New coach Turner Gill must find someone who can quarterback this team. During the entire tenure of former head coach Jim Hofher, an effective trigger-man to get the UB offense moving was never found. That, and the mounting losses, contributed to Hofher’s departure. Coach Gill needs to find someone who can move the team downfield in anyway, shape or form. Drew Willy threw for nearly 1,500 yards, 6 TDs and 12 INTs and begins this fall as the starter. Stewart Sampsel is a senior and has experience, but has never seemed to take command of the job when given the opportunity. James Starks is a terrific athlete, but needs work on his passing skills. Overall, the QB position is wide open – again. It’s not inconceivable to believe that head coach Turner Gill is the best QB on campus. Unfortunately, he no longer has any college eligibility.
Running Backs Buffalo does have some talent at running back. Buffalo only rushed for 1,200 yards as a team last season but look for the Bulls to have much more production from their backs this fall. Chris McDuffie has a blend of speed and power and will be a key all-around player in the backfield. He has the ability to be a cutback runner and can explode if he gets any daylight. Steven King is a bigger back at 210-pounds, provides power and blocking as a hybrid tailback/fullback. Jared Patterson has shown glimpses of talent and needs to stay healthy to provide UB with a solid speed threat from the offensive backfield. Freshman Ike Nduka has a ton of talent and may be called upon this season to contribute. At 6-foot 225-pounds, Nduka may become the true feature back the Bulls have lacked for a long time. Last year UB ranked #101 in rush offense at 109-yards per game - UB should be better than that this season.
Receivers/Tight Ends TE Chad Upshaw is a guy who would be gathering all conference honors if he played on another MAC team. With size (6-4, 250-pounds) and excellent hands, Upshaw showed his skills last season with an eight-catch, 116-yard performance against Ohio. He is of the league's most reliable blocking tight ends and already has NFL scouts following his progress. Brett Hamlin and Evan Wallace are slated as the starting wideouts. Hamlin did well as a true freshman and proved himself as a reliable ‘go-to’ and possession receiver. Wallace is a senior who has speed. Ernest Jackson has good size (6-2, 215) for the WR position and Gary Rice and Alex Pierre add depth. Jessie Rack is an undersized TE prospect. Overall, the receiving unit needs to step up and help out their young QBs, especially by getting more yards after the catch. The receiving unit averaged less than 10-yards per grab last season and the Bulls ranked #100 in passing offense.
Offensive Linemen The offensive line had a tough year in 2005, giving up 43 QB sacks and paving the way for just 110-yards per game on the ground. Both of those stats must improve dramatically. The line is extremely young this season with just one player on the two-deep roster listed as a senior and only two juniors. That makes seven underclassmen in the trenches going up against a schedule that includes Auburn, Wisconsin, BC, NIU, Miami and BGSU. Ouch! The two-deep line up for the fall does feature size (6-5, 315-pound average per man) but that stat is inflated due to junior Jon Burgio’s physique (6-9, 358). Gerry Weissinger is the lone senior but the coaching staff is very high on Jamey Richard at center. UB averaged just 10 points per game in 2005 – in order for that figure to improve, the O-line needs to play at a much higher level.
Defensive Linemen Buffalo’s interior DTs are short and stout. Marck Abraham is the biggest player in the defensive trenches at 6-4 280-pounds. Labinot Hakanjin is 6-foot 279, with Ron Hilaire at 6-foot 293 and Ted Rene at 6-foot 295. The new coaching staff has instilled a 4-3 scheme and scrapped the former 4-2-5, so the DTs will really need to hold their ground. The defensive ends are made up of three juniors and a freshman. They will need to do better job at pass rushing since the Bulls had just 18 QB sacks last season. Former TE Trevor Scott is an athletic prospect after his position change and brings a good frame (6-5, 255) to the D-line. Dane Robinson is the other DE. Backups are Andrae Smith and James Judges (6-6, 250). Overall there is good size and decent speed along the defensive line but few proven players going into the season. UB gave up 190-yards per game in rush defense last fall.
