Lance Leipold joins the top rank of college football after winning at an elite level at Wisconsin-Water in Division III. He has some nice pieces at Buffalo to compete in the MAC, but he needs to prove his winning system can succeed at the FBS level.
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Previewing Buffalo’s Offense for 2015
First-year head coach Lance Leipold’s transition from Division III to the FBS will be eased by the presence of two productive seniors in quarterback Joe Licata and tailback Anthone Taylor.
Licata, a fourth-year starter who is cool in the pocket and fundamentally sound, already holds the school record for touchdown passes (60), ranks third in career completions (543) and fourth in career passing yardage (6,516).
Taylor had huge shoes to fill in replacing Branden Oliver, the school’s career rushing leader. But when he received his shot as the primary back, he flourished by finishing with 1,403 yards, the second-highest mark in Buffalo history. Local product Jordan Johnson and versatile senior Devin Campbell, who will see time at slot receiver, will also be part of the running game.
There are enough experienced receivers at Licata’s disposal in Ron Willoughby, Jacob Martinez and Marcus McGill, not to mention tight end Matt Weiser and newcomer Collin Lisa, who transferred in from UAB. The Bulls tied for No. 3 in the MAC in total offense and should be extremely balanced once again.
The offensive line was hit hard by graduation with the loss of veterans Trevor Sales, Andre Davis and Jake Silas, and the returning players have done plenty of shuffling. Right tackle John Kling returns, while right guard Robert Blodgett has moved to left tackle. Brandon Manosalvas has moved from center to left guard and will be replaced in the middle by redshirt freshman James O’Hagan. Senior Dillon Guy gets the nod at right guard.
Previewing Buffalo’s Defense for 2015
The Bulls, who shift from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3, return only three starters on defense. The defensive line has to be mostly rebuilt, although it returns Brandon Crawford and Max Perisse, who are moving inside from end. Sophomores Demone Harris and Solomon Jackson look to fill the vacant end spots.
There are also questions at linebacker, where Jake Stockman and Lee Skinner must be replaced. Jarrett Franklin is back, while Okezie Alozie moves from safety to linebacker. The two are the team’s top returning tacklers with 49 apiece.
Marqus Baker and Boise Ross are locks at cornerback. Baker missed seven games 2014 with an illness, which forced Ross to convert from wide receiver to fill in at corner. Although Baker has experience, he’s starting for the first time in his career. Buffalo needs to find a pair of safeties and will miss All-MAC selection Adam Redden. Andrews Dadeboe has played extended minutes, while Ryan Williamson played in all 11 games as a true freshman. Jordan Collier, another UAB transfer, figures to be in the mix at safety.
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Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists for 2015
The Bulls have to replace Patrick Clarke, who ranks second in program history in field goals. Adam Mitcheson, who redshirted as a freshman, assumes Clarke’s role, while Tyler Grassman is back for his fourth season at punter. Campbell is just 80 yards shy of the school record in career kick return yardage and could see time at punt returner as well.
It was a surprise to see the abrupt ending to the Jeff Quinn era, especially one season removed from the second bowl appearance in school history. Replacing Quinn with Leipold was equally unforeseen, but the former Wisconsin-Whitewater coach was without peer on the Division III level (109–6 in eight seasons). There will be an adjustment period for the defense, which has to learn a new scheme and must replace several key contributors. But the offense, led by the serene Licata, is as good as any in the MAC. The schedule is not easy, but the Bulls are certainly capable of being a factor in the MAC East Division.