2012 Buffalo Preview
Buffalo RB Branden Oliver
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Buffalo Bulls
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It's time for the Jeff Quinn era to start working.
Head coach: Jeff Quinn
3rd year: 5-19
Off. 26, Def. 27, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Buffalo Players
1. RB Branden Oliver, Jr.
2. LB Khalil Mack, Jr.
3. DE Steven Means, Sr.
4. DE Colby Way, Jr.
5. LB Lee Skinner, Soph.
6. WR Alex Neutz, Jr.
7. CB Cortney Lester, Soph.
8. LB Jaleel Verser, Sr.
9. OT Gokhan Ozkan, Sr.
10. C/G Graham Whinery, Sr.
Sep. 1 at Georgia
Sep. 8 Morgan State
Sep. 15 OPEN DATE
Sep. 19 Kent State
Sept. 29 at Connecticut
Oct. 6 at Ohio
Oct. 13 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 20 Pitt
Oct. 27 Toledo
Nov. 3 Miami Univ.
Nov. 10 Western Michigan
Nov. 17 at UMass
Nov. 23 at Bowling Green
Brought in two years ago after Turner Gill's ill-fated job change to Kansas, Quinn was left with a rough situation and a rebuilding program that was still trying to figure out how, exactly, it pulled off the 2008 MAC title.
The team actually did get a bit better last year, even if the 3-9 record doesn't show it. The offense started to show a few signs of life, but the defense struggled way too much to pick up the slack when the points weren't coming.
There were good battles with Ball State and Northern Illinois, but those close losses were offset by stunning disasters against Miami University and Bowling Green when the team went through painful lapses. The idea was to get better as the season went on, and one 51-10 win over Akron aside, it didn't.
Now the Bulls have just enough to make a bigger move. This isn't the deepest team, but the starting 22 should be fine with a few stars here and there to build around and hope for an improvement.
Branden Oliver could turn out to be the best back in the MAC if he gets space to work, and Alex Neutz is an unappreciated receiver who should blossom if the quarterback situation can sort itself out.
The offensive line made excellent strides last season and should be a plus in pass protection. There's enough experience and talent to get by, but now the skill players have to start cranking out points after averaging just 22 per game.
The defense gave up way, way too many points to bad offenses and never seemed able to take any positive steps forward as the season went on. However, the pass rush should be stronger, the linebackers have a world of talent, and the secondary is full of veterans who should be able to clamp down on the mediocre MAC attacks without a problem.
The bar isn't set at a championship level like it was a few years ago, and no one is expecting any Gill-like magic, but Quinn is slowly starting to do some good things. UB won the MAC title in 2008 because everything came together around a veteran team. This year's team has the experience, and now it needs a little luck to come its way.
What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Chazz Anderson might not have been Tom Brady, but he did a decent job for the offense with both his arm and his legs. He was just good enough to be missed, and now it'll be an ongoing fight to see who can take over the starting gig. Junior Alex Zordich and senior Jerry Davis have the experience in practice time, but Joe Licata and Tony Daniel are promising redshirt freshmen with far greater upside. Licata has the better shot at the job than Daniel, but the job will still be wide open even after the season starts.
What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. The Bulls finished 100th in the nation in sacks but they weren't bad at getting behind the line. Now there won't be any excuse with some of the MAC's best outside defenders. Steven Means has been around long enough to be a dangerous option at one end in the 3-4, but it's outside linebacking terror Khalil Mack who should be the star of the show. There's enough speed and athleticism to be far, far more disruptive up front.
The team will be far better if … the passing game works. Jeff Quinn is supposed to know how to get an offense moving, but the Bulls only threw 12 touchdown passes last year and came up with more than 200 yards in just three games. Of those scoring tosses, two came in the blowout of a miserable Akron team, two came in the win over Stony Brook, two came in the stunning win over Ohio, two came in the close-call loss to Ball State and three came in the 31-30 heartbreaker against NIU. In the five good games the Bulls played in they threw 11 touchdown passes, and in the seven blowouts they came up with a grand total of one.
The schedule: The Bulls have to take their beatings on the road at Georgia and Connecticut early, but they have to get the first win under their belt against Morgan State with ease and they must win the MAC opener against Kent State at home before diving into October. Starting with the game at UConn, UB has to go on the road for three weeks in a row including unfair back-to-back road games against the 2011 MAC title combatants, Ohio and Northern Illinois. On the plus side, there's nice stretch of four straight home games, even if all four are nasty, including games against two of the MAC West stars Toledo and Western Michigan before closing out on the road at UMass and Bowling Green.
Best offensive player: Junior RB Branden Oliver. A tough workhorse who carried the mail 306 times and caught 38 passes last season, he's being used time and again to be the main man for the UB attack. With so many question marks at quarterback he'll have to handle the load again. Extremely quick on the outside and tough on the inside, he can do a little of everything, but the coaching staff has to make sure he doesn't wear down over the second half of the year.
Best defensive player: Junior LB Khalil Mack. A pass rushing threat on the outside, he made 5.5 sacks last year to go along with 65 tackles on the year. Quick, active, and smart, he's always good at getting around the ball and making things happen. He has NFL 3-4 hybrid potential, and now it's up to the coaching staff to make sure he can be even more of a playmaker. He'll be given more and more chances to fly into the backfield.
Key player to a successful season: Besides the starting quarterback once the dust settles, sophomore kicker Patrick Clarke needs to be terrific again. He took over the starting job and nailed all six of his field goal attempts as a freshman, including all three shots from beyond 40 yards, and he could be the difference between another bad season and a possible winning record. Peter Fardon missed a 38-yarder against Northern Illinois in a one-point loss, and this year it'll be up to Clarke to nail every big kick in every close game.
The season will be a success if … the Bulls win five games. That might not seem like too lofty a goal, but the Bulls have won just five games over the last two seasons. This year's team is better than the last two and should be able to come up with a few more close wins. The schedule is tougher, but if UB can take care of Morgan State, Kent State, and Miami University at home, and if it can beat UMass in November, that means it would take just one more win somewhere to pull off a stepping-stone 5-7 campaign.
Key game: Sept. 8 vs. Kent State. With three straight road games to follow, and a home game against Pitt coming up after those, a 1-6 start is likely if the Bulls can't take care of the Golden Flashes at home. The last three matchups and four of the last five have been decided by a touchdown or less with the Bulls winning 9-6 in 2009, and this year it won't matter how close it is as long as it's a win.
2011 Fun Stats:
- 1st quarter scoring: Opponents 78 – Buffalo 75
- 2nd quarter scoring: Opponents 117 – Buffalo 66
- Buffalo outgained its opponents through the air 210 yards per game to 204, but only threw 12 touchdown passes. Its opponents threw 25.
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