When the Bulls said goodbye to former Head Coach Craig Cirbus last season, they were making a statement that he had taken them as far as he could go. Two wins in the MAC conference was a significant jump compared to previous campaigns, but was not enough to satisfy Athletic Director Bob Arkeilpane.
Who would be the man to take the Bulls to that next level?
Enter Jim Hofher.
"The first threshold would have to be to win a game in the MAC. We accomplished that last year," said Hofher. "Naturally, our next goal will be to have a winning season in conference. Our next threshold would be to win our side of the MAC. After that, we're going to focus on winning a MAC Championship. Our next goal after that would be to win a bowl game.
"Now, who's to put a timetable on when these things will happen? But, logically those are the next goals we want to accomplish."
Hofher has the confidence of his players, who particularly admire his attention to detail, something that may have been lacking from their preparation in previous years.
"This year, the emphasis is on you. Coach Hofher is well prepared for everything. There hasn't been a practice or anything we've done that we haven't been well prepared for. It's a little more structured, and a lot more disciplined," said senior running back Albert Grundy.
When coaches come in to a struggling program, they often clean house, installing their systems, their staffs and their players. Hofher employed two of those tactics, building his staff and switching the base defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Despite bringing in an impressive recruiting class of 26 incoming freshmen, Hofher left the core of the team- including the starters - intact.
"The seniors have been through this before, they have prepared more, lifted more weights. It is their time," said Hofher. He added that not one true freshman would be in the starting line-up come opening day.
Here is a detailed look at what the Bulls will be putting on the field Thursday:
As Hofher made perfectly clear, the Bulls will go as far as senior Joe Freedy's right arm can carry them.
"Joe's our guy. He's big, strong, and talented. He's the guy we want leading us into battle," said Hofher.
Freedy ranks among the top quarterbacks in school history with 637 pass attempts, 335 completions, and 3,835 passing yards. His quarterback rating has increased steadily in two seasons at the helm, and Freedy is likely to end his career at UB as one of the leading passers in Bulls history.
"The main thing we have to do is improve every game and even so far as every practice. That's how we get better as a team. That's something that needs to happen for the course of the season so when we finish our last game, we will be way better then when we started," said Freedy.
Randall Secky, the 6'4" local product from Maple Grove, will handle backup responsibilities.
This may be the most talented position on the Bulls roster. Last year, the Bulls turned heads around the MAC with the thunder and lightning attack of sophomore Marquis Dwarte and senior Albert Grundy.
The diminutive Dwarte (5'6", 170 lbs.) averaged 4.7 yards per carry after replacing Bam McDonald as the starter in week six against Ohio. He flirted with 100-yard games against Ohio and Ball State, and shattered the plateau in the final two games of the season with a 173 yard effort against Akron and a 156 yard outing against Miami of Ohio.
Complementing Dwarte is Grundy, who at 6'2", 231 lbs., and running a 4.5 second forty-yard dash, is a load for any defender to bring down. Grundy also turned in two 100-yard performances, and is eager to continue the Bulls running success.
"If we score our first touchdown, it'll just rain from there. If we can get that first one, it'll be a confidence booster," said Grundy.
Paving the way for the tailbacks will be fullbacks Tom Shaugnessy, who moved over from tight end, and Derrick Gordon, who will also figure to get the remainder of the carries.
Last year's breakout campaign made Andre Forde one of the players to watch in the MAC conference. Forde is one of the few players who can break a game open every time he touches the ball, and had 36 catches for 590 yards last year, averaging 16.4 yards per catch.
Zeke Mckine will be Freedy's second target, and is looking to improve on his '00 campaign where he caught 32 balls for 416 yards and two touchdowns. At 5-8, 156 pounds, Mckine is giving away lots of size to most defenders and will have to rely on his speed and quickness to remain on the field.
