Quinn era begins this fall
UB's new head coach looks to bring the winning culture back to Buffalo
Expectations for the football team were high last season following the first Mid-American Conference Championship in team history.
After a promising opening victory against UTEP, however, the Bulls dropped four straight games, which all but deflated them the rest of the way. The loss of All-Conference running back James Starks a week before the season started, coupled with the inconsistent play of first-year quarterback Zach Maynard, proved to be too much for the team to overcome as the Bulls wound up with a disappointing 5-7 record.
In December of last year, the face of the football program changed when former Bulls' head coach Turner Gill took the head-coaching job at Kansas. Buffalo Athletic Director Warde Manuel quickly hired Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn to replace Gill, hoping to get the Buffalo football program back on track.
Quinn has made his presence felt since his first day on campus. Aside from adding new talent to the roster, his dedication to his players both on and off the field is evident in his coaching approach.
"I have made two things crystal clear to our players," Quinn said. "First off, you need to graduate with a degree from the University at Buffalo. Number two, we will pursue a MAC Championship in football."
The second part of his message to the team may be more difficult to accomplish in his first season. Maynard – last year's sophomore quarterback – didn't wait long to leave the program after learning of Gill's departure. Several other players followed, but the nucleus of the team remains intact.
A big difference between Gill and Quinn is their offensive philosophy. While Gill ran a multiple offense, Quinn's spread offense has been admired for years. At the helm of the new system will be either sophomore Jerry Davis or freshman Alex Dennison.
Originally thought to be the default starter after Maynard's departure, Davis played in one game last season and showed promise in limited time. In Buffalo's last home game against Ohio, Davis connected with former Bulls wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt for a 76-yard touchdown pass – the sophomore's first-career throwing score.
Joining the conversation is Dennison, who burst onto the scene a few months ago in the annual Blue White Spring Game. He outplayed Davis in the game, but come August will have to prove he can do it against a real defense.
Still a few months away from the start of the season, Quinn likes the competitive nature of both his gunslingers and looks forward to the battle at the position.
"Both quarterbacks are very competitive young men that want to be the guy," Quinn said. "That adds to the level of development that goes on out there, because competition is a very important part for these two men."
Another big change will be at the wide receiver position. The Bulls lost three key parts after last season when receivers Roosevelt, Brett Hamlin and tight end Jesse Rack graduated.
The junior tandem of Marcus Rivers and Terrell Jackson must make an impact for the Bulls to win games this season. Neither player has seen much field action and Rivers looked suspect in his limited playing time last season. The new system has given both players a fresh start and they should progress quickly with all the balls that will be heading their way.
Freshman wide receiver Alex Neutz could also play a key role for the Bulls. The spread offense requires multiple receivers, and the Grand Island native could prove vital for Buffalo.
While Quinn needs his receivers to make plays, everyone on the field has to contribute if the offense is to be successful.
"I think we have some young men that are developing [at the wide receiver position]," Quinn said. "[With that said] the offense only works when 11 guys are all on the same page and moving at the fastest pace possible. Guys have to know where other guys are supposed to be and everybody understands the decision-making that needs to take place. Then they can go out there and perform."
When the Bulls won the MAC in '08, the defense played a big role in many games. The unit forced turnovers at a record-setting pace throughout the year.
That aspect of the unit was missing last season, but Quinn hopes that will change this year and has been impressed with what he's seen so far.
"I like the way our defensive players swarm to the ball," Quinn said. "They play fast and we like to hit. We have players out there that enjoy playing defense and hopefully in the fall we can start to see both sides of the ball, as well as special teams, start to become one on Saturdays."
With the loss of hard-hitting safety Mike Newton, the Bulls will look to seniors Davonte Shannon and Justin Winters to anchor the defense. Although senior experience from his veterans is key for Quinn, he doesn't put an age limit on leadership.
Becoming notorious for his ‘Next Bull In' mantra, Quinn has really displayed how important fan support is for his football team. While attendance has seen a spike since the team started to be competitive, there is still a long way to go to fill UB Stadium every Saturday.
"I know that people who will come out [to watch the Bulls] are those who are passionate about the game," Quinn said. "[A football game at UB] will be more than just a game. We want kids to take a vested interest in football at our school. We are going to embrace and encourage our entire student body to come out and support our football team."
As September 2 draws closer on the calendar, the Bulls continue to prepare for Rhode Island. That is when the quest to try and live up to expectations in a new era of Bulls football will begin.
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