19 Washington State on Oct. 14, a 27-24 victory over No. 11 Oregon State on Oct. 28 and a 27-10 triumph over No. 19 UCLA last Saturday.

In the five starts, Fifita has completed 140 of 185 passes (75.7 percent) for 1,463 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He has been selected the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after Arizona’s past four games.

“There has been a lot of dreams turning into reality,” Fifita said, before talking about his four interceptions in five starts. “It’s something I have to improve on. It’s on me. We’ve got to eliminate those to be successful.”

Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders has cooled after a red-hot start, although he’s getting no support from the running game (69.1 yards per game) and not much protection from the offensive line (5.11 sacks allowed per game). Both of those marks, as with total defense, rank second-to-last nationally.

The Buffaloes have shown progress, though, in the past two weeks, forcing six total turnovers and holding ranked teams UCLA and Oregon State to an average of 27 points.

“The defense is getting it; they’re understanding the scheme,” Sanders said. “They’re tough-nosed and tough-minded. And when we get everybody on the same page, it’s going to be extraordinary.”

Arizona coach Jedd Ari Fisch, in his third season, has been using the “It’s personal” slogan since he arrived. Sanders also started using that motivational tagline this season.

Arizona’s top pass-rusher, Taylor Upshaw (7.5 sacks), was part of the post-spring exodus from Colorado, spending only a semester in Boulder after five years at Michigan. Arizona starting wide receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig (20 catches, 183 yards) also transferred from the Buffaloes after spring ball.

Regarding the transfers, Fisch said it would not be personal.

“Yeah, we talked about it, and we try to not make it personal, not make it emotional,” Fisch said. “Just play football. Just go play a team.”

–Field Level Media

Jul 28, 2021; Englewood, CO, United States; Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur looks on during training camp at UCHealth Training Complex. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Pat Shurmur to call plays for Colorado

Colorado is handing play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Sean Lewis to analyst Pat Shurmur for the Buffaloes’ game Saturday against No. 16 Oregon State, according to multiple media reports.

The Buffaloes (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12), losers of two straight games and four of their last five after a 3-0 start, had just 242 yards of offense in a 28-16 loss to UCLA last Saturday.

Lewis’ new duties are to be determined but he could still signal in plays called by Shurmur, according to ESPN and Action Network.

Shurmur, a former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, joined first-year head coach Deion Sanders’ staff as an offensive quality control analyst. Shurmur would have to be elevated to full-time status to become eligible to coach and another assistant would have to be demoted, according to NCAA rules on the size of coaching staffs.

Colorado is tied for 39th of 130 FBS teams in scoring (32.13 points a game) and averages 408.6 total yards (54th) and 330 passing yards (sixth) but only 78.6 rushing yards (128th).

The Buffaloes are 129th in sacks allowed — 42 in eight games for a 5.25 average.

Shurmur, 58, was 19-46 as a head coach for the Cleveland Browns (9-23 in 2011-12), Philadelphia Eagles (1-0 in 2015) and New York Giants (9-23 in 2018-19). He also was an offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams (2009-10), Eagles (2013-15), Minnesota Vikings (2016-17) and Denver Broncos (2020-21).

Lewis, 37, was the head coach at Kent State from 2018-22 until joining the Colorado staff.

–Field Level Media

Oct 28, 2023; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Oregon State Beavers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei #5 makes a pass against Arizona Wildcats defensive lineman Isaiah Ward #90 during the second half at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

No. 16 Oregon State shifts focus to Colorado after deflating loss

If No. 16 Oregon State is still thinking of what might have been last week at Arizona, there’s a good reason.

The Beavers’ 27-24 loss was punctuated by a failed fake field goal on the final play of the first half as well as settling for a field goal on an earlier possession after getting inside the Wildcats’ 20-yard line.

Oregon State has to move forward, though, starting with a matchup against Colorado on Saturday in Boulder, Colo.

“We should have won the (Arizona) game,” Beavers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei said, “but we left stuff out there. We’ve got to clean that up.”

Uiagalelei would like to be more efficient this week. He was just 16 of 30 against the Wildcats for 218 yards and two touchdowns. He had connected on fewer than 50 percent of his attempts until completing his final four throws on a late scoring drive that got Oregon State within three points.

It was a potentially damaging loss for the Beavers (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12). They had a controllable path to the Pac-12 Conference championship game before the defeat but now will need to win out and perhaps get some help to reach Las Vegas the first week in December.

Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith said after the defeat that he was eager to call the fake field goal from the Arizona 16. The problem was the play started with three seconds left and that kicker Atticus Sappington was asked to run about 20 yards to the end zone against faster, more athletic players.

“I was just champing at the bit to get the thing called,” Smith said. “What we anticipated, really what we got, was a pretty good look. I just rolled the dice on that one and hindsight was not good … a bad call.”

The Beavers were without two starters in the defensive backfield against the Wildcats. That could make them very vulnerable against a precise passer such as the Buffaloes’ Shedeur Sanders.

Although Sanders was held to 217 yards on 27-of-43 passing in a 28-16 loss at UCLA last week, he has completed 71.1 percent of his attempts for 2,637 yards and 22 touchdowns. In 346 passes, Sanders has tossed only three interceptions.

However, he didn’t have his usual gaudy numbers at UCLA because the Bruins’ front seven had their way with Colorado’s offensive line. Sanders was sacked seven times for 51 yards and the Buffaloes couldn’t generate enough of a rushing attack to keep Sanders upright.

“The hardest thing to acquire is linemen,” Colorado first-year coach Deion Sanders said. “When people have a good one, you rarely see linemen jump and go to different schools. I think we have some guys that is gonna be good with a little seasoning, but overall, we just don’t have the fight or passion to do what we want to do.”