Tight end Chad Bartoszek will be a bigger outlet for Freedy to look for. Bartoszek, 6'6", 250 lbs., fills Shaughnessey's (one of Freedy's favorite targets) shoes. His presence in the middle of the field will be a key to the Bulls passing game success.
This is considered to be the Bulls biggest question mark heading into the season. With the departure of four offensive lineman last year, the Bulls will have to rely on the youth movement to do battle in the trenches.
Grundy was optimistic that this year's unit can match, and even exceed, the output they received from last years O-line.
"We have major confidence. We're building and retooling every day that we go. You should expect a lot of good things from this years offensive line. They're bigger and as tough as the ones last year. They just have to get down their assignments," he said.
Andy Avery will fulfill the hole at left tackle. At 6-6, 270 lbs., he should have the speed and mobility to anchor the left side of the line.
At left guard, Bull's fans will see a familiar face in All-MAC candidate Tim Hedges. Back for his final season, the veteran will be called on for every ounce of leadership he can muster to anchor the young unit.
Redshirt freshmen center Eric Weber will also be seeing his first game time as he tries to bounce back from an ankle injury that kept him out the greater part of last season.
Sophomore Jeff Mills and another redshirt freshmen, Erik Zepphuar, round out the unit at right tackle and right guard, respectively. The tandem has no game experience at the college level, so their ability to learn quickly is imperative for the Bulls offense to click.
In implementing the 4-3 defense, the Bulls are playing to their strengths, and putting a lot of responsibility on the outside rushers to get to the quarterback. Bulls fans will see a more aggressive defense in 2001.
"We're more focused on team speed. That is why we made the transition, players like myself, to switch from linebacker to end, and hopefully get a little more pressure on the quarterback," said defensive end Chris Shelly.
Shelly feels he is more suited to playing in the trenches, despite the fact that he will be eye to eye with some of college football's biggest men.
"Now, there's a 300-pound tackle in my face every time I try to get to the quarterback, instead of a 200-pound running back," he said.
Shelly has played linebacker for three years but is no stranger to the line, as he played defensive end throughout his high school career.
Omari Jordan, 6'6", 299 lbs., is running out of years to realize his limitless potential. He turned a lot of heads at the Bulls Blue-White scrimmage in May, and spent most of the night in the Bulls backfield terrorizing quarterbacks.
Senior captain Bob Dzvonick once again has the thankless job of taking on constant double and triple teams from the offensive line to free up other UB tacklers. Despite the extra attention, he was able to register 33 tackles last year.
End Jamie Guerra rounds out this talented unit.
Senior captain Duane Williams will return to his old stomping grounds after being tried at defensive end in the spring. Wherever he goes, you can bet the quarterback will have his eye on him. Williams ranked second in the conference last season with nine sacks and 15 tackles for losses.
In the 4-3 defense, a lot of emphasis is placed on the linebacker's ability to run sideline to sideline and chase down ball carriers. Lamar Wilcher's performance will be vital to the Bulls defense at stopping the run. Senior Bobby Johnson has made the transition from safety to outside linebacker. He will have to prove wrong the critics who say he is too small to be an effective linebacker in the MAC.
This is an intriguing blend of youth and experience.
All-MAC candidate Craig Rohlfs will return to give the Bulls much needed stability at the free safety spot. There is no question as to his extreme talent at the position. He will, however, have to overcome the nagging injuries that plagued him last season.
Local product J.J. Gibson (Sweet Home High school) will jump to the next level and play strong safety. A big hitter with great speed, Gibson should be a fixture in the Bulls secondary for years to come.
Mark Graham finished last season strong, with two interceptions in his last three games. He will look to ride that momentum into this year.
Junior Mike Lambert will return for his second season as the Bulls starter at cornerback.
Junior Scott McMahon will handle the punting duties, leaving kicker Dallas Pelz to concentrate solely on kicking. Pelz, who has a powerful leg, has never kicked a field goal in college, prompting Coach Hofher to call the kicking game "the biggest question mark" entering the season.