After going 2-10, 3-9 and 4-8 in his three seasons as the University at Buffalo coach, Jeff Quinn is determined to take the next step and qualify for a bowl bid.
The last quarter of the season certainly showed more promise than the first three quarters, when the Bulls were 1-7. They won consecutive games over Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan and Massachusetts before losing the season finale to Bowling Green.
The Bulls opened spring practice Tuesday with the first of 15 sessions that will culminate with the annual Blue and White game on April 20 at UB Stadium.
Here are four questions facing the Bulls this spring:
1. Will Joe Licata be the starting quarterback?
The Williamsville South product started the team’s final four games last season as a redshirt freshman and the Bulls went 3-1. At the end of the season, Quinn was non-committal about who his starter would be.
Licata, who threw for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns, is a pure passer while senior Alex Zordich, who rushed for 501 yards and averaged five yards a carry, is a dual threat. Also waiting to show what they can do are sophomore Tony Daniel and redshirt freshman Collin Michael. Daniel at 6-foot-5 has the height to scan the defense while Michael was impressive running the scout team.
2. Will the offense run more with a healthy Branden Oliver?
More than likely, especially since Oliver doesn’t have to fly solo. He was never fully healthy a year ago and missed five games but still managed to lead the Bulls in rushing with 821 yards. While he was out, others emerged, such as sophomore Devin Campbell and senior Brandon Murie. There’s also the return of Anthone Taylor, who redshirted after being injured last spring, and James Potts, who missed most of the season with a torn ACL. Sweet Home product Jordan Johnson is as talented as anyone in the group but it could be hard to him to find playing time. Another hint UB might run more: The wide receivers worked heavily on blocking drills Tuesday.
3. Is there a reliable receiver after Alex Neutz?
None come to mind although there are plenty of options who have experience. Fred Lee, who missed six games last season with an injury, is a candidate as are Devon Hughes, who started four games, and Rudy Johnson. Quinn wanted a high octane offense when he arrived from Cincinnati four years ago but that plan won’t come to fruition unless the receivers step up.
4. Can the defensive develop into one of the Mid-American Conference’s best?
The Bulls have never had a devastating defense that overpowered opponents but this can potentially be the best in recent memory. Last year the unit made tremendous strides and ranked second in the MAC, led by All-American linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive end Colby Way.
The entire secondary, which ranked second in the league in pass defense, returns intact including corners Najja Johnson and Cortney Lester. There are holes to fill on the line left by the departures of defensive end Steven Means and nose guard Wyatt Cahill. The staff will take a look at Kristjan Sokoll, Beau Bachtelle, Dalton Barksdale and a host of others at the nose as well as several players coming off redshirt seasons to play opposite Way at end.