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Joe Freedy is entirely too relaxed.

Maybe the University at Buffalo's new starting quarterback doesn't realize he's about to make his first career start in perhaps the biggest game in school history.

Maybe he doesn't realize that Akron has an aggressive defense bent on his destruction, or at least disruption, when the teams meet Saturday night at UB Stadium. Or maybe, just maybe, none of that matters to him.

"This is what we've been preparing for all preseason, so I'm comfortable with the situation," Freedy said Thursday. "We have been waiting a long time for this, and we're ready to go."

Freedy is very poised, polite and intelligent. He emanates proficiency and self-assurance.

But that's off the field. Can he throw with accuracy to Drew Haddad and the other wideouts? Will he be a commanding presence in the huddle?

"We're going to start Joe Freedy Saturday night with all the confidence in the world," said UB coach Craig Cirbus. "I feel really strongly about him. He's very cool, and nothing fazes him. He's very laid back, but he knows what needs to get done."

Maybe Cirbus believes in Freedy because he has no choice.

Fifth-year senior Erik Rusin was supposed to start this season, but sprained a ligament in his right (throwing) elbow during a preseason intrasquad scrimmage. In that same scrimmage, backup Mike Gaydosz aggravated the tendinitis in his right (throwing) shoulder.

Neither will play Saturday.

That leaves Freedy and fellow redshirt sophomore Mike Taylor (Iroquois), who hasn't been that healthy during the preseason either.

"It's a great opportunity," Freedy said. "It's unfortunate how it came about, but that's part of football. I feel great about it right now. I'm ready to go out and have some fun."

Even if the game gets out of hand as the oddsmakers expect -- UB is a 20-point underdog -- Freedy will probably play the entire game, assuming the injury bug doesn't bite him, too.

Freedy is determined to show he can get the job done.

"I think I bring a lot of strong leadership to the team," said the 6-foot-2, 192-pounder from Bethel Park, Pa. "I think I can definitely get it done with my physical ability. The way I've been prepared, the way I've been coached, I'll get it done mentally also."

Freedy is a classic drop-back passer, bigger than Rusin and just as mobile as Gaydosz. Freedy also has a stronger arm than the other two.

So why was he listed behind Rusin and Gaydosz on the preseason depth chart?

"I didn't know what to expect because I hadn't given him the time of day in the first couple of weeks of the preseason," Cirbus admits. "I was busy trying to get Erik ready and prepare Mike Gaydosz as a potential backup.

"But Joe has really surprised me. He's done really well in practice. The coaching staff has been force-feeding him around
the clock over the last two weeks. He's had an amazing development in such a short time. I'm very anxious to see him in game situations this Saturday."

Cirbus added that the Bulls will run the same balanced offensive package as if Rusin were under center. One thing Freedy has going for him is he'll be surrounded by a veteran offensive line and experience at the skill positions.

Cirbus said the biggest question mark is not how Freedy handles the game plan. It's whether his offensive teammates will have as much confidence in him as the coaches do and as Freedy does in himself.

It didn't take long for the players to rally around their new leader.

"I've been really impressed with Joe," said senior left tackle Joe Hattendorf, whose job is to protect Freedy's blind side. "He wasn't getting a lot of reps with the first or second units. But since he's stepped into that (starting) role, he's done great. I feel very confident in him going out there Saturday."

Freedy does lack game experience, which is very important in Division I-A football. But if he's as cool and capable as he appears, the Bulls may be able to give Akron a game.

"The whole time I've been in there, the coaches have been getting me prepared," he said. "It wasn't a real big transition when I came from where I was on the depth chart to where I am now. I knew the package then and I know it now. I've done all I can to get ready. Now it's just time to play."

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