Friday night lights
Buffalo must take advantage of spotlight against Baylor
At the football team’s weekly press conference Tuesday, junior quarterback Joe Licata was asked how Buffalo answers to outside perceptions about its chances in Friday’s game against Baylor. The Bulls are 35-point underdogs to the reigning Big 12 Champions and No. 8 team in the country.
“If that’s what people outside of our locker room want to think, then that’s fine,” Licata said. “But if anyone in our locker room doesn’t think we can win that game, then I don’t want them suiting up on Friday night.”
I appreciate Licata’s competiveness – beside, how else is he supposed to answer that question? Athletes want to win every game, but Buffalo should not consider a loss to Baylor on Friday (which is an almost certainty) a failure.
A repeat performance of last year’s 70-13 loss to the Bears would be a failure.
Since arriving in Buffalo in 2012, Athletic Director Danny White’s mission has been to make UB Athletics “America’s next big-time college athletics brand,” with the New York Bulls Initiative or #NYBI.
Regardless of whether or not you think it’s misguided, there’s no denying the opportunity this game – which will be UB Stadium’s first appearance on ESPN’s flagship channel – presents Buffalo.
The country will see Buffalo’s new $1 million dollar field turf with the new brand name and New York State outline (although it may further encourage the misconception Buffalo is in or around New York City). If UB Athletics has its way, viewers will see a passionate and raucous student section, all wearing $12 ‘blackout’ T-shirts.
But will anyone remember “The State University of New York Buffalo” after the game if the Bulls gets trounced 60-3?
If Buffalo really wants to become a top-tier athletics department, it must start with being competitive against actual top-tier athletics departments.
Buffalo must have success on the field to climb out of a mid-major conference and into a larger one. The team has to take advantage of its opportunities on the national stage against bigger opponents.
During Buffalo’s Media Day in August, head coach Jeff Quinn talked about how valuable the Bulls’ strong performances against high-ranking teams are to the program.
They put a scare into No. 6 Georgia in 2012 with a 45-23 loss. They hung tough with No. 2 Ohio State in the season opener last year.
On Tuesday, I asked Quinn how important a good showing on Friday would be to showcase UB Athletics’ brand and further its initiative.
“These guys, that’s why they signed up to come here, is to make this a big-time atmosphere, a big-time program with big-time results,” Quinn said. “To be able to do that, you have to measure up against the very best.”
Quinn also said, “Nobody came to this program that’s sitting in that locker room right now, wants to be average.”
But that’s exactly how his team has been this season.
The Bulls came from behind to defeat Duquesne, an FCS opponent, in the season opener, and trailed Army by 30 points in the fourth quarter last week before a ferocious failed comeback attempt.
Despite those Georgia and Ohio State games, the Bulls have also had subpar performances against better teams in the past.
Buffalo lost by 57 points to Baylor last year in Waco, Texas. They’ve even struggled against some of the better Mid-American Conference teams like Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.
You have to dominate the MAC before even talking about becoming “America’s next big-time college athletic brand.”
That’s essentially my only issue with White’s movement; it’s bold for an athletics department when the team doesn’t even dominate its own mid-major conference yet.
That being said, White has made key improvements to put Buffalo on the right track.
The Tailgate Concert Series has vastly improved the game-day experience and helped increase game attendance. The facilities master plan lacks concrete planning, but it would be a major asset to the athletics department if executed.
And I agree with White: with UB being New York’s largest state-sanctioned university, this athletic department has a lot of potential to grow. But it has to start by taking advantage of opportunities like Friday night’s game.
So to Licata and the rest of the Bulls: Don’t be too upset if you lose Friday. Be upset if you don’t put up a fight. Even a 25-point loss would be an accomplishment. Prove you deserve to be on the same field as teams like Baylor, not Duquesne.
It’s the only way the program can move upwards.