The Colorado Buffaloes have been making waves during the early portion of the 2023 College Football season. Coming into the year, no one knew what to expect from new head coach Deion Sanders. Through three games, the current Colorado football roster is 3-0 despite many critics estimating a total season record of 3 or 4 wins.
This will be the final season for the Buffs in the soon-to-be-defunct Pac-12 Conference. That leaves some questions as to where the Buffs will be in the near future after the Colorado football schedule 2023 ends.
So what is Colorado football conference now and what conference will they be playing in 2024? Read on to learn more about the Buffaloes’ conference history, as well as where they will be playing in the near future.
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A History of Colorado Buffaloes Football
Colorado Buffaloes football has a long and storied history. The first game in program history came back in the 1890s as an independent. It remained that way for a few years before the team ultimately joined the Colorado Football Association from 1893-1908 with a year break in 1905.
The program would remain largely regional throughout the early 1900s. A move to the Rockey Mountain Faculty Athletic Conference was the longest run, going from 1910-1937. The last stop before we get into a more detailed look was the Mountain States Conference, where the Buffs played from 1938-1947. Click here for a look at the best players in Buffaloes history.
Big Eight Conference
For much of the modern era, the Colorado Buffaloes called the Big Eight Conference its home. Beginning with the 1948 season, the Buffs would be a core member of the Big Eight for nearly 50 years, the final season coming in 1995.
The main iteration of the Big Eight included Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Missouri, and national powerhouses from Oklahoma and Nebraska. There was middling success for the Buffs throughout the first three decades in the conference, with conference titles in 1961 and 1976, both under different coaches.
The greatest heights for the Buffs in the Big Eight came at the end of the 1980s. Under legendary head coach Bill McCartney, the Buffs won the conference championship three years running (1989-1991). Even more importantly, the 1990 season would not only see a Big Eight championship but the program’s lone National Championship.
Remember when conferences used to make sense?
The 1991 Big 8 Conference.
#15 Nebraska & #20 Colorado would be crowned co-champs with 6-0-1 records. #16 Oklahoma finished in third with a 5-2 record. pic.twitter.com/a96NlMSY1N
— Sidelines Sports Network™ (@Sidelines_SN) July 16, 2022
Big 12 Conference
Beginning with the 1996 season, the Big Eight would be expanded to become the Big 12 Conference. The expansion included all of the prior members of the Big Eight with the addition of Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech. The Big Eight would be officially dissolved, ceasing operations on August 30, 1996.
The entry into the Big 12 saw the decline of Colorado football. There were a pair of 10-win seasons, the first coming in 1996 (10-2) and the second (and last) coming in 2001, when the Buffaloes won their sole Big 12 Conference championship. Unfortunately, Colorado would muster a winning season just 7 times in 15 years with the Big 12.
During that time, the Buffs had drastically declined by the end of the Gary Barnett era. Dan Hawkins came in and spent five years with the program in an attempt to turn it around. Unfortunately, his best effort was a 6-7 season in 2007, a far cry from the dominant Big Eight run in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There would be one more move left, leading us to where the program stands today.
What conference is Colorado football in? The Buffaloes officially joined the Pac-12 Conference for the start of the 2011 season. The hope behind the move came with expectations of not only improvement but a return to the glory days that had seemingly happened a lifetime ago. Like the latter days of the Big 12 run, things have not gone well for the Buffs.
The 2016 remains the anomaly, seeing the Buffs go 10-4, finishing 10th in the AP poll. In the 11 other seasons (not counting 2016) since joining the Pac-12, the Buffs have had zero winning seasons (unless you count going 4-2 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season). Including that 2016 season, the Buffs have gone 48-94 since joining the Pac-12 Conference.
So, what is the status of the current Colorado football conference? Over the last few months, turmoil has surrounded the conference. The departures of USC and UCLA, pillars of the conference, came a year ago. Colorado followed suit a year later before Oregon, Washington, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State ultimately saw the writing on the wall, finding new homes in the Big 12 and Big Ten. The once proud conference will now disband given that just four schools remain, all of whom will no doubt attempt to find new homes.
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Shedeur Sanders leads No. 18 Colorado to double-OT win over CSU! Highlights ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/iCmBoUAlmF
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) September 17, 2023
Rejoining the Big 12
Amidst chaos in the rapidly disintegrating Pac-12 Conference, the Buffaloes made a move to secure their future. That decision involves a return to the Big 12 conference, also undergoing a major transition beginning next year, for the first time since the 2010 season.
If anything, it will be a welcome change for Colorado conference football. Things didn’t exactly go well during the near-15-year run for the team in the Pac-12. With a mass exodus from the rest of the league, it was time to make a change toward security.
The return to the Big 12 will come for the start of the 2024-25 athletic season. The move was approved by the University of Colorado Board of Regents, noting that the official withdrawal from the Pac-12 will come on July 1, 2024.
OFFICIAL: Colorado is heading back to the Big 12 Conference 🦬
— Colorado Buffaloes (@CUBuffs) July 27, 2023
The Future of Colorado Buffaloes Football
There is a lot of excitement happening in Boulder these days. The hot start has everyone buzzing and it begs the question of just how bright the future can be with Sanders leading the charge. He has already changed the face of the program for the better and it can be seen in every facet.
The move back to the Big 12 marks a unique situation. It not only presents a chance to rejoin previous program history, but a chance to create a new path out of the ashes of failure that was their tenure in the Pac-12. It will be interesting to see how things go from here but the future is certainly bright in Boulder.