Briefing on Buffalo

The MAC’s University of Buffalo Bulls invade Neyland Stadium on Saturday with a 1-10 record in their last 11 games.

That’s the kind of opponent you get when you buy your way out of a series with another opponent (North Carolina) in the previous year. But, that’s not fair to the Buffalo Bulls tradition which made its mark on NCAA football history 53 long years ago and helped wipe away any despair of too many losing seasons.

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Former Univ. of Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn is in his second season as the Buffalo Bulls head coach.

Buffalo’s QB this season is Chazz Anderson, a 5th-year senior. He’s actually a graduate student, with a diploma from the University of Cincinnati where he toiled mostly on the bench under former UC head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn. When Kelly left for Notre Dame at the end of the 2009 season, Quinn stepped in as interim head coach for their Sugar Bowl match against Florida, which didn’t go well at all for the Bearcats.

Quinn then left to become the head man at Buffalo for the 2010 season when Turner Gill left the Bulls for the Kansas job where Mark Mangino had resigned amidst controversy. After a 2-10 record in Quinn’s first year, one of his former backup QBs at Cincy – Chazz Anderson – came calling this past summer to end his college football eligibility with Buffalo. Anderson didn’t have to sit out a year because he already had graduated.

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Chazz Anderson, a graduate student, is getting his chance to be a starting QB by transferring from Cincinnati.

So, it’s kind of like the second coming of the Bearcats to Neyland Stadium this week. Buffalo, like Cincy, operates out of a spread offense with a penchant for running the football. Anderson not only throws the ball as a QB (as many TD’s (3) as INT’s so far this season), but is the Bulls’ second leading rusher (28/124 yds in 4 games) behind sophomore Brandon Oliver (100/442 yds in 4 games). A couple of receivers, sophomore Alex Neutz and senior Marcus Rivers, round out the list of names on the offense worth knowing.

The Bulls’ defense was their shining unit in last week’s sloppy 17-3 loss to Connecticut, during which the Bulls’ offense made four trips into the red zone only to come away with 3 points – a game Buffalo should have won. That, coupled with a heartbreaking last minute loss to 3-1 Ball State (38-35) will test the Bulls’ will to survive. Buffalo opened this season with a spirited attempt at Pitt where the Bulls were only down 14-10 with 4:22 in the game, only to eventually lose 35-16.

So, the first third of 2011 Bulls’ campaign has been somewhat encouraging, but must leave the players, coaches, and fans wondering if a second consecutive 2-10 season is in their future.

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The history of Buffalo football is a long road of losing with a couple of noteworthy episodes.

The school began the game in 1894 and continued until 1970 when the football program was suspended due to the student body’s vote to quit funding the program. But, you can’t keep a good (or a bad) thing down for too long. Football returned to the school in 1977 as a Div III program until 1992 when the Bulls jumped to 1-AA (FCS) and then to Div 1-A in 1999 when they joined the MAC.

The first seven years at the top level likely brought the worst performance in the country, for the Bulls chalked up a 10-69 record during that time, which included a 0-11 season and two 1-11 seasons.

It was truly dreadful until Green Bay Packer assistant coach and former Heisman candidate (Nebraska QB) Turner Gill took over the reigns in 2006. He only stayed for four seasons, but he brought the university a MAC championship, won in 2008 with a victory over then-undefeated Ball State in the conference title game, earning the Bulls a bowl appearance in Toronto (International Bowl) against Connecticut. Gill left Buffalo for Kansas after the following season, and now the Bulls appear to be the more familiar Buffalo bottom dwellers.

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There was another worthy time in Buffalo football history.

Willie Evans (left) and Mike Wilson (right) of the 1958 Buffalo Bulls. Photo courtesy of the University of Buffalo and ESPN.com

In 1958, Buffalo went 8-1 and won the Lambert Cup as the best Div II team in the East (usually won by schools known for their good football programs such as Lehigh, Bucknell, Delaware, Indiana (Pa.) and the like). That earned the Bulls an invitation down south to play Florida State in the Tangerine Bowl.

But there was a problem.

Buffalo had two black players: backup DE Mike Wilson and starting HB Willie Evans. Bowl officials told the school that they could play in the game in Orlando if and only if Wilson and Evans did not play.

It was all or nothing. The team made the right stand and refused the invitation.

The story can be read in detail at ESPN.com [here is the link]

That is a piece of history that makes up for many losing seasons at the University of Buffalo by giving the Bulls tradition a place in football history far beyond the gridiron – a tradition worthy enough to play in Neyland Stadium where in 1958 black football fans had to all sit together in the old Section X.

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