Jeff Quinn's vision for UB football is in place.
Thursday night, we'll see if it works.
It's been an offseason of uncertainty, but Quinn insists the Bulls are ready.
Quinn's arrival in early 2010 has already galvanized the team, which finished a disappointing 5-7 last season after winning the Mid-American Conference championship in 2008. Quinn's "next bull in" motto has become a way of life at UB Stadium. His jovial off-the-field manner combined with his intense on-the-field work ethic has infused his players with renewed hope as they prepare for Rhode Island.
"I tell my guys every day that you really don't get respect until you win," Quinn said. "We get 12 games and every single day I wake up I think about those 12 games and how I can get our kids ready to compete at the highest level."
With the departure of quarterback Zach Maynard last spring, Quinn named sophomore Jerry Davis as the Bulls' new starter on August 27. The closely contested battle for the job with redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Dennison has been a hot topic throughout preseason camp.
"Jerry has experience," Quinn said. "He played in some games a year ago and since I took the job of head coach I've been evaluating every young man at every position. I felt very strongly that Jerry is ready to take the reins and lead us out on Thursday against Rhode Island."
To aid Davis in understanding and managing Quinn's up-tempo spread offense, he will have a bevy of talented wide receivers at his disposal, as well as four dynamic tailbacks in the backfield.
Redshirt freshman Branden Oliver will start at running back on Thursday night after catching the eye of the coaching staff. Oliver's play over the course of camp helped him reach the top of the depth chart over seniors Brandon Thermilus and Ike Nduka, both of whom started games for the Bulls last season.
Although Oliver gained the starting job, Quinn plans to utilize all of the talent at the running back position this season.
"It's a good thing to have a lot of good players," Quinn said. "What you have to do as coaches is make sure all those players are involved in offensive and defensive schemes."
One change that will immediately catch fan's eyes will be the Bulls' switch to a 3-4 defensive system. Under new defensive coordinator William Inge, Buffalo's new system will allow the Bulls to throw numerous looks at opposing quarterbacks and utilize a heavier blitz packages. After recording just 18 turnovers last year, Buffalo's secondary will look to take advantage of a system built to take away the ball.
Senior safety Davonte Shannon, Buffalo's first-ever preseason first-team All-American, leads a defensive unit that anticipates taking big steps forward after shining throughout the summer and preseason camp.
Alongside Shannon in the secondary will be sophomore strong safety Ray Anthony Long. Long has big cleats to fill after replacing former Bull and current Indianapolis Colt Mike Newton, who recorded 85 tackles and two interceptions last season.
"[The secondary] is a very active bunch with dynamic personalities," Quinn said. "As a football coach, I love watching the way those kids feed off each other. That enthusiasm creates momentum and that momentum is obviously what you're looking for in the games."
Steven Means will be the focal point of Buffalo's defensive line. The talented sophomore defensive end will look to continue to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks after finishing last year with a team-high five sacks. He will be joined by senior nose tackle Anel Montanez, who will look to draw double teams as a gap down-lineman.
After leading a 13th ranked offense to a No. 4 national ranking at Cincinnati last season, expectations for Quinn in his first season are high in Buffalo. With Davis under center in the new spread offense and a preseason first team All-American in the secondary, the Bulls are certain to bring a fresh and exciting brand of football to Amherst this fall.
The new era of Bulls football is set to begin Thursday night at UB Stadium. Kickoff against Rhode Island is set for 7 p.m.