Linebackers The strength of the defense may be the linebacker corps. Ramon Guzman and Jeff Bublavi accounted for 51 and 45 tackles respectively last year. Look for even more production from these OLBs this year. Ollice Ervin is the MLB but he will be pushed by highly recruited Tom Drewes (6-1, 240). It’s not a stretch to predict that Drewes will be a starter some time this year – he is that good. Chris Callahan and Jamal Chisam are backups at OLB. Overall this is an athletic group with some size. They will be called upon to carry the defense this year.
Defensive Backs At first glance, one may be impressed that UB gave up just 175-yards per game through the air last year, ranking 9th nationally. That stat is misleading though since most teams ran the ball right through UB and didn’t need to pass the ball very much, thus keeping their pass defense stats low. Three redshirt freshmen are scheduled to be starting this fall within the defensive backfield. Kendric Hawkins and Mike Newton are scheduled to be the corners with Kareem Byrom and Jesse Imes as the safeties. Neither is over six-foot and the overall defensive backfield is small. Gerald Jackson, Mario Henry and Andre Evans are the top backups. There is a good chance that this group will get lit up unless the pass rush up front shows major improvement.
Special Teams Buffalo's special teams were abysmal in all areas last season and needs immediate attention by the new coaching staff. The Bulls were last in the MAC in net punting (30.5 yards per kick) and made just four of 13 field goal attempts. UB finished last in the MAC and near the bottom nationally in returns (16.6 yard per kick off return & 4-yards per average punt return). Garry McGroarty has potential as a PK but was just 2 of 5 last season. Ben Woods certainly gets enough practice at punting, averaged just 37-yards per kick (on 80 attempts).
Final Thoughts Former coach Jim Hofher was a nice guy and a good coach. The problem was he didn’t win and the school did not provide for him much support in terms proper funding or strategic scheduling. Hofher also had a knack for never finding a good QB prospect and while the Bulls' defense was respectful, their offense was woeful. Enter former Nebraska legend Turner Gill. Gill takes over a program with no Division I-A football history and becomes the second Nebraska legend (Ohio’s Frank Solich is the other) to enter the MAC coaching ranks in as many years. For UB to have any success, they need a QB to emerge and for their running game to average more than 109-yards per contest. Defensively, UB should be respectable. What will make Turner Gill’s first season miserable is their ridiculous non-conference schedule. Facing the likes of Auburn, Boston College and Wisconsin is just plain wrong for a program that currently would fit into the I-AA Gateway Conference much more in terms of talent than in the MAC right now. A win over Temple to open the season is a necessity for UB to have any success. Beating a MAC East opponent would make this season a true success. Better days are coming for the Buffalo Bulls under Turner Gill, just not this season.
Mark it down! Buffalo will beat Temple to open the season. Each team is considered to be one of the worst programs in the country right now but UB does have more returning players for their new coaching staff than Temple. The Owls had just over 50 scholarship players during spring ball. Give the nod to UB playing this game at home and with the tremendous excitement the new coaching staff offers - look for the Bulls to pull out a close victory over future MAC East rival, Temple.
Schedule Analysis One word – brutal! Non-conference games against Auburn, Wisconsin and Boston College should be replaced with teams like UConn, Rutgers and Colgate. Crossover games against NIU and upstart programs Central Michigan and Ball State make this one of the MAC’s most challenging schedules. Heck, why not toss in another road trip to Toledo and replace Temple with West Virginia? If you are going to make a football schedule totally ridiculous for a program that has a new football coach and lacks a lot of I-A talent, do it right.
Most Important Game Hosting Temple on August 31. This one of just two games (Kent State is the other) that Buffalo has any shot at winning this year. Temple’s program is a mess right now and both schools have new coaches entering the 2006 season. A win would certainly boost UB’s confidence and give them some much needed local publicity. A loss before three straight non-winnable road games would be devastating.