The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 104 Buffalo Bulls.
Previewing Buffalo’s Offense in 2014
The Bulls lost two of the most productive players in school history in tailback Branden Oliver and wide receiver Alex Neutz but return junior quarterback Joe Licata. A local product, Licata threw for 2,824 yards and 24 touchdowns — one shy of the single-season school record — while completing 58 percent of his passes. Licata missed spring practice while recovering from hip surgery, which allowed backup Tony Daniel to get the majority of the snaps.
With Oliver gone, junior Anthone Taylor, who rushed for 399 yards and three touchdowns, becomes the centerpiece of the running game. Junior Devin Campbell moves from slot receiver back to his natural position at tailback, where he provides breakaway speed. He’ll be pushed by sophomore Jordan Johnson, a bruising back who has been slowed by injuries.
Offensive coordinator Alex Wood wants to feature more players in the passing game, so there will be opportunities for some fresh faces at wide receiver. Sophomore Boise Ross is a blur and has the ability to be a quality playmaker after showing flashes as a true freshman. The Bulls hope Devon Hughes rebounds and enjoys a strong senior season, similar to Fred Lee last year.
Licata will be well protected with all five starters returning from an offensive line that is arguably the best in the MAC. The unit is anchored by versatile senior left guard Andre Davis, a starter for 37 consecutive games.
Previewing Buffalo’s Defense in 2014
Years of solid recruiting will help Buffalo survive the sting of losing seven starters on defense. Nevertheless, you can’t lose a player like All-America linebacker Khalil Mack and not expect a significant drop-off. Also gone is four-year starter Colby Way at end. Both ends, in fact, have to be replaced, but nose guard Kristjan Sokoli, who started all 13 games last season, and linebacker Adam Redden, an All-MAC selection, return to the Bulls’ lineup. Veteran defensive coordinator Lou Tepper will lean on both Sokoli and Redden for leadership as the unit matures.
Senior linebacker Lee Skinner has started all 37 games of his career and has ranked second on the team in tackles in each of his first three seasons. In the secondary, Cortney Lester enters his fourth season as a starting cornerback, while Marqus Baker will get the nod at the other corner to replace All-MAC selection Najja Johnson. Witney Sherry was sidelined with an injury last season but will likely start at free safety. Okezie Alozie ranked seventh on the team in tackles with 45 a year ago and is the favorite at strong safety.
The Bulls’ ability to remain among the MAC’s elite will largely depend on how soon a pass rush can be developed.
Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists in 2014
Kicker Patrick Clarke made 13-of-20 field goals and 45-of-48 extra point attempts last season and enters his senior season ranked third in Buffalo history with 29 career field goals. Tyler Grassman averaged 40 yards per punt a year ago with 26 downed inside the 20. Campbell is a feared returner, and Ross has the potential to blossom into one.
Plenty of attention has been paid to Buffalo’s heavy losses to graduation, and perhaps deservedly so, but the return of Licata should be enough to carry the offense. It will be challenging to avoid a projected slide on defense, but a soft schedule in the early season should ease the growing pains. Four of the first five games are at home, including games with two FCS opponents in Duquesne and Norfolk State.
Bowling Green is clearly the team to beat in the MAC East, but the Bulls, if the defense comes through, will have a chance to be a factor once again in the division race.