Football season will go down as disappointment
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.
When the football team lost its bowl game to San Diego State, 49-24 on Dec. 21, 2013, it didn't just lose the game. The Bulls lost the most talented senior class in school history.
It's easy to look at the Bulls' 8-5 record and appearance in a bowl game and declare the season a success. It certainly looks like one compared to previous years. The Bulls had not won more than four games in a season under head coach Jeff Quinn and the four-game spike in wins definitely seems to bode well.
But the story here isn't the Bulls' sudden surge in wins.It's the fact that players who made their last appearance in a Buffalo jersey in Boise, Ida. - including school record-holders Alex Neutz and Branden Oliver, national record-holder Khalil Mack and All-Mid-American Conference selections Colby Way, Jasen Carlson and Najja Johnson - played in only one bowl game.
Quinn had the most talented class in school history for four years and he went 17-32 with them. No Mid-American Conference Championship game appearances. One bowl appearance.
The fans deserved better. The players deserved better. And now, without an ultra talented senior class, the football team will slip back into 3-5 win seasons.
What's even scarier is that Quinn has not shown the recruiting ability to bring in any players of the caliber that just graduated (almost all of whom Turner Gill recruited). In Quinn's first four recruiting classes, the most decorated players are Colby Way, Joe Licata, Adam Redden and Andre Davis.
All of those players were key contributors on the Bulls over the past few seasons, but the problem is none of them are of the caliber of the Bulls' recent stars (Mack, Oliver, Davonte Shannon, James Starks, Namaan Roosevelt). Way is graduating, and without the presence of Mack on defense and Oliver on offense, it will be all too easy for teams to prep for the Bulls.
But there is enough evidence of the Bulls' failure to capitalize on talent in the past two years that predicting the future isn't necessary. When Quinn inherited the team from Gill in 2010, the roster was full of unknowns. The Bulls had just graduated Roosevelt and Starks - the two best skill players on the team - and the only standout left was Shannon.
2010 didn't offer much hope for the future. The Bulls went 2-10 and no one stepped up as a star. Although 2011 included only three wins, the Bulls upset MAC contender Ohio at home and nearly took eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois to overtime. Both Mack and Oliver stepped up as stars and Alex Neutz emerged as an above average wide receiver.
Although expectations outside the program in 2012 weren't very high, with the talent level on that team, they should have at least approached six wins. Instead, they started 1-7 including disheartening losses to Kent State at home and Connecticut, Ohio and Northern Illinois on the road.
The team did win three of their final four games that season, making their record look respectable, especially when Kent State finished 11-1, Ohio started 7-0 and Northern Illinois earned an Orange Bowl berth. The subpar performance could have been chalked up to bad luck with scheduling.
The loss to Bowling Green in the final week became the telling game of 2012. After looking like a different team against Miami Ohio, Western Michigan and Massachusetts, the Bulls totaled just seven points against the Falcons.
That was the last time we saw a conference team outplay and outcoach the Bulls until they played Toledo on Nov. 12. In that game, the Bulls fell behind 38-0 before they mounted a furious comeback attempt against Toledo's second-team defense.
And the biggest loss of them all was the loss in the bowl game. Playing a warm-weather team in cold weather on national television should have been a chance for the Bulls to showcase their stars. Instead they were embarrassed, putting on a lackluster offensive performance that allowed the Aztecs to wear down the defense.
Both teams had plenty of time to prepare between games. This was clearly a case of the Aztecs' coaching staff outdueling Jeff Quinn and company.
The argument that this season is progress because of the football program's history of mediocrity is ludicrous.
This should have been the season the Bulls broke out of mediocrity. And with the talent on this team, it should have been a national story leading into this season. Imagine if the national media had seen Mack and Oliver play for more than just one season. Their names may have been as well known as Jordan Lynch's, who finished the season as a Heisman finalist.
This season held implications for the future of Buffalo's football program and the coaching staff failed. The talent on both sides of the ball this season was sufficient for UB to do what Bowling Green did in upsetting nationally ranked Northern Illinois.
At the very least, the Bulls should have competed better in their regular-season finale at Ralph Wilson Stadium, where they lost 24-7 to the Falcons.
It's tough to say the Bulls should have won the MAC East title or the MAC Championship - there is too much luck involved when good teams meet - but the talent on this team should have at least yielded a competitive game into the fourth quarter with the Falcons. That did not happen.
It doesn't matter where a team plays its home games, whether it's Buffalo, Columbus, Ohio, or Ann Arbor, Mich. - a talented team needs to play to the level of which it is capable. This team had the talent to compete with the best teams in the conference, but head-to-head, it didn't.
The Bulls had the potential to be a special MAC team, and they didn't follow through. Take that as you will, but 2013 wasn't a step forward for the football program. Whenever you lose this much talent without a conference championship, it is a step back.
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