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Prime real estate: Colorado's return to Big 12 fits Deion Sanders' football recruiting blueprint

Conference Realignment Reax Football
Posted at 4:35 PM, Jul 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-28 18:35:11-04

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Colorado's return to the Big 12 in 2024 fits right into Deion Sanders' recruiting blueprint, allowing him to get an even better foothold in the teeming Texas and Florida markets.

“I think Colorado is already an exciting team on the recruiting trail with Coach Prime and his experienced staff full of college coaches who have been around for a while and a lot of guys with NFL pedigree,” said Steve Wiltfong, national recruiting director for 247Sports. "So I think more than anything it adds to the excitement because it’s moving to what is certainly a more stable conference and one that just had a football team (TCU) in the playoff.”

Athletic director Rick George said he kept basketball coaches Tad Boyle and JR Payne in the loop along with Sanders, who's entering his first season in Boulder, before the CU board of regents rubber-stamped Colorado's return to the Big 12 on Thursday.

“I think all of them felt like: Whatever you think’s best for us, we're going to play whomever you ask us to play," George said. “I will tell you, there are tremendous benefits for being in the Big 12 for the direction that Coach Prime’s going as it relates to recruiting, being able to play in Orlando against UCF, where he's recruiting very heavily (and) the state of Texas has always been a priority for us."

The newfangled Big 12 isn't the same league the Buffs left in 2011 during the initial rounds of conference realigment when Texas A&M, Missouri and Nebraska also left. Texas and Oklahoma are leaving next year for the Big Ten. TCU and West Virginia came on board a decade ago and Cincinnati, Houston, BYU and Central Florida were added this year.

Sanders, who's overseen the biggest roster overhaul in the nation since his hiring this spring, already has strong roots in Florida and Texas.

He was born in Fort Myers and starred at Florida State before embarking on a dual sports career as an NFL defensive back and a Major League outfielder. Some of his best years came during his half decade with the Cowboys from 1995-99 and he still has a home in the Dallas area.

When the Buffaloes return to the Big 12 next year, they will have four conference opponents in the Lone Star State in TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor and Houston, which features one of the nation's largest television markets.

“Houston has always been a favorable market for us in recruiting," said George, who then mentioned a few players from CU's heyday in the late 1980s and early '90s. "You think back to Alfred Williams, Kanavis McGhee and Chris Hudson. That area — the fifth-largest market in the country — also was a factor” in Colorado's decision to return to the Big 12.

“Colorado recruits Texas hard because it’s an obvious state to go recruit,” Wiltfong said, "and now being in the Big 12, with all those Texas teams, it gives them one more inch to say, ’Hey, we’re going to be coming to the Lone Star State a lot throughout your career to play some big games.'”

Wiltfong expects Sanders to compete with the big boys when it comes to the recruiting trails of Texas.

“Deion’s lived in Texas, right? Deion is going to go where the players are. He’s going to recruit nationally because his name is electric," Wiltfong said.

Colorado is the third school to leave the Pac-12 in the last year, joining UCLA and USC, which are going to the Big Ten next year. The moves coincide with the expiration of current media rights deals with ESPN and Fox.

Colorado is expected to get $31.7 million in annual TV revenue in the Big 12, which last year came to an agreement with ESPN and Fox on a six-year extension worth more than $2 billion that runs through 2030-31.

After Colorado's vote to leave, the Pac-12 issued a statement that read, “We are focused on concluding our media rights deal and securing our continued success and growth. Immediately following the conclusion of our media rights deal, we will embrace expansion opportunities and bring new fans, markets, excitement and value to the Pac-12.”

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AP College Football Writer Eric Olson contributed to this report.

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