|26-Oct||at Kent State|
|---> Tickets <---|
To say that the Jeff Quinn era has not gone as well as UB fans would have hoped would be the understatement of a life time. After limping along like an extra in a George Romeo film for their first 8 years in the MAC Buffalo finally started to show signs of life in 2007 when the Bulls went 5-7 and tied for the MAC East Title, the next year they won the conference.
Buffalo fans hoped that the teams disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2009 would be the new low watermark for the schools football team, they were wildly incorrect.
When Turner Gill left for Kansas and UB brought in Jeff Quinn and it was deja vu all over again. Quinn has won just nine games in three years at the helm in Buffalo, last seasons 4-8 mark was his best at Buffalo. If you put the record aside though last year's team showed a lot of potential and UB returns more players than almost any team in the conference.
So in a big way this is probably Jeff Quinn's make or break season. If he can't get it done with Khalil Mack, Branden Oliver, Alex Neutz, and Najja Johnson then there is a good chance he just can't get it done.
This year the Bulls will start the season with Joe Licata behind center, the fourth time in four years UB has a new starting QUarterback for opening day. Because Licata is not at all the type of Quarterback UB user in the Quinn era this season Buffalo will play a different kind of offense.
Throughout camp Quinn has dabbled in the pistol and other offensive sets which he believes will let a precision passer like Licata get quick reads on the defense while also making hand offs to Oliver go faster.
Licata owns a number of Western New York regional high school record and even a couple of out right state records. After spending his freshman season with a clipboard Licata took over the team last year when Alex Zordich was injured against Kent State.
The Williamsville native took the Bulls on their first three game winning streak since 2008, when the team won the MAC championship.
Licata is the first pocket passer UB has started with since Drew Willy graduated in 2008. Both Gill and Quinn were looking for a "Dual Threat" quarterback. Some like Chazz Anerson and Zach Maynard also packed a good arm while others like Jerry Davis and Alex Zordich were more modest passers.
Now Buffalo has went full circle to a Quarterback that looks and feels like Willy. Licata is a heady quarterback who throws accurate passes with touch. But his running takes the "option" out of the read option. Joe can move around in the pocket a bit but don't expect him to break containment and stroll do the field for 10-30 yards too often.
Buffalo has someone else to do damage on the ground, that would be Branden Oliver. After struggling behind a paper thin offensive line in 2010 Oliver broke out in 2011.
His sophomore year Oliver UB’s single-season records for rushing yards when he carried the ball for 1,395 yards. He also broke UB's single season records for carries (306) and all-purpose yardage (1,760 yards). The other record he set in 2011 by Oliver include 100 yard games (8).
Last season started out just as promising for Oliver. In the off season he was named to the Maxwell, Doak Walker, and Walter Camp preseason watch lists, an honor he repeated this year . Oliver had a week one opportunity to showcase his skills against a top ten team. He made believers out of the nations pundits with a 111 yard showing against the Georgia Bulldogs.
He was on a tear when he went down against Kent State in week three. At that point Oliver was one of the top 3 backs in the nation by yardage. Unfortunately for Oliver the injury costs him most of 2012.
The bright side is that the seldom used depth UB had at tail back got a lot of work last season. The player who made the biggest splash was Devin Campbell. Campbell had to take over for Oliver and UB's second back James Potts who was injured against Morgan State. Campbell, Potts, and Oliver together form a very deep and tested backfield for the Bulls.
Buffalo is not as deep at Full back where Boomer Brock lost his backup, Jordan Johnson, to an elbow injury this summer.
So what can Buffalo do to prevent teams from just stacking the box to frustrate Oliver? Well UB has a stud receiver and a fairly robust set of tight ends to work with. Primarily Licata can test teams through the air by throwing the Ball to Alex Neutz.
Neutz has been a star at UB from day one. In his freshman season Neuuuuuutttzzz was named the teams Offensive MVP after leading Buffalo with 15.9 yards per. His 26 catches for 414 yards was the best effort by a freshman since. After the 2010 season Phil Steele named Neutz to the Postseason All-Freshman Fifth Team.
Approaching 650 yards half way through 2011 Neutz was well on his way to a breakout season in 2011 before a broken hand against Miami stopped him in his tracks. He missed the last three and a half games of the season which cost him a shot at a thousand yards and may ave cost the Bulls at least one win.
He came back with a vengeance in 2012, hauling in 65 receptions for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns put him in the UB record books for yards (fourth), receptions (sixth), and touchdowns (second). The season secured Neutz a spot All-MAC Second Team last season and pushed him onto the Biletnikoff watch list this season.
But after Neutz things get a little muddy for Buffalo at wide out. Neutz will share the field with Buffalo receivers Fred Lee, Marcus Mcgill, and Natey Adjei. Lee caught 17 passes for 261 yards last season and a touchdown against Miami. McGill and Adjei played mostly special teams last season. It's been four years since Buffalo provided opponents with a one-two punch to worry about.
Devon Hughes and Cordero Dixon are backups who may get work if the starters don't show any real promise. Hughes had a rather nice season last year pulling in 23 receptions for 228 yards, most of that came against NIU where he was the lone bright spot for UB. Dixon had a more quiet 10 receptions for 96 yards last year.
The scarcity of proven players at receiver is not a problem at Tight End. Buffalo's tight ends include Alex Dennison, a converted Quarterback who will find his way under center in the "Alley Cat Formation", Matt Weiser, and James "Jimmy" Gordon.
All of this, the backs, receivers, and Licata, only get it done if the offensive line holds up. Buffalo is returning three starters on a line who managed to make five different running backs, including a converted defensive lineman/full back look good last season.
