Scheduled for a Change
UB Football Prepares for 2004 Season
Apples and oranges. The Brady Bunch and Married With Children. UB basketball and UB football.
Comparisons may be hard to draw from these pairs, but UB football head coach Jim Hofher sees a similarity between the basketball team's coming of age and his own football squad's journey in Division I-A football.
"I'm not even sure you can make comparisons, but we can point to this," said Hofher. "When Turner Battle and his junior teammates were freshmen, they were contributing to the basketball team and in some places playing a lot. They didn't have a lot of success. When they were sophomores with a new class of freshman, it was a team that for two years in a row kind of got its teeth kicked in."
Get their teeth kicked in they did, posting a woeful record of 5-23 in 2002-03, but something happened between the end of the last season and the beginning of 2004 that turned the basketball team around.
"What they figured out how to do during the off season was develop as players, develop some chemistry, and going into the third season they got it figured out, because they had some experience and enough talent," said Hofher.
Now that the basketball Bulls have risen from the running joke of the MAC to a legit contender for the crown in 2004-05, the only question remaining is if the football Bulls can take note of their basketball brothers, learn from their own lickings on the football field and translate that into success in 2004.
"We have a group of guys that have been together for two years, not the entire team, but a big portion of our team has been together for two years," said Hofher. "They got their teeth kicked in and at some point with the experience that we have developed, and the maturity that we develop through age and play, at some point we need to stick our feet in the ground and take a stand. Time will tell if this is the season that these guys are going to do that."
Since their inception into the ranks of Division I-A, UB has been referred to as the "Baby Bulls" because of their consistent use of freshmen and sophomores out of necessity. Those freshmen and sophomores however, have finally grown up.
"We've had a really good development period here, we started practice last night and by far it is the most mature and confident practice we've had to begin a training camp since we've been here," said Hofher. "Nobody has been younger than us or our men's basketball team. That's what happens when you're young, you learn, but you're often at a disadvantage. I don't suspect that we're going to be at that kind of disadvantage anymore, I know why we were, but I don't see why we will be anymore."
Buffalo's complete 2004 schedule was recently released, and it is highlighted by the home opener on Sept. 11 against the Syracuse Orangemen in the first of three BIG EAST games.
"There will be history here when we open the season because there really has never been a bigger game for UB than to play Syracuse here," said Hofher.
In a MAC anomaly, the Bulls open their schedule on the road against MAC foe Eastern Michigan. Generally, MAC teams open the schedule with three to four non-conference games to prepare for the rigors of the MAC schedule.
"When I coached at Cornell it is what we had to do every year for eight years," said Hofher. "In this case opening with a conference game, if you can go out and win your opening game and it happens to be a conference game, that is a tremendous boost for the players. And knowing that Eastern has no advantage because it is their opening game too, I think it will be terrific."
The Bulls also renew an old rivalry with the BIG EAST's Temple, a team they have gone 9-1 against, but last played in 1970. They visit the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, on September 18 for that match up with the Owls.
After that, Buffalo heads to Ohio for a rematch with the only team they beat last year in their 1-11 campaign, the Ohio Bobcats. The year before, UB lost in a barnburner 34-32 in Ohio, and the year before that the Bulls were victorious in UB Stadium by a score of 44-0. Buffalo won 26-17 last year at home.
While this may seem to be a budding rivalry, Hofher is skeptical.
"I've said it before, I don't know if anyone feels like they are in a rivalry with UB," said Hofher. "We're the ones that are going to have to create the rivalry by getting somebody mad, and I don't know that anybody is ever really mad at us in football. It's going to be our job to create a rivalry."
Including the aforementioned Eastern Michigan Eagles, the Bulls will face five MAC schools with new head coaches at the helm in the upcoming season.
"Eastern Michigan has a new coach, Central Florida has a new coach, Akron has a new coach, Kent State has new coach and Central Michigan has a new coach," said Hofher. "I suspect those will be great challenges for all of us."
The Central Florida game will be played on Oct. 2 in UB Stadium; UB next travels to Akron for a bout on Oct. 9. Kent State and Central Michigan visit UB on Nov. 6 and Nov. 13 respectively.
Also on the schedule are back-to-back dates with the monsters of the MAC, Miami of Ohio and Marshall. The game against the RedHawks will be at home for the homecoming game on Oct. 16, but this time the NFL-bound Ben Roethlisberger will not be around to scorch UB Stadium.
"Miami was not just a team last year with an outstanding quarterback," said Hofher. "They had one, but they were really good on defense and I've got to believe that defense is where they're going to put the strength of their team."
Marshall barely edged out the Bulls last year in UB Stadium, winning 24-14, but this time UB will have to man up in Huntington, WV on Oct. 23.
"New seasons present new challenges, we won't be playing that same Marshall team, well be playing whatever team they are preparing for the 2004 season," said Hofher. "The fact that we played them very competitively in '03 ought to give us some level of confidence."
Rounding out the schedule is another BIG EAST game where the football team will be joined by their men's and women's basketball comrades in a weekend where all three will face respective UConn Huskie teams. The Bulls will lock horns for football on Nov. 20 with Connecticut.