Gordon Monson: When Utah plays Colorado, can Deion Sanders stir a glorious kind of sports hate? It’ll take more than talk to make it truth.

The manufactured rivalry between the Utes and Buffs has been a bore in the Pac-12. But if anyone can make it interesting in the years to come, it’s Coach Prime.

(David Zalubowski | AP) Colorado head coach Deion Sanders, left, looks on in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Boulder, Colo.

A few months ago, when it became known that Colorado would join the Big 12, the question arose as to whether the Buffs and BYU could become solid league rivals in that new setting.

The same question now arises with Utah and Colorado.

Yeah, we’ve seen the lack of that fire and passion among those schools in the Pac-12. It never had much heat to it. And that annual cold-as-ice matchup had its reasons for being the bore that it was, regardless of how much the conference wanted a Rocky Mountain rivalry to ignite.

The main reason was that Colorado, unlike Utah, couldn’t play decent football. The Buffs padded and suited up, but only the way a possum family attempts to cross a county two-lane as a Peterbilt rumbles toward and rolls over it. And that was a problem. Nobody wants to watch that.

Consistent and lopsided annual wins don’t stir much emotion — other than a few bits of pity and moments of laughter — on the winner’s side, and on the loser’s, it’s just sort of a foregone conclusion, a sad inevitability. In the past, there was no changing what was coming, no hope or happiness in a fate written in the stars, not the sand.

And then … what’s this? … Deion Sanders arrived.

You may have heard because … well, everybody heard, Coach Prime landed in Boulder with all the subtlety of an aircraft carrier pulling into port with a gold chain hanging around its stem.

Prime promptly switched out what seemed like his entire team, replacing what was — a roster that had been annihilated by the Utes last season — with what is a generally more competitive group now.

Plainly said, Colorado is not worthy of the loud noise that’s been created around it. It’s been more bluster than rough-and-ready reality.

The Buffs got off to a surprising start with their win over TCU, after which Sanders scolded those who doubted what he was building in Boulder, acting insulted about that doubt. They followed that with wins over Nebraska and Colorado State. And that was pretty much the peak for Prime. Since then, CU has dropped games against Oregon, USC, Stanford, which was an abysmal loss, UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona, with Washington State next up. It did beat Arizona State some five weeks ago.

But Sanders has said on the reg that if you’re going to beat the Buffs, you’d best do it now because the times, they are a’changing. That is yet to be transformed from talk to truth.

Colorado football does seem, though, to be making strides in trying real hard to make games more competitive, so there’s that.

There’s no real harm in what Coach Prime is doing. His loud nature bothers some people, as does his reliance on transfers, but others find it all fascinating. Either way, he’s made CU football interesting again, and that had been a long time coming.

Two questions remain, one as it pertains to the Utes, the other as it relates to Colorado football on the whole.

Will the Buffs actually get the talent necessary to be at Utah’s level or to surpass it, not in any single-game-upset kind of way, but as an authentic annual threat, enough of a threat to build an actual rivalry with the Utes?

That would be a massive move.

What Kyle Whittingham has so steadily constructed at Utah has taken time and it is now standing the test of time. It’s not perfect and it can get better, as it transitions into the Big 12 next season. But folks around the country know what the Utes are about — tough, talented, physical football — and they respect it.

Sanders looks to put Colorado’s transition into hyperdrive, with the initial emphasis on the hype, as the drive is just beginning to crank. Get ‘em now, he says, because the getting will be a much more difficult deal in the years ahead.

That’s the type of challenge that Whittingham — and Utah football as a whole — loves. Bring your flash and panache, all of it, baby, and they’ll kick your …

Assortments of assumptions must be made to put all of this in place.

As the seasons pass, with Sanders’ brash approach — and his overall positive coaching effect — it will be, or at least could be, captivating to see how the Utes-Buffs match evolves. Could it turn into a rivalry? It could under a trifecta of circumstances: 1) If Sanders does what he says he will, creating a powerful team, 2) If Sanders stays at Colorado long enough to sustain loads of bombastic winning, and 3) If the Utes and Buffs remain in the same conference over the long haul, a proposition that in the future might run straight into the fog of league realignment.

It has a chance, a chance that’s been nothing but fat and slim during the time Utah and Colorado have been together in the Pac-12. That last thing will certainly change. Whether proper fire and passion can be conjured moving forward in a game in a different league that’s been more a dud than a delight will have to be seen to be believed.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.