For UB Bulls, wait ’til next year
The Bulls are in for an entertaining offensive season, but the ‘D’ may be their downfall
Bulls fans – get ready. You’re in for an entertaining 12 games. But don’t expect to see a 13th one.
UB Athletic Director Danny White’s vision of becoming a ‘big-time’ brand is slowly coming to fruition. On the student end, White has expanded his vision of ‘big-time’ tailgates and overall football atmosphere. He brought back the Tailgate Concert Series. He booked more nationally televised games. His goal is to get students to come to the pregame rituals and stay for the game.
And with the new additions to the team, it’s quite possible those students will want to stay until the end of the fourth quarter, rather than pile out by the boatload and head back to the dorms by the end of the first.
The reason? Fans want to see action. Unless someone is an avid football fan who loves defensive matchups, most fans want to witness a shootout. For a school that is trying to rebuild its image for a depleted football program, the best option is to give fans what they want: a fast-paced, high-scoring offense.
And that’s exactly what Buffalo will do this upcoming season.
Joe Licata, the hometown hero, is entering his final season as the Bulls’ starting quarterback and is aching for an opportunity to bring home a championship for the first time in his college career.
And if playing with that mentality wasn’t enough, he’s finally developed into the fully touted quarterback he was coming out of Williamsville South. His pocket presence is developed, his arm strength is up to par, he’s 100 percent healthy and he’s coming off his best season as a Bull and enters the year as the all-time touchdown leader.
And above all that, he may be playing with his best receiving core to date.
It’s fair to argue that his duo of Alex Neutz and Fred Lee two years ago could be the best that Licata’s ever thrown to, but he’s never had so much depth before.
Senior wide receiver Ron Willoughby is coming off of a breakout season. Sophomore Jacob Martinez is poised for a breakout year as a speedy, down-the-field slot receiver. Highly touted newcomer Collin Lisa is expected to assume a starting role after an impressive camp, giving Licata one more dynamic playmaker in that unit.
And let’s not forget the tight ends. Leipold said during spring practices he wants to incorporate his talented tight end duo of seniors Mason Schreck and Matt Weiser. In the past, the team has utilized the position as blockers more than playmakers. But that just may change this year, as both tight ends have proven they could be efficient difference makers this season.
And with a team that returns its star offensive players from a unit that averaged over 31 points per game, that number could easily go up.
It’s a recipe for entertainment, at least. It’s the high-scoring offense that could shake the bleachers at UB Stadium for home games for the first time since Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack and San Diego Chargers running back Branden Oliver graced a Bulls uniform.
But the number on the opposite side of the ball could go up as well.
As prominent as the offense will be, Buffalo returns less than half of the starting ‘D’ from last season – a squad that allowed over 32 points per game. There have been multiple signs of progress from spring practices into the season for many players including the junior wide receiver-converted-cornerback Boise Ross and elusive senior Nick Gilbo, who also doubles as the team’s signal caller.
But as many football fans know – from high school to the NFL – players cannot be judged based on no-contact practice against their own team. Once the Albany game concludes, Leipold and the defense will have a better grasp on defensive alignment.
But until then, there is still a lot to prove.
The unit will eventually come into form, progressively getting better as the weeks roll on. But will it be too late?
It will take some time for the team to adjust to the new system, no matter how well the camaraderie between Leipold and his players has transpired so far. The offense is poised to make a big splash this season, but the defense is going to be a work in progress. I can see this team making a deep run next season – potentially a bowl game.
This season, expect the team to be ousted from playoff contention.
And sorry, Leipold – your career total losses may hit the double digits this season.
5-7 (3-5 MAC)