The word rebuilding never was uttered – and probably never crossed anyone’s mind - during the University at Buffalo’s football media day Tuesday.
UB is banking on posting back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since its return to Division I-A in 1999.
“I think his staff is doing an unbelievable job of building this program,” said UB Athletics Director Danny White. “It’s built to last and built to win consistently. We have depth in our program we have never had before.”
“For the first time, we’re looking forward to our second consecutive winning season, our second consecutive bowl game,” White said. “We are extremely confident in the direction of this program.”
UB went 8-5 last season and earned a trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Despite the loss of NFL first-round draft pick Khalil Mack at linebacker, signs are pointing to a positive bottom line for the Bulls.
UB returns seven starters on offense, including quarterback Joe Licata and the entire offensive line. Overall 49 lettermen are back. Because UB won seven games by 27 or more points last year, a lot of backups got quality playing time.
And UB gets the benefit of an easy schedule, the easiest in the Mid-American Conference, based on last year’s records.
Bulls coach Jeff Quinn, entering his fifth season, was not trying to temper his enthusiasm, 18 days in advance of the season opener at home against Duquesne on Aug. 30.
“I think collectively top to bottom we have a lot more depth and a lot more talent across the board than we’ve had in the past,” Quinn said. “That’s a testament to my coaches and recruiting. It’ll be exciting how these guys come together. Yeah, it’s a no-name team. I get that. But ... we’re not moving backward, we’re moving forward.”
Licata, the Williamsville South product, passed for 217 yards per game last year, second best among the returning QBs in the MAC.
“With Joe being at the helm and running the show, he is definitely and clearly, in my opinion, not only the best player in this program, one of our best performers, but also one of the best in the Mid-American Conference.”
Quinn said he is not scrambling to fill holes this preseason.
“We have less issues with starters, in my mind, to figure out who’s going to be the starter,” he said. “Now we’re just looking at who’s going to be those key backup guys. Where in the past we’ve had four or five starting positions to really figure out in camp. Right now we’ve got a pretty good, settled, two-deep lineup, which makes for a little bit more enjoyable camp than in the past.”
The Bulls play a preseason top-10 team in Baylor at home on Sept. 12. Baylor whipped UB, 70-13, last fall.
But UB has engineered a bunch of favorable matchups.
For the first time, UB will play two Football Championship Subdivision teams, in Duquesne and Norfolk State.
Most MAC teams play one FCS opponent. Ball State is the only other MAC team that will play two FCS teams this year. Only one win over an FCS team can count toward making a team eligible for a bowl game.
“When we look at our football team coming back,” Quinn said, it was “the opportunity to ... schedule those two I-AA teams. We know that only one will count, and that a six-win season with two of those six being I-AA wins still only gives us five wins for bowl eligibility. So we have to get to seven.”
UB has seven home games for the first time. Due to the schedule rotation in the 13-team MAC, UB does not have to play the top two teams in the opposite (West) division – Northern Illinois and Toledo.