The Bulls knew exactly what they were getting for wide receivers last season: consistency and reliability. However, a year has passed and two of Buffalo's all-time receivers no longer don blue and white Buffalo uniforms.
What was once a strength for the Bulls is now perceived by many as a weakness.
With leaders Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin now possessing diplomas, coaches and fans alike are expecting a multitude of unproven receivers to produce for quarterback Jerry Davis and the new Buffalo offense.
The situation is a true case of quality vs. quantity. Roosevelt and Hamlin amassed 134 receptions, 1,825 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Roosevelt, who is currently vying for a roster spot with the Buffalo Bills, is the Bulls all-time leader in most major receiving categories.
In comparison, the returning receivers combined for 32 receptions, 324 yards and one touchdown in '09. Junior Terrell Jackson is the leading returnee after collecting 25 throws for 250 yards a season ago. Head coach Jeff Quinn labeled Jackson as a starter alongside fellow junior Marcus Rivers and redshirt-freshman Alex Neutz for Thursday's season opener against Rhode Island at UB Stadium.
Expectations are low among fans and prognosticators, but the lack of belief inspires a common goal among this group of mostly inexperienced receivers.
"We don't take it as pressure; we take it as an opportunity," Neutz said. "If you get too worried about replacing Naaman and Brett, you'll get frustrated and might bump heads, but we're all out here trying to get our skills to the next level."
Juan Taylor, Buffalo's wide receivers coach, isn't one of the doubtful onlookers. Taylor tutored Roosevelt and Hamlin and helped build one of the Mid-American Conference's strongest receiving units.
He foresees a limited drop-off in production this year.
"I think a lot of fans will be surprised with this group here," Taylor said. "These guys have been in the shadow of Brett Hamlin and Naaman Roosevelt… those are two hard guys to replace. It's time for somebody else to step up, and I think we got some guys that could get it done."
There are 15 receivers on the roster and many of them will take the field in an attempt to replace the departed Bulls. Quinn's spread offense utilizes fast-paced action with a lot of downfield passes. Every one of the receivers on the depth chart must remain ready.
"This offense requires great conditioning," Taylor said. "We do have depth. When our bench guys are in, we don't lose any level of play."
All these receivers will be working with a new quarterback. Sophomore quarterback Jerry Davis threw just 15 passes last season, but spent all summer learning every minute detail of Quinn's complex offensive scheme and every trait his core of receivers possesses. Frequent 7-on-7 practices took place at UB Stadium over the summer, creating a strong bond between the newcomers.
According to Davis, the bond will prove to be beneficial when the Bulls finally hit the field.
"We've been out here all summer, every single day, throwing the ball and getting our timing down," Davis said. "Chemistry is not a problem at all."
Confidence isn't a problem either. Even with a new system, a new quarterback and a lack of experience, this group possesses swagger. There's an expectation to succeed, even if naysayers think otherwise.
"As a receiving core we feel like nobody can stop us man on man," Rivers said.