NEW ... 2010 Buffalo Preview
Buffalo LB Justin Winters
Buffalo LB Justin Winters
Posted Jul 11, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Buffalo Bulls

Buffalo Bulls

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Jeff Quinn
First Year at UB
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 19, Def. 29, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Buffalo Players
1. FS Davonte Shannon, Sr.
2. LB Justin Winters, Sr.
3. DE Steven Means, Soph.
4. OG Peter Bittner, Sr.
5. CB Domonic Cook, Sr.
6. CB Josh Thomas, Sr.
7. DT Anel Montanez, Sr.
8. RB Brandon Thermilus, Sr.
9. RB/KR Brandon Oliver, RFr.
10. QB Jerry Davis, Soph.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 2 Rhode Island
Sept. 11 at Baylor
Sept. 18 UCF
Sept. 25 at Connecticut
Oct. 2 at Bowling Green
Oct. 16 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 23 Temple
Oct. 30 Miami Univ.
Nov. 4 at Ohio
Nov. 12 Ball State
Nov. 20 Eastern Michigan
Nov. 26 at Akron

The 2008 MAC championship team wasn't nearly as good as it might have seemed, and the 2009 team that went 5-7 was better than the final record indicated. Now, in a major year of transition with Turner Gill off to Kansas, UB has to establish itself as a consistent player in the conference race and not be another Akron with one somewhat-fluky title before fading back into insignificance.

Lost in the title campaign of two years ago was that the Bulls didn't actually beat anyone before Ball State imploded with turnover after turnover (or UB was able to force takeaway after takeaway) in the championship game. That win over the Cardinals was the only one against a team that finished with a winning record since joining the D-I ranks in 1999. In fact, not counting the 28 years when UB was at the lower level, outside of the 2008 MAC Championship, the program's last win over a D-I team that finished with a winning record was 1969 with a 24-14 win over Villanova. This Buffalo team might start to change the trend and make this a real, live program that can hang around with the better ones.

New head coach Jeff Quinn has been left with plenty of nice pieces to play around with, and even nicer for a first time head coach, he's coming in with few expectations heaped upon him. Everyone will put the Bulls in the back of the preseason MAC pack, and no one will be thinking championship. But with a loaded secondary, one of the league's best offensive lines, an athletic defensive front seven and a fantastic foursome of backs to form a great rotation, this isn't going to be the Buffalo of old.

It's important to remember just how bad the program was just a few years ago. The Bulls have won 18 games over the last three years and came up with a mere 12 in the previous eight seasons after coming up to D-I. This was the doormat of doormats, but it has been building over the last several years with the talent level rising, the athleticism being upgraded in a big way, and with expectations to win and not just to survive. Quinn might have some big shoes to fill, but he can forge his own legacy and quickly improve on what Gill started.

What to watch for on offense: Everything sped up. Quinn wants UB's offense to be like the Central Michigan spread attack, only faster. He wants the O to establish a rhythm right away with balance, quickness, and precision to keep opposing defenses on their toes. However, this might take some time as the quarterback situation and the receiving corps are the team's two biggest X factors. The line should be great and the running backs are tremendous, so the ground attack should take control early on before everyone figures out what they're doing.

What to watch for on defense: The plucky linebacking corps. Buffalo's linebackers would've been the best in the MAC and it wouldn't have been close had Scott Pettigrew not torn up his knee this offseason and if Darius Willis, the greatest prospect to ever choose UB, hadn't followed Turner Gill to Kansas. The return of Justin Winters on the outside it a big help; he'll clean up a lot of messes and should be one of the MAC's top tacklers. Now it's up to Raphael Akobundu, a solid veteran who has seen enough time to know what he's doing, and John Syty, a try-hard walk-on, to pick up the slack. If those two are good, Buffalo's defense should be terrific.

The team will be far better if … it wins the turnover margin. Buffalo lost five games by seven points or fewer and three by three points or fewer. The program isn't at a high enough level to not do the little things right, and that includes the return game (which was among the worst in the nation both in punt and kick returns), the punting game (which finished 109th in America), and turnovers. UB was 103rd in the nation in turnover margin giving it up 25 times and taking it away just 18 times. Why did the team win the MAC title the year before? It finished third in the nation in turnover margin with a whopping 33 takeaways and a mere 14 turnovers.

The schedule: If the Bulls can survive the first half of the season, they have a shot to come up with a big year. They get a bad break having to play at Northern Illinois from the West (the Huskies might be the best team in the conference), but they get a huge bonus by getting the East showdown against Temple at home. After a stretch of four away games in five over the first half of the year, UB stays at home for four games in five weeks, but the lone road trip is a 2009 East champion, Ohio. The non-conference schedule isn't awful, but it'll be a stunner if the Bulls go any better than 1-3 with Baylor, UCF, and UConn to deal with along with the layup of an opener against Rhode Island.

Best offensive player: Senior OG Peter Bittner. It would be nice if someone stepped up and dominated for the ground game like Brandon Thermilus or the young Brandon Oliver, and the offense really needs either Jerry Davis or Alex Dennison to shine at quarterback, but Bittner is the rock. The Second Team All-MAC performer is the anchor with 38 straight starts under his belt, and while he's not huge at 6-4 and 297 pounds, he's physical and consistent.

Best defensive player: Senior S Davonte Shannon. If he can stay healthy and close out with a senior year that mimics his first three seasons, he could go down as the greatest defensive back ever to play in the MAC. A three-time First Team All-MAC performer, he has made 123 stops, 121 and 97 in his first three years, but while his tackle total has gone down, he has gotten better. He doesn't miss an open field stop, he's great at getting into the backfield, and he's doing more to help out the corners. There's a good chance he'll finish his career with over 450 stops and ten interceptions.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Jerry Davis and/or redshirt freshman QB Alex Dennison. Zach Maynard appeared to be on the verge of becoming the star of the franchise after a decent first year at the helm, and he would've been the perfect fit for the new style of offense, but he chose to bolt for Cal. Davis is also a great threat as a dual threat playmaker with a live arm, but he needs time. Dennison can put the ball all over the field, but he's more of a pure passer. One of the two has to take the job by the horns and blossom in the up tempo spread attack.

The season will be a success if … UB goes back to a bowl game. The balance of power has shifted a bit and the East is loaded with Temple a killer, Kent State vastly improved, and Bowling Green and Ohio still solid, so winning the division might be asking for too much in a year in transition. However, there's enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to win at least six games with six games against teams that didn't go bowling and enough winnable home dates to establish a strong base of victories.

Key game: Oct. 23 vs. Temple. The Owls got their revenge for losing to UB on a Hail Mary in 2008 with a 37-13 blasting last year. Now the two one-time doormats of college football might play the MAC's game of the year. Buffalo had won the previous three games in the series, and coming off a rough stretch of road games, has to get back on track to have any dream of winning the East.

2009 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Scoring: 41 – Second Quarter Scoring: 134
- Penalties: Opponents 84 for 734 yards – Buffalo 63 for 651 yards
- Kickoff Return Average: Opponents 20.6 – Buffalo 17.7

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