There are 17 days to the start of the University at Buffalo football season, and Bulls coaches are thankful for every one of them.
UB has a young roster in Year Two of the Lance Leipold regime.
The Bulls will have seven new starters on offense and four on defense. They return just 26 percent of their offensive yardage production from last season. Only two of their 22 second-teamers ever have started a game. They have 42 newcomers on their 105-man roster. Last summer they had 29.
UB has the fourth most inexperienced roster in the nation, according to college football analyst Phil Steele, who factors seniors, letter winners, offensive production, returning tacklers and offensive line returnees into his ranking.
“Forty-two new players in this camp is a lot of players who have to learn what our expectations are just in the daily routine,” said coach Leipold Tuesday during UB’s annual football media day. “If you look at the roster, there’s a lot of guys who’ve never been through a fall camp here. We’ve got to rely on our older players and the coaching staff to get them acclimated as quick as possible.”
UB is picked to finish fourth out of six in the Mid-American Conference’s East Division. It’s clear that this is a building year for Leipold & Co., although that doesn’t mean the Bulls can’t exceed expectations in the relatively balanced MAC.
“The numbers kind of contradict the statements that it’s Year Two,” Leipold said. “We’re almost more new this fall than what we were a year ago. That’s part of what Year Two challenges can be sometimes in the transition. I think the positive part is you have fresh people willing to come in, and we get to mold them to our philosophy. And everybody who was here last year understands what we’re doing so much more.”
Inexperience doesn’t necessarily mean failure.
Alabama had the fifth least experienced squad in the nation last year, by the Steele ranking, but the Crimson Tide won the national title. Last year, seven of the 20 most inexperienced teams had winning records.
Ohio State saw 12 players drafted off last year’s team and returns just six starters this season. The Buckeyes have the least experienced team in the nation entering this season. But Ohio State is a national title contender.
Ohio State, Notre Dame and Stanford all are among the 10 most inexperienced teams in the country but all are picked to be top-10 contenders.
How fast can UB pull all the new pieces together? The two biggest factors figure to be production from the quarterback and the offensive line.
Senior Grant Rohach and red-shirt freshman Tyree Jackson are battling to replace Joe Licata at QB. Leipold reiterated that he and offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki expect to make a QB decision before the season opener against Albany on Sept. 2.
The O-line will have three new full-time starters, but Leipold bolstered the line’s depth with the addition of three junior college transfers.
Rohach, a transfer from Iowa State, is impressed with the team’s enthusiasm level.
“One thing I notice is there’s a lot more energy to this team,” he said. “When you’re a freshman, you’re going at it 120 percent. As guys get older, they get into the routine more.”
“I think at times with the amount of people we have that are young, things need to be repeated and repped over,” Rohach said. “But Coach K has a fantastic offense, and I’m really excited for what we’re going to put out there this fall.”
UB is hoping its continuity on defense will make that side of the ball a strength. There are only three senior starters at the moment. But 19 of what arguably are the top 22 defenders are in their second year in coordinator Brian Borland’s system.
“Defensively, they’re understanding the scheme so much more it’s allowing us to get through more in practice,” Leipold said. “We’re not repeating as much, which allows us to keep building and correct techniques, which hopefully allow you to have more success.”
UB lost 19 senior players on scholarship from last year. There’s only 13 senior scholarship players on this year’s squad who return from last season.
UB junior receiver Jacob Martinez is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury suffered in practice. Martinez entered training camp penciled in as the No. 3 receiver. Marcus McGill and Malcolm Robinson are the projected starters. Red-shirt freshman K.J. Osborn, junior college transfer Kamathi Holsey and junior Jamarl Eiland currently are seeing the most time with the second team behind the starters.