Later on this evening I will be sitting in UB Stadium at the University of Buffalo watching the Bulls play the Miners of UTEP in what is scheduled to be the first college football game of the year to kick off. I have never been to a Bulls game, and I don’t much care about either team in the grand scheme of things, but I happen to be in the area on a trip, and I love everything about college football, so I figured I would check it out. Besides, despite what may be the first instinct of most people looking at this game, it has the real potential to be an interesting showdown. Here’s a look at the four top storylines:
1. Turner Gill – The former star QB at Nebraska has only been a head coach for two years, but it’s already incredibly obviously that he is destined for bigger things. He took over a terrible one win team in Buffalo, turned them into a slightly better 2-10 team in his first year, and then jumped forward to 5-7 in year two, including the first ever winning record for the team in the MAC. Gill is a star on the rise, and he’s showing now that he can recruit as well as he can coach. Catching him here is a chance to see him before he moves up to the big(ger) time. He was a finalist for the Nebraska gig last year, and he’ll have more offers this year.
2. Mike Price – Price’s fall from grace in Alabama is one of the most fascinatingly horrifying things in recent sports history. After the fall he found himself in El Paso. The story doesn’t so far have a Hollywood ending, though – he’s domne only an average job with UTEP, and the team has just nine wins in the last two years. Price is a spectacle these days, and a fascinating contrast to Gill.
3. Offense – Buffalo returns 18 starters this year, including their QB, the conferences best running back, their top receiver, and 4/5 of their line. UTEP also returns four of their linemen, and a quarterback, James Vittatoe, that had a very good year for a freshman. Or any QB for that matter (3100 yards, 25 TDs, seven picks). THe MIners lose their top running back and second receiver, but both teams should still be able to move the ball, and the reasonably high total of 58.5 should be threatened.
4. Looking ahead – This week UTEP plays in a city that most of their players will have never been to in front of a mid-sized crowd against a team that certainly isn’t a rival. Next week they host Texas in their sold out Sun Bowl. It’s a near certainty that the Miners will be looking past this season opener. That could give Buffalo and edge that I’m not sure that they needed anyway.