At face value, the finale of the University of Colorado’s football season in 2023 didn’t seem much different than usual: another loss, another bowl-less season, another losing streak to enter the offseason.

But to first-year head coach Deion Sanders, there’s plenty different. It starts with the fact that the Buffaloes went out looking like they still had something to play for.

“They won,” Sanders said. “If you were here a year ago and you saw kinda what we came into in the spring. ... They won. They won, maybe not on the scoreboard, week in and week out, but they won. And we gotta build off the things that they’ve been tremendously successful in.”

In the final regular-season game for both squads as members of the Pac-12, the Utah Utes, led by fifth-string walk-on quarterback Luke Bottari, handed Colorado its sixth-straight loss. Utah ran the ball 53 times with just 10 pass attempts and collected 268 rushing yards.

Conversely, the Buffaloes, who had just 34 rushing yards at halftime, netted just 3 more yards on the ground in the second half. But freshman backup quarterback Ryan Staub, coming in for the injured starting QB Shedeur Sanders, completed 17 of 24 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown while being sacked just twice, a genuine improvement for CU’s struggling O-line.

Despite Colorado never leading, Staub’s 18-yard TD pass to two-way star Travis Hunter in the fourth quarter gave the Buffaloes a chance to pull off a comeback even when the team was already out of bowl contention.

“We had a chance to win that game. I like that,” Sanders said. “I really like that, especially without our quarterback. I like that, especially without some of the things that I know we’re gonna get commitments from in probably about 10 days. I like that. I like where we are. I really do.”

Fortunately for the Utes, Colorado never got that chance to score again as the offense leaned on running backs Jaydon Glover, Ja’Quinden Jackson and Sione Vaki to devour all 7:31 left of the fourth quarter.

Highlights, key plays and photos from Utah’s 23-17 win over Colorado

Bottari, who finished the game with two touchdowns on just 11 rushing yards while going 6-10 for 61 yards in passing, knelt out the final 1:44 of the game after the Utes drove the final possession into Colorado territory.

Bottari had only thrown three passes, all completions, in the first half, and Sanders said he had expected that Utah’s quarterback situation would lead to an extremely run-heavy gameplan.

“Anybody with a darn football mind know they were gonna run the darn ball. What else they gonna do?” Sanders said. “What else are they gonna try to do, just throw it around 40 times? That’s not who they are. They’re a physical, tough, hard-nosed team that runs right at you, and that’s what they did. ... It ain’t hard to figure ‘em out. You know he’s coming right at you.”

Sanders’ portion of the Colorado press conference lasted roughly 22 minutes (they usually last about 8-10), and many of the questions posed had to do with what Sanders expects to do in the offseason after not everything went according to plan in his first season with the Buffaloes. The transfer portal, which virtually built Sanders team from the ground up this season, is highly expected to bring in several more players to the program. “A plethora” is the estimate given by Sanders on how many players exactly he expects to come.

“We want to win now, right?” Sanders said. “I don’t mind putting them high school kids in the microwave and letting them warm up a little bit, but you gotta understand what you really get out of that.”

Sanders was largely in good spirits throughout his conversation with reporters after the game. Being easily the most publicized first-year head coach in college football this season, he went as far as to thank reporters for the coverage and “the truth that you told and the fabrications that some of you told as well. I appreciate it all.”

Sanders first move with the conclusion of the season, he said, is to “make sure my sons are good.”