Canisius College coach Chuck Williams hopes more "four-minute offense" will prevent a repeat of 1997, when the Griffs lost five games in which they led or were tied in the fourth quarter.
Late-game ineffectiveness helped produce a 3-7 campaign after 4-6 and 5-4 seasons under Williams.
Usually the cause was lack of depth and offensive failure, which left the Golden Griffin defenders worn down by the fourth quarter.
The four-minute offense is a favorite concept of former NFL coach Bill Walsh. His idea was if an offense keeps the ball at least four minutes on most possessions, it eventually will wear down and frustrate the opponent.
Recent Canisius teams put up some impressive numbers because of strong defensive line play. With end Scott Dochat and tackle Brian Swatland gone, it leaves the front four as one of Williams' great concerns. End Mike Fatta is the only returning starter from '97.
"It's time for our offense to step up," Williams said.
One reason he believes it can is the expected improvement from sophomore quarterback Bryan Roland (St. Joe's), who won the starting job last season.
"Roland is a very intelligent quarterback and we will do more with calls at the line of scrimmage with him making choices," Williams said.
Roland completed only 35.8 percent of his passes with 14 interceptions last season. Williams believes Roland's experience and improvement in pass protection and receiving will improve those numbers.
Most of the other key offensive players from last year return -- workhorse tailback Nick Adinolfi, fullback Jon Uonites and wide receivers Jason Przybysz and Michael Minnuto. Also back is kicker Dustin Bakowski.
Adinolfi, a senior, ran for 923 yards and eight touchdowns last season, but he averaged a career-low 3.1 yards per carry. Williams thinks that average will improve with some offensive tinkering and better interior line play. For a change of pace at running back, there is junior Quinton Thompson, who showed flashes of speed in limited action last season. The versatility of sophomore Dan Tryon (Amherst) also will prove useful in the backfield.
All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tackle Tony Zoratti and guard Ray Krug return on the right side of the offensive line. The rest of the unit is unsettled.
Matt Marriott is a better than adequate center if he can avoid injuries. Tim Spingler, who came to Canisius as a tight end and played left tackle last year, may be the new left guard with Vlad Bortchevsky taking over at tackle.
Brent Seewald, a reserve quarterback last year, probably will be the new tight end.
"Seewald has good size (6-foot-2, 234 pounds) and he's been a great kid in our program and we want to give him the opportunity to play," Williams said.
Seewald's switch cleans out the quarterbacks behind Roland, but that opens the way for three freshman prospects -- Mark Nachreiner (North Tonawanda), Brad Burgher (Clarence) and Darin Johnson (Springville). Nachreiner played quarterback in the Kensington Lions-Tops All-Star Classic this month.
"He was also a good defensive back. He brings a lot," Williams said.
Harry Collins was switched from the offense to help the defensive line situation. Last year's backups, Joe Domagala and Todd Wilbert, are other defensive tackle prospects. Jason Fokin is in line to replace Dochat at right end.
Starting linebackers Bill Joyce and Max Kerry, cornerback Darrione Nall and free safety Dan Wojtulewicz return on the defense.
"We had a much better recruiting year," Williams says of a group that comes with some good size and speed and is expected to improve the depth.
The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a night game at UB on Oct. 17 which will give the Griffs some extra exposure. That game comes during a four-week stretch of road games, three of which are in the MAAC.
Duquesne is the preseason favorite in the MAAC, which was won by Georgetown last year. St. John's, ineligible for the conference title last year, and Fairfield are other contenders.
Iona will be ineligible for the conference crown this year because of MAAC penalties. Fairfield faces a similar penalty in 1999.