A Quinn-tessential year
Bulls look to build off late-season success as spring ball begins
Football head coach Jeff Quinn (above) spent his offseason recruiting and persuading Khalil Mack to stay in a blue and white jersey. Now that the pieces are put in place, the Bulls look to contend for a Mid-American Conference Championship. They opened spring ball on Tuesday. Ami Diallo /// The Spectrum
The stage is finally set. The season has commenced. Since former Buffalo head coach Turner Gill left the program, UB football has taken a few seasons to transition into the Jeff Quinn era.
On Tuesday afternoon, running back Branden Oliver, wide receiver Alex Neutz and linebacker Khalil Mack embarked on their much-anticipated senior seasons, as they took the field for spring ball.
After dropping seven of their first eight, the Bulls finished last season in stride, wining three of their last four games. It was the first winning streak in the Quinn era.
Since 2010, Quinn's first year, Buffalo has compiled a 9-27 record, failing to qualify for a bowl game. They have yet to defeat a Division I non-conference team, but the team appears set for a change.
Quinn's offseason was spent not only recruiting new athletes but also persuading his best defensive player to stay in a blue and white jersey.
Mack, who is a two-time All-Mid-American Conference first-team selection, will return with a shot to break the NCAA record of tackles for a loss. He is 19 shy.
"He has more goals he wanted to accomplish this season, his final year," Quinn said. "He is very close with a lot of the guys on this team and he knew we had a very good team coming back. He made the right choice because he knew one of his goals was to graduate with a degree."
Mack will solidify the Buffalo 'D.' The Bulls also return the majority of their offense.
The biggest questions surrounding spring practice are at quarterback. Last season, senior Alex Zordich started the first eight games of the Bulls' season, going 1-7. After the switch to redshirt freshman Joe Licata, Buffalo finished the season 3-1 in its final four games.
Licata took the first snaps at practice, but despite his record last season, quarterback is an open competition coming into practice.
"It's a competitive situation, but they all understand that and I couldn't be more pleased with their maturity and recognizing how competitive it is," Quinn said. "Who's going to come out is going to be that guy who gives us the best shot at beating Ohio State, Baylor and everybody else we have to compete against."
Despite Quinn's record, Buffalo extended his contract in November 2012 through the 2017 season. Though some viewed it as a controversial decision, Quinn looks to silence his critics this season.
"We are on the right path and I couldn't be more excited for where we are with this football program," Quinn said. "I think [Athletic Director Danny White] recognizes that along with his leadership team. You never have to defend what's right and I know what's right. I am excited for where our team is and our coaches are and we will have the opportunity to compete at the highest level."
Rivals.com ranked Buffalo's incoming recruiting class 123rd - tied for dead last - among Division I teams.
"I don't totally agree with people's assessment in terms of what we do in terms of my coaching staff and the decisions we make," Quinn said. "I'm pleased as any coach with the kind of class and character of the kids and the quality of football players and students that we are bringing in.
"They don't know those kids; I do... They were leaders, captains, all-state [players] and won state championships and that's what you are looking for: Guys who know how to win, guys who will train year round, guys who know what it takes to be a champion. We look forward to getting those guys out here and only time will tell."
The Bulls look to make their first bowl game since the 2008 season. After a strong finish in 2012, combined with a healthy Oliver, this Buffalo team has its eyes on a MAC Championship.
Buffalo travels to Columbus, Ohio, to open its season at Ohio State, which is coming off an undefeated 2012.
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