At 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the conference, Colorado needs two wins from its final four games — Arizona, at Washington State and at Utah are its last three opponents — if it is to convert its 3-0 start into a bowl game.

The Buffaloes have lost four of their past five, but Smith wouldn’t categorize his upcoming foe as “struggling.”

“This league is tough and competitive. They have been competitive throughout,” Smith said. “Dramatically different than, let’s face it, last year. And so, this is a good football team. They can score in bunches. One of the best quarterbacks we’re going to play, defensively flying around, the home atmosphere they’ve created, you can see it on tape. It’s a tough place.”

Oregon State owns a 7-6 lead in the all-time series, including a 42-9 win last year in Corvallis, Ore.

–Field Level Media

Oct 13, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders calls out in the first quarter against the Stanford Cardinal at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado looks to rebound at No. 23 UCLA

Colorado will begin another tough two-week stretch of Pac-12 play when the Buffaloes travel to No. 23 UCLA on Saturday night at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Colorado (4-3, 1-3) will follow its game against the Bruins by hosting No. 11 Oregon State on Nov. 4 in another nighttime matchup.

The most recent time the Buffaloes faced back-to-back ranked opponents, they were exposed in several ways, losing last month to then-No. 10 Oregon and then-No. 8 Southern California. Colorado fell out of the Top 25 after the loss to the Ducks.

After a narrow win at Arizona State on Oct. 7, Colorado blew a 29-0 lead against visiting Stanford on Oct. 13 and lost 46-43 in double overtime, further eroding a 3-0 start that included a season-opening win against then-No. 17 TCU.

Colorado had a week off to shake the shocking loss to the Cardinal and begin preparing for the Bruins, who are coming off a 42-7 win against Stanford last weekend.

First-year Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders is challenging his players to be better against UCLA while not placing any blame on the recent losses.

“I’m not going to point fingers. That’s not what I’m here for,” Sanders said. “I let the coaches; that’s what they’re here for. They’re here to guide us, so I can’t really say that and throw no teammate under the bus, because that’s not the type of player I am.”

UCLA (5-2, 2-2) faced three straight ranked opponents before playing the Cardinal, and the Bruins went 1-2 vs. those ranked teams.

An injury to UCLA freshman quarterback Dante Moore early last week limited his repetitions in practice, so coach Chip Kelly started redshirt junior Ethan Garbers against Stanford. He performed well, completing 20 of 28 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns.

Garbers also had 51 rushing yards on eight carries.

Moore came in for one series late against the Cardinal, demonstrating he was healthy enough to play, and Kelly said Monday he had not settled on a starting quarterback for the Colorado game.

“We make our decision at the end of the week, so I couldn’t tell you who’s going to be up or down by (then),” Kelly said. “When we get to the end of the week, we sit down as a staff and we’ll go through it.”

In addition to Moore and Garbers, junior Collin Schlee could be an option under center against the Buffaloes. Schlee was injured earlier this month as well, which took him out of the running to start against Stanford.

“We’re one of the fortunate teams in the country; we have depth at quarterback,” Kelly said. “I believe Ethan’s a starter at the Power 5 level, Dante’s a starter at the Power 5 level, and Collin Schlee’s a starter at the Power 5 level, so that’s a luxury that not a lot of people have.”

Whoever starts at quarterback, he’ll have one of the top wide receivers in the Pac-12 in J. Michael Sturdivant, a transfer from Cal who leads UCLA with 407 receiving yards. He also has three TD catches.

There’s also no mystery which running back will get a majority of carries for the Bruins: Carson Steele, who is averaging 109 rushing yards over the past three weeks, with four touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Sep 16, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes safety Shilo Sanders (21) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Colorado State Rams at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Colorado S Shilo Sanders likely out vs. No. 8 USC

Colorado safety Shilo Sanders is not expected to play in Saturday’s home game against No. 8 USC due to a kidney injury, ESPN reported.

Sanders said he was urinating blood after falling awkwardly while making a tackle in the Buffaloes’ 42-6 loss to Oregon last Saturday.

Sanders, who was taken to the emergency room as a precaution, did not participate in practice this week. He is expected to be replaced in the lineup by Rodrick Ward for Colorado (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) for Saturday’s game against the Trojans (4-0, 2-0) in Boulder, Colo.

In four games this season, Sanders has 26 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception returned for a touchdown in a 43-35 double-overtime victory versus Colorado State on Sept. 16.

–Field Level Media

Sep 16, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes cornerback Travis Hunter (12) warms up prior to the game against the Colorado State Rams at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado all-purpose star Travis Hunter taken to hospital

Colorado two-way standout Travis Hunter exited Saturday’s contest against Colorado State and was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

The school didn’t immediately announce Hunter’s ailment, but he took a massive shot to his midsection from Rams safety Henry Blackburn with 4:53 left in the first quarter.

Hunter, who stars at both cornerback and wide receiver for Colorado, was running a go route down the left sideline when quarterback Shedeur Sanders’ pass landed out of Hunter’s reach. As Hunter let up with the ball falling to the ground, that’s when Blackburn delivered the hit.

Blackburn was flagged for a personal foul on the play.

Hunter later returned to the contest. He had two receptions for 21 yards, losing a fumble on one of them that Colorado State’s Ron Hardge III returned 45 yards for a touchdown. On defense, the cornerback made two tackles.

Hunter played more than 100 snaps in each of Colorado’s first two games.

The in-state rivalry game was emotional from the start, with players from both teams getting together and trash-talking at midfield well before kickoff. The emotions carried into the game, with the teams combining for 16 penalties for 179 yards in the first half.

Hunter entered Saturday’ game with 14 catches for 192 yards on offense, and seven tackles, one interception and a pair of pass breakups on defense.

Colorado is currently the No. 18 team in the nation.

–Field Level Media