On the job for three months and attending his first conference football game since taking over as UB athletic director, Danny White is still getting a feel for the place. He bought a home in Clarence Center. His kids started school, and his family has realized it's not in Oxford, Miss., anymore.
Buffalo is a different world, but White has been here long enough to know his predecessor, Warde Manuel, had the program on the right path. White said what many people say about UB. The school has boundless potential and, with a strong commitment, is capable of competing in big-time college sports.
First on the agenda is pushing Manuel's blueprint to build a new (see: expensive) field house that should help draw more talent to the university. UB needs to offer more than the other schools and show its top recruits that they can get a good education and play football without freezing through practices when the snow starts falling.
"I've learned a whole lot about this place," White said. "The things I thought during the recruitment process have been reinforced even more. We may have more potential than any athletic department in America. We're really well positioned with the strength of the institution and the size of the market. We're off and moving."
Sounds good to me, but where is UB going?
White watched his father, Kevin, climb the ladder and eventually become the athletic director at Duke. Danny has been around sports since birth and knows better than to make grandiose statements based on some half-baked fantasy. He was hired from Ole Miss for his ability to raise money. He needs people buying into his vision at UB. In return, they need bang for their buck.
And that's what made Wednesday night's game against Kent State larger than the third game of the season. UB had extra practice time for its conference opener, at home, on ESPNU. Staying with Georgia in the season opener was a good sign. The shootout win over Division I-AA Morgan State was another.
UB had an opportunity against Kent State to show it's worth your time and money. Instead, it looked like many other games in recent years at UB Stadium. The Bulls weren't good enough. The same team that hung 56 points on Morgan State failed to sustain an offensive attack against a KSU team that was supposedly vulnerable.
Kent State left with a 23-7 victory that looked much, much worse. It wasn't the message UB was trying to send on national television.
Losing running back Branden Oliver for the second half didn't help, but the Bulls weren't effective with him in the first. UB's lone highlight was Alex Neutz catching a 46-yard Hail Mary from Alex Zordich on the last play of the first half. Zordich completed 4-of-22 passes and had two interceptions. The prayer accounted for half of his passing yardage. The TD marked the only time UB penetrated the Kent State 37.
"Disappointing loss," UB coach Jeff Quinn said. "Very frustrating. I'm very aggravated. It's not only about the losing but about the way we didn't play, especially on the offensive side of the ball."
It made for a tough sell.
Fans come and go in Buffalo but mostly they stay home. It's not likely to change until people are convinced UB has a legitimate Division I team. Let's be honest, UB was a football wasteland before Turner Gill arrived and led the Bulls to a bowl game. At the time, UB appeared ready for something bigger and better.
The program has taken a few steps back under Quinn. This isn't to entirely blame Quinn.
UB struggled under Gill before winning the conference championship and making a bowl appearance in 2008. Quinn had a 5-19 record in his first two seasons, but people understood. Two wins came against Division I-AA opponents.
What Gill had, what White wants, what Quinn desperately needs, is evidence that the program is going down the right path. Quinn's first recruiting class is three games into their junior years. At some point, especially with a new sheriff in town, he needs to win.
UB has three straight road games ahead against UConn, Ohio and Northern Illinois before returning home against Pittsburgh. Winning two of the four would be an accomplishment. Ohio knocked off Penn State and Pitt beat Virginia Tech. UB losing all four is well within reason based on Wednesday's showing.
White was sure to support Quinn, who has two years remaining on his contract, before the game. Quinn's future shouldn't be an issue if he wins six games, maybe even five. But if all he can show three weeks into October is a blowout win over Morgan State, White might start having second thoughts.
"I'm much more concerned with how we're moving toward a consistently competitive football program,'' White said. "If we can do what we did in 2008 and follow that up with another bowl-eligible season, and another one and another one, this community will really respond. We're not going to do that overnight.''