What more could you ask for?

On January 28, 2014

Editor's Note: This column is part of a two-part debate surrounding the 2013 UB football season. To see the counterpoint argument, look for the Related Articles tab below.

For those who wanted more from this year's football team, it's time to take a step back and look at UB football history.

What happened in 2013 was unprecedented.

Sophomore quarterback Joe Licata's 233 completions in a single season rank third in program history. Both his 2,824 yards and 132.7 quarterback rating also rank third. Licata threw for the sixth-best completion percentage in school history (58 percent) and is only the second quarterback to throw for more than 20 touchdowns (24). Only 2008 Mid-American Conference Championship quarterback Drew Willy and Chad Salisbury in 1997 have had seasons at UB comparable to the one Licata just completed.

Senior running back Branden Oliver embodied the term "workhorse." His 310 carries and 1,535 rushing yards are the best in program history and his seven 100-yard games rank second only to himself. His 15 rushing touchdowns also rank second in single-season history.

Senior wide receiver Alex Neutz silenced anyone who thought of him as a one-year-wonder after his breakout junior season. Despite facing constant double teams, Neutz had only four fewer receptions in 2013 than 2012. He amassed more yards (1,024) and touchdowns (12) than the previous year. His 1,024 yards mark the fourth-best season for a UB wideout and his 12 touchdown grabs rank second in a season.

Senior linebacker Khalil Mack's accolades go beyond the UB record book. Mack set the all-time NCAA career record for forced fumbles (16) and tied the record for tackles for loss (75) in this historic season.

Most impressively, all these stats are from 100 years of UB football, not only the 15 seasons of its D-1 history.

Even the oft-criticized head coach Jeff Quinn deserves his share of the credit for the season: Buffalo's eight wins tie a UB Division I record.

Let's not forget that we're in Buffalo: a city where winning is rare for every team at every level of competition. This is not an athletic program rich with history like places such as Notre Dame, Alabama or even Syracuse.

This was not "supposed" to happen.

Even we at The Spectrum picked this squad to go 6-6 and play in a bowl game. I remember sitting around a table, wavering between six and seven wins. Nobody said the number eight. Nobody expected a MAC Championship game appearance. We knew it was possible, but it was too far out there to predict. The Bulls had to prove it on the field.

Then, all of a sudden, winning eight games, appearing in a bowl and falling one win shy of a MAC title appearance felt like a poor season.

There are arguments - many of which I agree with - that this team didn't go further because of the coaching. I agree that Quinn is not a very good coach. But coaches must be factored in with expectations.

For example, if the Knicks fired Mike Woodson and replaced him with Phil Jackson, the expectations rise. With that, so does the definition of success. Having Quinn as the coach diminishes my expectations for UB football. Therefore, championships are far from my mind, and an eight-win season is phenomenal.

There are 124 Division I teams in the NCAA. These teams fight all season for one of 70 bowl berths. This season, 79 schools were "bowl eligible" - meaning they recorded at least six regular-season wins.

The Bulls' eight wins left them as one of the lucky 70 teams to receive a postseason invitation. It was the first time since the 2008 season and just the second time ever for the Bulls.

Still, some have said, "this team beat nobody." It is true the teams Buffalo defeated had a combined 23-73 record, including 11-38 in the MAC. It is also true its losses came to teams with a combined record of 48-18, including a 12-4 MAC record.

But let's face it: before this season, we were nobody.

Buffalo had six total conference wins in the past three seasons. Excluding Massachusetts, which is only in its second season in the MAC, Buffalo's record from 2010-12 was worse than every school it defeated this season. Eastern Michigan has seven wins over this time and Western Michigan, Kent State, Ohio and Miami Ohio all have double-digit conference victories.

For the first time ever, college football fans could watch Buffalo football often this season. The Bulls' final five games were all on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU and they opened the season stealing viewers from Johnny Manziel as the Bulls put a minor scare into national powerhouse Ohio State.

The community showed interest and support in the Bulls as well, attending games in record numbers. UB Stadium seated over 110,000 people in its five games in Amherst, giving Buffalo the highest home attendance numbers in the MAC.

Now what does this say for the future? Who knows? Most of Buffalo's record setters were seniors, meaning their college careers are over.

But this season was not about the future. What happened this season deserves to be celebrated and remembered. It took five years for this program to return to a bowl game. It may be five years before it plays in another. Or one, or 10.

Was this its best chance for a title in years? Yes, but who's to say it was its only chance?

Regardless of the final two losses, 2013 put Buffalo, UB, the State University of New York at Buffalo or however else you wish to refer to this football team on people's minds.

You heard about the Bulls on ESPN. You read about them on blogs. You and the rest of the country read "Buffalo Bulls" when you picked winners in your office "Bowl Mania" tournaments.

Buffalo will remain in the spotlight when ESPN discuses Khalil Mack's NFL draft stock and future as a potential top-10 pick.

That's what people should take away from this season: Buffalo's return to relevance. Celebrate what it was, and don't waste time considering what it wasn't.


email: owen.obrien@ubspectrum.com


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