Now that summer is winding down, football season winds up. While NFLers were negotiating, college programs have been practicing and filing down their depth charts in preparation for Labor Day weekend when the season begins. The weather outside is heating up and that must mean it's time for us to begin previewing the MAC, one team at a time...
In terms of expectations, Buffalo's in a bit of an unfamiliar spot this year. After years and years of atrocity, former head coach (and current Kansas Jayhawks head coach) Turner Gill finally put the Bulls on the map in 2008, leading the team to its first MAC Championship and an appearance in the International Bowl. Suddenly, UB fans started expecting the team to be good and began showing up for games.
Unfortunately, Gill's 2009 season wasn't as impressive, and then he left for Kansas. Expectations remained high, though, after the Bulls hired Jeff Quinn, former offensive coordinator of Brian-Kelly-led Cincinnati. But Quinn's spread offense failed to work its magic in Buffalo last season, as the team struggled to a disappointing 2-10 finish. Now, if the Bulls fail to improve this season, they are in serious danger of permanently losing the momentum they gained under Gill, which will restore the student body to its previous state of apathy.Last Season: Things looked good at first. The Bulls opened with a 31-0 shellacking of FCS (read: 1-AA) Rhode Island and opened MAC play with a 28-26 victory over Bowling Green. But that was the last win they'd get. Buffalo ended Quinn's first year as a head coach on a seven-game losing streak, ultimately finishing 2-10.
The season's low point came in October, when the Bulls hosted Temple for their homecoming game. Then-freshman Alex Zordich was given his first start at quarterback after poor play from previous starter Jerry Davis. Zordich threw three interceptions and was sacked five times, and the Bulls lost 42-0.
Returning Players: Zordich and Davis both return, and they were poised for a two-man open quarterback competition until an unexpected twist got thrown into that storyline (see "New Faces" below). Running backs Branden Oliver and Jeffvon Gill will also be back, and both hope to improve on last season's lack of a viable ground game. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive end (and local product) Steven Means will try to build on strong 2010 campaigns.
There will be pressure on a relatively unknown new crop of defensive backs, who will be expected to replace Davonte Shannon, Josh Thomas, and Domonic Cook, who are all hoping to make NFL squads in the coming weeks. Names to watch include Josh Copeland and Isaac Baugh.
New Faces: The big news over the summer was that Chazz Anderson, a former Cincy backup QB whose offensive coordinator was Quinn, will join the team after enrolling in graduate school at Buffalo. (He graduated from Cincy, and he still has a year of eligibility left. Since he graduated, he doesn't have to sit out a year.) Predictably, he was named the starter, and UB fans hope his Big East experience will translate to on-the-field success in the MAC.
There is also a new offensive coaching staff; OC and wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach Don Patterson, and running backs coach will try to implement Quinn's spread system more successfully than last year's staff did.
Games to Circle: The Bulls open at Pitt (Sept. 3 on ESPN3) and have virtually no chance of victory, but if they do win, it'd be a great way to make some noise to start the season. A rematch with UConn on Sept. 24 and a trip to Tennessee on Oct. 1 will find the Bulls in similar predicaments. The interesting in-conference game is the season finale at home - Nov. 25 against Bowling Green. The Falcons were the only conference opponent that Buffalo beat last season, so if the Bulls somehow find themselves in contention going into that game, they'll be comforted in knowing they face a team they've beaten before.
Did You Know: The Bulls got new uniforms? I think the old ones were better. The "BUFFALO" is way too small now, and I liked the darker shade of blue from last season.
Prediction: I think the addition of Anderson will get the Bulls out of the MAC's doldrums and into the middle of the pack. I'm pegging them for a 4-4 conference record and a 1-3 out-of-conference record (they'll beat Stony Brook) for a final tally of 5-8.