COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
MAC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Jeff Quinn, 9-27 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Alex Wood | DEF. COORDINATOR: Lou Tepper
Three seasons into Jeff Quinn’s tenure at Buffalo, the offense he promised hasn’t really delivered. The possibility exists for Quinn’s offense to emerge this season with the return of eight starters, as well as standout senior tailback Branden Oliver.
While lacking the athletic ability to run a pure spread option, sophomore quarterback Joe Licata combines tremendous arm strength with intelligence and competitiveness, and the Bulls can certainly use all three elements at that position. But Quinn may have to find a way to get former starter Alex Zordich on the field. Zordich rushed for 501 yards, third on the team, and has the respect of his teammates because of his reckless style.
A consistent Licata, who started the final four games last season, should be enough to jumpstart the offense, and Oliver, who missed five games last season because of injury — but still rushed for 821 yards — should keep it purring.
Oliver will be running behind a line that returns three starters, including senior guard Jasen Carlson, who can also play center. Left tackle Andre Davis and center Trevor Sales, both juniors, are also back.
The Bulls return their best weapon at wideout in senior Alex Neutz, a second-team All-MAC selection who finished with 65 receptions for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns, but another option in the passing game needs to develop. Senior Fred Lee played in only eight games last season because of injury, and his return should help. But Devon Hughes, Cordero Dixon, Ron Willoughby and Rudy Johnson, all big targets, have to perform better in order for the unit to improve.
There’s no lack of talent on the defense, which is headlined by destructive All-MAC senior linebacker Khalil Mack. He led the Bulls with 94 tackles, including eight sacks, last season. He could be one of the conference’s top draft prospects in 2014.
Buffalo will continue to employ a 3-4 defense under second-year coordinator Lou Tepper, the former Illinois head coach who boasts 35 years of FBS coaching experience. The defense is designed to attack and blitz from all over the field to better utilize the scheme’s athletes.
Buffalo doesn’t have an abundance of depth along the line, but Mack gets help up front from defensive end Colby Way, who leads a front three that must replace end Steven Means and nose guard Wyatt Cahill.
Everyone returns in the secondary, led by corners Najja Johnson and Cortney Lester, rover Okoye Houston and free safety Witney Sherry.
With placekicker Patrick Clarke and punter Tyler Grassman returning, concerns are minimal with the kicking game. Clarke converted 11-of-15 field-goal attempts and also handled kickoffs, recording 13 touchbacks. Grassman averaged 35.4 yards per kick with a 32.8 net. There are questions, however, in the return game. Dixon was the main punt returner in the spring, while Houston worked on kickoffs. Tailbacks Brandon Murie and Devin Campbell also were part of the return rotation, but Oliver might end up being the best option.
For the last 10 seasons, Buffalo rarely has had a lack of athletes on the field. The biggest problem for the Bulls has been putting it all together, and in 2012, that didn’t happen until late last season. After a 3–9 season in 2011 — including a win over East Division champion Ohio — the Bulls took a slight step forward in 2012, and Quinn was rewarded with a three-year contract extension. With a solid returning group and a year of experience, the Bulls could take a another step forward in the MAC East.