By John Wawrow
AMHERST — Until last week, University at Buffalo football coach Jeff Quinn had never heard of C.W. Dibble, let alone realized the two suddenly shared a few things in common.
"I'm sorry," Quinn said, when Dibble's name was brought up. "Who is this gentleman?"
Why Dibble, of course, in 1897 — that's not a misprint — was the first Buffalo coach to win seven consecutive games in a single season. Quinn now happens to be the second.
"Oh, very good, C.W. I did not go back that far in my archives," Quinn said, breaking into a smile. "He was a great coach because, obviously, winning seven in a row (puts us) in the same company."
Quinn was joking in drawing the comparison, and yet it's time to start taking the Bulls seriously during a season in which they're making several dents in the school record book.
The Bulls (7-2, 5-0 Mid-American Conference) are off to their best start since a 9-2 finish in 1986, when they were members of the ECAC.
Following a 30-3 win over Ohio last week, they've won seven straight to enjoy their longest winning streak since a seven-game stretch spanning the 1958-59 seasons.
And only Dibble's squad won that many in a row in the same season with a 7-0 finish 116 years ago. It was a perfect season that featured wins over Western Reserve, Hobart and Union in the first year of William McKinley's first term as president.
The seven wins this season are the Bulls second-most since joining the MAC in 1999. And the Bulls are one win shy of matching the 8-6 finish the Turner Gill-coached team had in 2008, when Buffalo won its lone conference championship and qualified for its first bowl game in 50 years.
With three games left, starting with a trip to Toledo (4-1, 6-3) on Tuesday night, Buffalo is in the driver's seat to win its second MAC East title, leaving Quinn in no position to start celebrating yet.
"We'll stay humble because we know we haven't accomplished anything yet," said Quinn, who went a combined 9-27 in his first three seasons at Buffalo. "The key for me at this point is to maintain their poise and composure, and their understanding of how they've gotten to this point."
The Bulls opened the season losing badly to Ohio State and Baylor and then barely avoided an upset in pulling out a 26-23 five-overtime win over Stony Brook on Sept. 14.
Buffalo has been on a roll ever since, having outscored its past six opponents by a combined margin of 219-52.
The Bulls defense is led by star senior linebacker Khalil Mack, who has been named a semifinalist for both the Butkus and Bednarik Awards, which go to the nation's top linebacker and defensive player. Mack leads Buffalo in tackles (59), tackles-for-loss (11-1/2), sacks (7-1/2) and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. He might just be the best linebacker in the country, a possible first-round NFL draft pick.
The offense is led by sophomore quarterback, Joe Licata, who in five conference games has gone 79 of 123 for 969 yards, with nine touchdowns and one interception. Buffalo's running attack is powered by senior Branden Oliver, who has 932 yards rushing and scored nine times in his past five games.
Buffalo's turnaround began last season, when Licata took over in a 25-20 loss to Toledo on Oct. 27. The Bulls have since gone 10-3.
"I'm actually kind of mad we lost those three," Licata said. "I expected nothing but success once we got here."
And he expects it to continue.
"We've won seven in a row," Licata said. "But nothing's more important than the eighth."