An absurdly premature assessment of the 2010 Bulls.
Why they might look familiar: Mid-major fans will recall the stunning 2008 run that culminated with the Bulls knocking off undefeated, would-be Cinderella Ball State in the MAC Championship Game (right), the win that put Buffalo football – and miracle-working head coach Turner Gill – on the map. Even after a lackluster, 5-7 finish in 2009, it was considered a coup when Kansas finally spirited Gill, architect of the most significant successes in Buffalo history, away to his old stomping grounds in the Big 12 North.
The new guy is Jeff Quinn, whose head-coaching experience thus far consists of being the guy to guide Central Michigan (2007) and Cincinnati (2009) into bowl games on an interim basis after big cheese Brian Kelly departed for Cincinnati and Notre Dame, respectively.
(Oh, and please: It's Bulls. Not Bills, certain-broadcasters-who-shall-remain-nameless. Telling your
Saturdays random Tuesday nights apart from your Sundays is part of your job.)
Previously on: Nothing like the turnover-fueled glory of 2008, sadly. The '09 edition was all over the map: A tough opening-week win at UTEP, a blowout loss despite big yardage at Pitt, nigh-inexcusable defeats at the hands of Western Michigan (in overtime) and Bowling Green, another blowout loss to Temple and a 9-6 tooth-puller over Kent State came together for a fifth-place finish in the MAC East. (This Kent State win is a grand game to run the numbers on, if you're the masochistic sort: Buffalo's 20 first downs and 320 yards of total offense was thwarted by four turnovers. The Golden Flashes were thwarted by 431 yards ... of punting. That was 400 more than they got from the arm of quarterback Anthony Magazu.)
Gill wasn't the only key departure this offseason: Citing communication issues with Quinn, quarterback Zach Maynard left the team a few weeks after Gill's exit, eventually landing at Cal as part of a package deal with his half-brother, five-star cornerback prospect Keenan Allen, who broke his longstanding commitment to Alabama in favor of a school that had room for Maynard, too. (The joke may be on Cal here: Maynard was 71st in the country in passing efficiency and 33rd in total offense – not bad, but not big-time, especially against the notoriously forgiving defenses of the MAC.)
Encounters in the wild: You mean apart from the season-opening stand against mighty Rhode Island, right? (Eat your heart out, Chick-fil-A Classic!) "Big Six" opportunities consist of early trips to Baylor and UConn, and November matchups with Ohio U. and Ball State are scheduled for Thursday and Friday-night ESPNU slots; a post-Thanksgiving trip to Akron may get picked up for ESPNU, as well, as an antidote to all the tryptophan.
Stock characters: Four starters return on the offensive line, but who they'll be guarding is an official mystery thus far. Maynard's likely successor is sophomore Jerry Davis, an inexperienced California transplant who'll battle a slew of freshmen and walk-ons. Luckily, the Bulls are stacked for a strong ground game with the return of last year's leading rushers, Ike Nduka and Brandon Thermilus, whose intimidating monikers should be good for another 600 yards apiece, minimum.
'Round back the defense features safety Davonte Shannon, former high school teammate of one Terrelle Pryor in Jeannette, Pa., who led the team in tackles and earned all-conference honors for the third consecutive season. The biggest area of concern, apart from the void at quarterback, is special teams, a disaster in all respects last year. The rock-bottom return game will need a massive overhaul if the Bulls expect to avenge any of those marginal losses in '09.
Prognosis: Gill and Maynard are in the wind, but all is not lost (yet). The schedule isn't too dire and the MAC isn't exactly a hotbed of stiff competition, and the Bulls get last year's two worst teams in the MAC West (Eastern Michigan and Ball State) in the cross-division draw. It's Friday, so let's get optimistic and call a repeat performance of 5-7 by the grace of Nduka and Thermilus and a return to sanity in the takeaway column.
- - - Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.
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Holly welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at nastinchka-at-yahoo, etc.