The 2017 season has been one with enough close calls going the wrong way for Buffalo that could come back to haunt them. With the Bulls fighting to reach a bowl game, a season including four losses by a single score suggests Buffalo is progressing as a program that can be competitive in the MAC. And Lance Leipold's team has lost a variety of ways from coming up short in a seven-overtime shootout against Western Michigan to a defensive battle and a 14-13 setback against Northern Illinois.
Buffalo put the pieces together for a much-needed win last week in a home victory over Bowling Green and this week look to keep the good times rolling on the road against Ball State as the MAC wraps up its Week 12 slate on Thursday night.
Buffalo at Ball State
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Buffalo -20.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ball State looking to snap 11-game MAC losing streak
It's been a while since Ball State celebrated a win in a conference game, so it is only fitting the Cardinals try snapping their extended losing streak in MAC play against the last team they managed to beat. Ball State last won in conference on Oct. 15, 2016 with a 31-21 victory over Buffalo. It's been even longer since Ball State won a MAC game at home. That last occurred on Oct. 31, 2015 against UMass, who is now an FBS Independent. Ball State has lost seven straight home games in conference play.
2. Can Ball State cover Anthony Johnson?
Buffalo's junior wide receiver enters the week as the MAC leader with 1,048 yards and eight touchdowns on 63 receptions. Last week against Bowling Green, Johnson caught eight passes for 160 yards and two scores in one of his best games of the season. Ball State has struggled to defend the pass this season (230.5 ypg, eighth), so look for Johnson to have a big game.
Ball State has a young receiver to watch as well with Justin Hall leading the MAC with 65 receptions, which have gone for 653 yards and two scores.
3. Must-win game for Buffalo's bowl hopes
Buffalo has not been to a bowl game since going to the Potato Bowl in Boise at the end of the 2013 season. Although the Bulls came close to bowl eligibility in Lance Leipold's first season as head coach in 2015, the Bulls are still looking to reach their first postseason game under him. Buffalo needs to win each of its final two games in order to go bowling. Buffalo may be in a favorable spot this week, but topping Ohio next week could be a different story. However, next week means nothing if Buffalo can't get this one.
Buffalo may not quite be where head coach Lance Leipold is trying to get the Bulls, but they are clearly ahead of Ball State in this matchup. Look for Buffalo to take advantage of the big plays courtesy of the MAC's second-best passing offense led by wide receiver Anthony Johnson and sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson (406 yards, 3 TDs last week vs. Bowling Green). If Buffalo gets its aerial attack off to a good start, Ball State will struggle to keep up the pace.
Prediction: Buffalo 34, Ball State 24
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of www.ubbulls.com)