This is what it has become at the University at Buffalo: Gatorade showers, large crowds and winning football.
- Allen Wilson, The Buffalo News October 6, 1996
While Nicholls State's Darren Barbier won the Eddie Robinson Award, presented to the top Division 1-AA coach in the nation, Buffalo's Craig Cirbus, who finished 4th for the award, was also a winner. Cirbus, Division 1-AA's Independent coach of the year, won at Buffalo for the first time in a decade, and his consideration as the top 1-AA coach in the nation put him in the company of former winners like: Nevada's Chris Ault (1991), Youngstown's Jim Tressel (1994) and Murray State's Houston Nutt (1995).
After 4 wins in the 3 years between 1992 and 1994, Cirbus took over the Bulls in 1995. In only his second season, Cirbus' team improved by 5 games, finishing 8-3 in 1996. Six of the wins were against Division 1-AA competition, the most wins against that caliber of opponent since 1959.
The Bulls opened UB stadium in '93 but only managed 3 home wins in 3 years. In '96 Cirbus' Bulls won 4 games at UB Stadium, . Attendance jumped by 1,700 fans on average. The fans came to see a hard working team on all three units. Starting quarterback Mark Taylor recovered from 19 interceptions in '95, and became one of UB's best game managers. Helping Taylor was his receiving trio: Jamie Gasparre (48 receptions for 783 yards) led the way with Kali Watkins right behind him (41 receptions and 730 yards), and Drew Haddad contributed a solid 21 catches and 2 touchdowns as a freshman.
Behind every great UB team, there has always been a great back. This UB team featured two. Anthony Swan ran for 1,117 yards, the 2nd best season in UB history, (now 4th). Fullback Todd Pace finished his UB career by gaining 885 yards in '96. That mark passed O.D Underwood's 1987 total and was the 5th best season in UB history (now 9th).
The defense was hard hitting and opportunistic.
Linebacker Craig Guest made 136 tackles and overcame his old partner Pete Conley's career tackling record. On the line, Keith Hansen and Anthony Scott each contributed 9 sacks. Scott also set a UB record with 6 forced fumbles in one season.
The '95 team couldn't finish. They started 2-1 and finished 1-7. They blew a 22-0 lead against UConn. The '96 team were finishers, they finished the season 3-0 and outscored opponents 155-91 in the second half.
Two seasons away from Mid-American Conference play, UB had a nationally recognized coach, increased interest from the community and a team that embodied the city they played in. Until that year, UB had been pushed to play division-1 football. The 1996 UB Bulls didn't need a push, they were running downhill.
Running Downhill: The 1996 UB Bulls
August 29, 1996 - Buffalo (1-0) 41, Illinois State 35
After a 2-1start turned into a disappointing 3-8 season. Second year coach Craig Cirbus started 1996 at home against Illinios State looking to improve. The Redbirds were one of the three teams UB beat in 1995, so a loss in week one would signal that UB had regressed.
While ‘95's Redbirds employed a three-headed rushing machine; the '96 Redbirds had a new Head Coach that installed a fast paced run-and-shoot passing game. Buffalo countered with classic Buffalo Football: Run Left, Run Right, and Run up the Middle.
For the second year in a row against ISU, a huge hit and a fumble recovery turned the tide for the Bulls. This year UB was down 20-21 until Hardy Mitchell landed a big hit that forced a fumble. UB recovered and the offense quickly capitalized with a touchdown. The next UB drive covered 81 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown. A few minutes later, Adam Tardiff intercepted a pass on the Illinois State 18, which led to another UB touchdown and a 41-21 lead going into the fourth quarter. ISU made a furious comeback, scoring 14 in the 4th, but UB's defense had just enough in the tank to hold on for the win.
Besieged UB Quarterback Mark Taylor showed more composure than the QB who threw 19 interceptions the previous year. Taylor, who set a personal best with 218 yards, completed 3 passes to freshmen Wide Receiver Drew Haddad.
UB did the majority of their damage on the ground. Fullback Todd Pace ran for 120 yards, Running Back Anthony Swan ran for 123 yards and Swan tied Pat Whitehead for 3rd most rushing touchdowns in one game in UB history with 4. Thanks to the ground game, UB also set a UB stadium record with 93 offensive plays in the game.