Fifteen years ago I ran a pretty decent 2 mile, I was ranked in the top three or so in the City of Buffalo and qualified for the section 6 finals at UB Stadium. Having just run my best time ever I entered the meet thinking I was the Cock of the walk, I never thought I was going to win (or even place) but I did think I would make the top ten.
I held my own for the first mile and a half or so but I quickly realized I just did not have 'It' that day. I went from my best time of the season to the my worst time, ever, in the course of one week. That day I learned that sometimes despite having all the pieces to be successful no matter how hard you try they just won't come together. I also learned that hearing "good effort" leaves a damn bitter taste in your mouth when that effort lead to a sub par performance. Losing when you should win was character building for me as a person and, I hope, its going to be just as character building for the program and for fans.
If UB fails to make it to a Bowl (I have already written off the east though its mathematically possible) it will be the first disappointing season the team has had under Turner Gill, our first misstep in quite some time. All the back patting in the world about effort is not going to change that, nor make it more palatable. For good programs it should not taste good to 'try hard' and fail.
UB is a better team than their record indicates. The only teams who have really out played us are Temple and Pitt. If you split the other close games (CMU, WMU, UCF, Akron) evenly we are in a good position for a Bowl run. Sadly they have not split evenly and even if UB wins out the season the odds of going Bowling are pretty slim.
The only good to come out of falling short of expectations this year is to build up for next year. It's too early to officially call this a rebuilding year but I suspect that we will fall to Ohio, Kent, or BGSU (this team just is not getting bounces this year) and that is enough to end what little hopes we have of going to a Bowl. I hope I am wrong, and until UB does drop a game they need to fight for their life on every down but as soon as we drop one the priorities need to change for this year:
- We need to develop viable replacements for Roosevelt, Hamlin, and Rack (77% of our completions this season). We are loosing the bulk of our receiving talent this year and the next best thing we have, Jackson, is getting about one catch a game. Kyle Brey, presumably Racks replacement, has just one catch. These guys have to get a bit more work.
- We have to find a Kicker, or AJ has to get back to where he was last season. When you start to lose as many close games as UB has lost (WMU, CMU, UCF) a kicker who can hit 75% from 40-50 is better than gold for an offense. Right now UB is not in 'safe' range until they are well inside 35 yards (17 yard line).
- Anyone who's red shirt is not made of gold needs to see time on special teams. We have to find a set of guys who will be here next year that like to stay in their lanes and tackle well in the open field.
Some of the hardships we have suffered this year will really help out going into next season
- The ICU that is our offensive line has really come together and done it through injury. We will have a lot of depth and experience next season. While we are losing three senior linemen their have been a ton of snaps among the sophomores and Juniors on UB's roster.
- While we have never had particularly good special teams I am hoping the terrible play this year, and the games it has cost us, will get the coaching staff to take them more seriously next season.
- We will still have turner Gill next year!
So if I have seemed to be hard on the Bulls it's because we have been spoiled. For three years every season has been better than the one before, that kind of improvement can't be maintained forever. I am thrilled with the effort and fight the players have shown this year, I just don't think I should be content with only the effort. I am also quite optimistic about the future of UB football no matter how down I am on this season (what should have been an eight win season imploding) the fact I would consider 6-6 a let down speaks volumes about what Manual and Gill have done at UB.