Hitting their stride
Published: Saturday, October 5, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 16:10
Last Saturday, I was one of just two Spectrum sports writers to predict the Bulls would defeat UConn. When I got to the office before covering the game, Editor in Chief Aaron Mansfield and Senior Sports Editor Ben Tarhan approached me about my pick.
“The Bulls do this every year,” they said. “We just don’t fall for it anymore.”
I’m not as experienced of a follower – this is just my second year covering Bulls football – so they thought I was susceptible to the Bulls’ annual disappointment.
But there’s something different about this year’s Bulls team. I didn’t pick Buffalo because I was oblivious to its highs and lows; I truly believe this team has legitimate talent.
The Bulls proved it last week, smothering UConn 41-12, and followed up this week, defeating Eastern Michigan 42-14. They are now 3-2 for the first time in their FBS history.
Many expected the Bulls to earn a bid to a bowl game this year, and thus far, they’re on par with those expectations. But the pinnacle of the hype coming for this team will be immeasurable compared to years past.
The Bulls should win their next two games against Western Michigan and the MAC’s bottom feeder, UMass, entering Week Nine at 5-2.
They would need just one victory in their final five games to earn a bowl bid. But would winning just one of those games – and matching the expectations – be acceptable anymore? If they reach 5-2, asking for a MAC Championship would be reasonable. But is it realistic?
I think it is.
The Bulls’ record will be a bit misleading: three wins against the worst teams in the conference, one against a winless UConn and another against an FCS opponent.
Regardless of the opposition, these wins aren’t ones to which Bulls fans are accustomed. They’ve scored at least 40 points in each of their last two games – for the first time since 1981 – and fans seem to be catching on that this team is legit. Saturday marked the first time in UB Stadium history there has been an attendance of at least 20,000 people.
The negative connotation that constantly hovers around this program before every season may be the only reason the expectations weren’t as high as they are now. No one ever expects UB football to be good, so despite having the most capable roster in the program’s history, people weren’t comfortable asking for a conference-contending team.
I’ve been sold on the players from the start. The piece of the puzzle that has left me skeptical is the same piece many have been concerned with the past few years – the coaching.
Head coach Jeff Quinn has faced as much scrutiny as any coach in the country, specifically after receiving a three-year contract extension despite leading the Bulls to an underachieving 9-27 record.
But Quinn’s game plan in the Bulls’ last two games has earned my respect.
Since the Quinn era began, the Bulls’ offense has been consistent at being inconsistent. A lack of creative play-calling and predictable game plans have defined him.
In their games against UConn and Eastern Michigan, Quinn has finally given the Bulls an identity. They’ve come out pounding the ball on the ground via their star back Branden Oliver, all the while creating easy passing lanes for their young quarterback, sophomore Joe Licata.
‘Leadership, fight, the seniors, every player matters.’
Those are the scripted responses Quinn and the players have been preaching since last spring, only they don’t seem so scripted now. The players are rallying around each other and, more remarkably, they’re rallying around Quinn.
In years past, the Bulls would come out and blow the game against Western Michigan next week – forcing repentance for my last 600 words.
But not this team. We could be in for something special this season.