A year removed from coaching Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, Jeff Quinn watched this year's game from Hyattsville, Md., at the home of recruit Kendall Patterson. Around the time Arkansas began to rally against Ohio State, a reporter sent Patterson a text message asking if he gave a verbal commitment to the University at Buffalo.
"Yes sir!" Patterson wrote. "Coach Quinn just left my house! I'm in!"
Patterson is one of the headliners of the Bulls' 2011 recruiting class, a group that on paper outshines any ever assembled since the program was elevated to Football Bowl Subdivision status in 1999. While the Bulls' 2-10 record of a year ago is considered a major disappointment, the staff's recruiting efforts have been anything but.
Since Quinn arrived, the Bulls have shifted philosophies in the recruiting game by wrapping up large numbers of players before their senior seasons even begin. Whereas in the past UB had only a handful of commitments by mid-January before a late push leading up to February's National Signing Day, Quinn and his staff have 20 verbal commitments and could be finished with the '11 class by next week.
"Recruiting is like shaving," Quinn said. "If you miss a day you look like garbage."
The Bulls are so far ahead that the groundwork has already been laid for the 2012 class. On Feb. 3, the day after Signing Day, UB will begin extending offers.
"It was part of the plan, part of the vision," said Ernest Jones, UB's associate head coach and recruiting coordinator. "We would like to get into the second or third week of January with a committed class. We don't want to go into Signing Day thinking, 'Are we going to get him? Is he going to come?' We want to have that thing done. We want to come into the fall season with the class solid and by the third week of January have the class done."
The objective for this recruiting class was to increase team speed and sign players with specific height and weight numbers. Offensive linemen have to be between 6-foot-5 and 6-7, defensive linemen between 6-3 and 6-4 and defensive backs at least 6 feet.
"We're going to stick with our profile from now on," Jones said. "That's how we targeted the prospects. If we are going to go away from the profile there have to be compelling reasons why we go with that kid. He might be 5-10 but he runs a 4.3 or he vertically jumps 30 inches, his academics are a 3.7 or a 29 [ACT] or he has some history with the University at Buffalo. There have to be some compelling reasons."
>Skill and power
UB breaks a recruit's potential position into three categories with an emphasis on versatility: Skill (quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back), big skill (tailback, tight end and linebacker) and power (linemen).
"It makes the recruit feel special," Jones said. "It says, 'I'm not just a defensive back, I can be a defensive back, a receiver or a punt returner.' All of that falls under skill. A power guy can say, 'I can be an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman, a tackle, a nose guard. I'm a power guy. I'm going to go to Buffalo because I'm a skill player.' It helps us."
Quinn breaks down the Bulls recruitment into five stages that he says were developed through trial and error.
"Did I know this back when I was a young coach? Absolutely not," he said. "That's the benefit."
The five stages include:
* Identifying the "next Bull in." From February through April, the staff sorts through thousands of potential prospects, placing a laser focus on players within a 500-mile radius of Western New York. All nine assistants have a section of New York as a recruiting base whereas the previous staff under Turner Gill had two coaches recruiting the state.
In addition to Patterson, UB snagged commitments from linebacker Khari Brown from Maryland, defensive end Brandon Tammaro from Michigan and offensive lineman Jesse Back from Cincinnati, among other players. UB's first recruit from the class was offensive lineman John Kling from Depew.
"It starts here," Quinn said. "Approximately 42 percent of the nation's population is within a 500-mile radius of Buffalo. You have New York City, D.C., Philly, Baltimore, Toronto then you go west and you pass Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo, Chicago -- you're encompassing a huge area around Buffalo."
* Academic and athletic evaluations. It goes without saying but players can't be the next Bull in -- or Tiger, or Crimson Tide or Nittany Lion, for that matter -- without the proper grades. May is when the weeding out process begins.
"They value their education, compete and help you win championships," Quinn said. "When I tell my guys to look at players I tell them to identify their character, academics, his resume and athletic ability."
* In-person athletic evaluation. Last year the Bulls held three camps in June, including a seven-on-seven passing and lineman camp and the all-important Jr/Sr Camp.
It was at the Jr/Sr Camp the Bulls received a commitment from defensive tackle Patrick Williams, who has since reopened his recruiting, although Quinn and Jones flew to Florida last week in an attempt to reaffirm the commitment.
A day after the Jr/Sr Camp, Connolly Cup winner and quarterback Joe Licata from Williamsville South walked into Quinn's office with his parents and committed to UB. Others who attended and committed include Georgia quarterback Tony Daniel and defensive end Joe Felicia from Marcellus.
The staff also attends one-day camps at places like Penn State, Ohio State and Cincinnati to evaluate prospects while adding more to the list.
>Get them on campus
* The UB Football Experience. Next step is getting recruits on campus for spring practices and the Blue and White Game. It also includes watching practices during the regular season and making official visits during the fall and winter.
"The biggest hook is getting them here," Quinn said. "Once they come to the University at Buffalo they are absolutely blown away. They said it exceeds expectations."
Quinn also credits the players who host the recruits during their visits.
"There is a vibe of football but more importantly there is a vibe of family," Quinn said. "Parents know they are entrusting their child with people who look out for him and who care."
* Becoming the next Bull in. When Licata walked into Quinn's office last summer he shook his hand and said, "I want to be the next Bull in."
It may come across as corny to some, but it's also an indication that recruits have bought into the program.
"If they say, 'I want to be the next Bull in,' that means we've done our job," Jones said.
It also means securing commitments. Patterson said of all the schools that recruited him -- a list that includes South Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Ohio, among others -- no one recruited him harder than UB.
Said Patterson prior to his commitment: "Coach [defensive coordinator William] Inge has come to my home to visit with me already and they are constantly keeping in touch with me whether it's mail, phone calls or in home visits."
>Bulls in pursuit
The Bulls have two more scholarships to offer and are seeking players in the skill and power mode. They were in pursuit of Nick Robinson, a 6-5, 285 offensive tackle from Baldwinsville but he reportedly committed to Syracuse.
Offsetting the loss of Robinson, was the announcement that Anthone Taylor, a 5-11, 195-pound tailback from Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio, made a verbal commitment to the Bulls. Then on Tuesday, UB received some much needed help at cornerback with a commitment from 5-11, 175-pound Mike Brown from Pickerington, Ohio.
An already impressive recruiting haul is nearly complete.
"We spent a whole year getting to know these young men, getting into their schools, getting into their homes, following them academically in the spring, summer and fall. We tried to get the guys that we want and in a lot of cases, we did."