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What Ohio State can learn from Deion Sanders and Colorado

In a season full of tough rivalry matchups and high stakes for Ohio State, its time the Buckeyes make it personal

Nebraska v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

There is something I love so much about a big swing.

Deion Sanders knows a lot about those since he played both football and baseball professionally. So while his baseball days have given way to coaching NCAA Division I football, it seems he hasn’t left the big swings behind, metaphorically speaking.

Now, in his first year as the head football coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, those big swings are already paying off.

The Buffaloes have started the season 2-0—surpassing the number of wins Colorado had the entire season in 2022 (they went 1-11, their only win coming in overtime against Cal). After a narrow Week 1 upset, 45-42, against the defending national runner-up TCU, the Buffs handily beat Nebraska in Week 2, 36-14.

There is audio evidence to prove I have been a believer in this Colorado team from Day 1, predicting their upset over TCU in their season opener. But to me, perhaps even more interesting than the doing is the how behind it.

It’s not just that Shedeur Sanders (Deion’s son) is having a lights-out season at quarterback so far, catapulting himself into Heisman conversations. It’s not just that Colorado has the former top overall recruit in the country in Travis Hunter, who remarkably plays on both sides of the ball (a feat of sheer athleticism that leaves my jaw on the ground each time).

No, there are intangibles at play here too.

In a season that feels like a slow start for Ohio State (despite their being 2-0), perhaps taking a page out of Deion Sanders’ playbook of intangibles would help Ryan Day’s Buckeyes pick up the pace a bit.

That is to say, the Buckeyes need to make it personal.

It’s easy to say it’s just a football game. Anyone who has been around the OSU-Michigan rivalry—or any college rivalry for that matter—knows it feels bigger than that.

Sanders certainly knew that walking into the Nebraska game, which is why he and his players were repeating the mantra “It’s personal,” leading up to the Nebraska game.

Despite the fact that both Sanders and many of his players were brand new to Colorado, they made the outcome of that game personal—for the players and fans who came before them, and for themselves. Because while the stakes have been lower in recent years than they were in the 80s (when these teams were both in a streak of excellence and happened to be a mere 7-hours’ drive apart), the depths of that kind of animosity outlive the stakes.

It continued to grow when Nebraska’s head coach Matt Rhule started taking shots at Sanders, and again when a group of Nebraska players congregated on the Buffalo logo in the middle of Colorado’s field before the game.

The Buffaloes settled it the best way anyone can—by letting the scoreboard do the talking.

Sanders walked into that game with something to prove, not just for himself (although I’m sure that was part of it) but also for the honor of Colorado as an entity. Ohio State needs to take the same approach in each of their major games this season.

On the road in South Bend? It’s personal. Facing a Penn State team that looks dominant? It’s personal. Heading to Madison to play Luke Fickell’s Badgers? You guessed it—personal.

And never ever will they need to channel that more than in the most personal game of all—The Game, in Ann Arbor, against the team that is currently No. 2 in the country.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has talked enough trash to build a landfill, and he now has two consecutive wins against OSU under his belt to top it off. This trash-talking, for Harbaugh, is rooted in his time as a player at Michigan, for his respect and understanding of the rivalry between these two programs. That is to say—it’s personal to Harbaugh.

It better be for the Buckeyes too.

If the Buckeyes want to beat Notre Dame, Penn State, and Michigan this season, they’re going to have to channel something deep inside them that lets them play with productive rage, keeping cool, staying level-headed, executing well, and outplaying their opponents.

It’s about being the better team, yes. But it’s also about using your energy to your advantage. Make it personal as a means to play better football.

Although this Buckeye team has the potential to be a great football team, it’s missing some of the weapons it’s had in past years. And the opponents they’ll face this season are better than these same opponents have been in recent memory (even Michigan, who looked stellar last season).

So the rage, the drive, the intangible passion—that’s going to have to come from somewhere deep inside.

It did last week for Deion Sanders, his son Shedeur, and the rest of the Colorado Buffaloes. Now, it’s the Buckeyes’ turn to do the same.