The line also had to contend with the mid season injury to Quarterback Alex Zordich, that injury put the freshman Joe Licata in for the last four and a half games. Rather than buckle under the different schemes required for he players they seemed to lpay strong with a pocket passer.
Injuries last season to Zordich, Oliver, Potts, Campbell, Brock, and Taylor both tested the backfield and proved the line was solid. This year all they need is for the new starters, Dillion Guy and Jake Silas, to prove as well as the right side of last years line.
Dillon Guy is a product of Jeff Quinn's push into Canada. While Canadian football has it's wonky rules the physics of throwing a defensive lineman around don't change at the border.
Silas is probably the biggest Question at Tackle. He has the size to fill the teams need but saw time as a backup in just five games last year.
Aside from those two the trio of Sales, Davis, and
Andre Davis may be the leader of the unit, he won the teams "Iron Man" award last year for playing more snaps than any Bull and Ohio State will mark the Juniors 25th straight start.
Defensively all eyes on on Khalil Mack. Buffalo's star linebacker and preseason second team All American has his sights set on two NCAA records this season. Mack leads Buffalo's 3-4 hybrid defense and is often lined up as a pseudo down lineman, but he is also fast enough to cover most backs and tight ends.
In 2013 Mack had one of the greatest defensive years the MAC has seen in recent year: 94 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 2 passes broken up, 4 QB hurries, 4 forced fumbles and 1 blocked kick in 2013. Last season combined from two solid years before puts the senior just 19 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles away from breaking NCAA records.
Mack has a nose for breaking up plays in the backfield and has shown good enough pursuit skills to run down plays across the entire width of the field. He has been named to both the Butkis and Lombari award list this season, he's also been talked about as a day one draft pick.
If he had a monster season last year this season might be even more impressive. He did loose Steven Means to the NFL but the defensive backfield behind him has matured into a solid unit which should allow UB defensive coordinator Lou Tepper to turn Mack Lose.
Lou Tepper the former defensive coordinator at LSU and head coach at Illinois has been trying to find a "drop linebacker" who is a hybrid of a defensive back and an outside linebacker. Buffalo defensive back Adam Redden was moved over the off season to linebacker and may finally fill that role.
The secondary is led by a former walk on who goes into 2013 on the Jim Thorpe watch list.
Najja Johnson led the MAC last season with five interceptions and added 11 passes defended. In something of a snub Johnson was left off of the all MAC team last season but Phil Steele named him 1st team preseason All-MAC team. He was also named the 32nd best player in the MAC by "Hustle Belt".
Johnson may be the big name in the UB defensive secondary but he is not alone. Cortney Lester is on the other side of the field at corner. Okoye Houston and Derek Brim have also proven capable at safety.
|ILB||Lee Skinner||Travis Pitzonka
|CB||Cortney Lester||Marqus Baker|
The only unit on the defense with worrisome turnover is the defensive line. Steven Means is playing preseason ball in Tampa Bay which leaves Colby Way with a chance to prove his performances over the past two seasons have not been a fluke.
Way earned his first start seven games into the 2011 season, and there were not a lot of expectations for him ingoing into last season.
Part of the expectations were based on the fact that the 300 pound defensive end was opposite both Steven Means and Khalil Mack. Way did not disappoint His 58 tackles and six sacks included six tackles and two sacks against Georgia in UB's season opener.
So will Way be able to deal with the double teams ha can expect now that his opposite isThe performance of both Mack and Johnson may hing on this question.
As much as the questions on the offensive and defensive line might keep a UB fan awake at night they pale in comparison to the hypertension that UB's special teams have caused.
The Bulls worst moments in the past several years all seem to come on special teams.
Take your pick of ways special teams can kill you and Buffalo fans have had to deal with it.
Kickoff returns for touchdowns against us? Georgia last season had an emotionally devastating 100 yard return after UB put together a nice sustained drive to make the score 7-6. UB has seen similar painful returns against them several times over the past two seasons.
|KOR||Devin Campbell||Okoye Houston|
|PR||Devin Campbell||Alex Neutz|
Botched kicks and punts? too many to count. In a 2011 loss to NIU UB muffed a half dozen punts and lost three of them to the Huskies. That game was still close coming down to a missed extra points in the waning seconds.
Devin Campbell, who filled in so well last year as a half back, should finally add stability to the UB return game. While an explosive game would be great at this point Buffalo is just hoping that that return game does not cost them any games.
Tyler Grassman had an ok freshman year but Buffalo needs more consistent punting if they want to start winning games which come down to field position.
Buffalo has had bad returns, inconsistent punting, and lax coverage for several years now. The one area of special teams that has already gotten significantly better is place kicking. Junior Patrick Clarke is one of the better kickers in the conference and could be a difference maker in close games this season.
The other wrinkle in the place kicking game is Tony Daniel. UB's third string quarterback has proven to be rather heady when things go wrong. A bad snap against Miami of Ohio ended up a UB first down when Daniel escape the rush and found Alex Dennison down field, that drive proved the game winner.
For all the talent UB is returning this year they have a schedule which would still make more than seven wins something of a surprise. Games against Ohio State, Baylor, and UConn put Buffalo in a position where they might be just 1-3 out of conference. This would make a strong run withing the Mid American conference a requirement for a Bowl Run.
Doing something big this season is crucial for Buffalo. UB is speeding towards a talent cliff which will claim Mack, Way, Johnson, Oliver, Neutz, and a number of other key starters.
Buffalo has yet to fulfill the promise that moved the MAC to bring UB in as a full member more than a decade ago. The Bulls have shown flashes of what could be but this is probably position for position the best team UB has ever fielded. Will it be enough to break into the top of the MAC pecking order or will the Bulls once again fall short.