Joe Licata is a good quarterback, above average even in the high-scoring modern MAC. Beyond that, no one can agree on much of anything when it comes to the senior and Western New York native who stepped into the starting role for his hometown team late in his redshirt freshman year.
It seems that there's a valid pro- and anti- side to every Licata discussion. He led the conference in passing touchdowns last year, throwing for a score once every twelve dropbacks. Only one other MAC QB - Logan Woodside - threw a touchdown more frequently once every 15 dropbacks. Counting stats are sexy, so when Blake Frohnapfel and Andrew Hendrix throw the ball 100 times more than Joe, the raw numbers get more attention than the efficiency, where Licata was second in the MAC as a junior. At the same time, Licata's 10 interceptions on sometimes-looping deep balls in 345 attempts was middle of the pack for the conference.
The dichotomies continue: Joe is perhaps a bit underappreciated because his career has lined up with two super-productive rushers in Amherst in San Diego Charger Branden Oliver and senior Anthone Taylor (who might have broken Oliver's single-season school rushing record had UB played all 12 games in 2014). Of course, the flip side of that coin is that bruising runners open up the passing game.
He's been at his best when forced to air it out with abandon in harried comeback attempts: 497 yards and four touchdowns - all in the second half - on 36 completions against Toledo in 2013; 401 yards, five touchdowns - again, all in the second half - on 35 completions against Army in 2014; and 197 yards in the final ten minutes in a Murphy's Law loss in Ypsilanti, also in 2014. But he's also struggled when the situation is less dire, throwing two interceptions in West Point before the comeback got going, and taking five interceptions and seven sacks over an ugly three game stretch in October.
On the Buffalo record books, Licata has already surpassed Drew Willy in wins and total passing touchdowns, and is well on his way to the school records in passing yards and passer rating despite many fewer attempts than the current Winnipeg Blue Bomber. Over his 27 starts, Buffalo averages 30 points a game. Increase the scope to the conference, and a repeat of his junior season would move him into fifth all-time in MAC passing touchdowns and 15th in passing yards.
There's little reason to expect a different Licata in 2015. Buffalo does have a new coach in Lance Leipold who has built his offensive philosophy out of running the ball effectively, but his past offenses at Wisconsin-Whitewater ran the ball at nearly the exact clip as Jeff Quinn's Buffalo playcalling during Licata's career. There might even be bigger numbers on the horizon for the senior, who is one of eight returning starters on the offense and claims to have more zip on his long balls after an offseason hip surgery to treat a labrum injury that's bothered him for parts of the last two seasons.
After leaving high school holding New York State records on both the gridiron and the basketball court, it feels for UB fans that Joe Licata has been around forever. The storybook hometown favorite is now a senior with his name on the Manning Award Watch List and the tools in place to finish his career as Buffalo's best ever.