Is Drew Willy Ready to Take the Next Step?
Junior Drew Willy may be the most experienced quarterback in the MAC, but he has had neither the stats nor wins to show for all his starts. He's also been bothered by several nagging injuries, including a hand injury which prevented him from playing the final four games of the 2006 season. Willy isn't anything special, and he's not likely to recall the great tradition of NFL-bound MAC quarterbacks, but he is the rock which Buffalo's offense is founded on. He's a competent passer and a good leader on the field, and with two years under his belt should be able to lead a more experienced offense to its best year in Buffalo's young I-A life. He flourished early in Turner Gill's new system, and I see the continued relationship between that quarterback minded Coach Gill and Willy as being nothing but beneficial to the entire team. He looks poised for a breakout year, at least, you know, as much as a University at Buffalo quarterback can have a breakout year.
Does Returning Experience = Will Be better?
As is the case in most circumstances, the returning experience on both sides of the ball should equate to more wins in 2007 for the Bulls, although perhaps not as dramatic as an effect as other, more established programs. The Bulls return 17 starters on both sides of the ball, including eight on the offense and nine on the defense. Four returning starters are back on the O-Line, as is last year's leading rusher, James Starks (2nd Team All-MAC), as well as the team's two top receivers. All this experience should help the Bulls match up favorably against some of the lesser teams in the MAC, but the overall talent here, while better than in past seasons, is still not to the point where the Bulls could make a run at the MAC title. I look for the Bulls to capitalize on the amount of experience returning, but with a challenging non-conference schedule I don't see the Bulls having a dramatic, turn-around season.
Can the Team Get the Ball to the Playmakers?
UB isn't exactly armed to the teeth with explosive playmakers on offense, but there are some players who, if utilized correctly, could make a big impact in 2007. One of the bigger keys to success will be how the offense utilizes wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, who has good speed (4.56/40) and should be one of the focal points of the offense after spending time at quarterback last season. Sophomore James Sparks, a second team All-MAC running back last season, returns, as do wide receivers Terrance Breaux and Brett Hamlin, who both have started in the past. But for Drew Willy to get the ball to these players he's going to need ample protection, which could be easier said than done when you consider just how poor this offensive line played last season.
Just for Fun: While my first football game was actually at the Vet a few days before I was born (Army-Navy, of course) one of my earliest memories of actually being at a college football game came in what was then the brand-new UB Stadium. That was back when Buffalo was a I-A team, and I really can't remember anything but the game being played in a blinding snow storm. Go Figure.
Adam's Take: Don't let last year's one win total fool you, this program is making strides. Head Coach Turner Gill did a great job interjecting some life inside this program last season, and despite only winning one more game than in 2005, this was arguably the most competitive Buffalo team in its brief I-A history (scored the most points of any I-A Buffalo team.) Considering how young that team was was, it's not unreasonable to speculate that the wins will come this year, especially since a more veteran squad should win some of the close games they lost last season. While the team is still at the bottom of the barrel in terms of talent, the regression of many MAC teams over the past few seasons and the addition of Temple as a rival in the MAC East should also equate to more wins for the Bulls next season. I look for the offense to carry this team and the defense to struggle, but for the team to be much more competitive in conference play and win at least four games in 2007.