Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 119 Division I-A teams. To order the complete 2007 edition of Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).
(All information as of June 20, 2007)
COACH AND PROGRAM
Improvement is a relative term, especially in college football. Take Buffalo. The Bulls doubled their win total in 2006 and still finished the season ranked 116th out of 119 teams.
That bottom-line fact says a little bit about how far Buffalo came in its first season under Turner Gill, the former Nebraska quarterback, and a lot more about how far the Bulls have to go if they hope to become a contender in the Mid-American Conference.
Gill, whose focus last season centered around building relationships with his team, his staff and the community, admits that the 2006 campaign was a learning experience as the entire program adjusted.
The biggest thing he learned?
"I think there is a genuine excitement about football around here and some genuine excitement about high school football here and some genuine excitement in the Western New York area," said Gill, who played his high school ball at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth, Texas.
Gill is correct. Western New Yorkers love their football, especially a certain NFL team that suffered four straight Super Bowl defeats in the early 1990s, but imagine what would happen if the local college team had more than 12 wins since making the jump back to Division I-A in 1999?
To be fair, UB is doing the things it needs to in order to improve. The Bulls went on the road to Auburn, Boston College and Wisconsin last year and will travel to Rutgers, Penn State and once-powerful Syracuse this season. They were outscored 114-10 in their trips into BCS stadiums last season, but were more than just sacrificial lambs. UB, a seven-touchdown underdog, turned heads when it trailed then-No. 2 Auburn just 10-0 at the half before falling, 38-7. It wasn't Northern Illinois over Maryland or Alabama, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been, either.
"I like that the guys learned how to compete," Gill said. "They learned that they could compete against any football team in the country and that really helped our football team."
Compete might be too strong of a word, but the Bulls showed that they could step on the same field as anyone in the country. The next step is figuring out how to win.