The Buffalo Bulls entered the 2020 college football season among the favorites to win the MAC, and the first two games have done nothing to change that. Buffalo beat Northern Illinois 49-30 on the road in its opener and followed with a commanding 42-10 victory over defending conference champion Miami (Ohio). Should we expect more of the same this week with the Bowling Green Falcons on deck? After all, rebuilding Bowling Green is 0-2 following losses to Toledo and Kent State by a combined score of 100-27.
Buffalo at Bowling Green
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Buffalo -31.5
When Buffalo Has the Ball
Buffalo ranked No. 10 nationally in rushing offense (250.5 ypg) in 2019, and though the Bulls have been slightly less productive in 2020 to date (193.5, No. 38), few non-option rushing attacks are as dangerous. Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks Jr. make up the MAC's top running back duo and both rank among the top 10 in the conference in rushing. Patterson sits fourth on the leaderboard with 210 yards on 40 carries, including four touchdowns, and Marks ranks 10th with 141 yards on just 22 attempts (6.4 ypc).
Quarterback Kyle Vantrease is off to a terrific start as a passer as well. Vantrease averaged 6.9 yards per pass attempt in 2019 and hit 9.0 in a game twice while throwing for 1,193 yards with a 58.7 percent completion rate, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions. His career-high for passing yards in a game was 208. In 2020, Vantrease has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 528 yards — including 353 last week against Miami (Ohio) — with five TDs and one interception. He has averaged 12.0 yards per pass attempt, surpassing 10.3 in both outings.
Receivers Antonio Nunn, Jovany Ruiz, and Trevor Wilson, along with tight end Zac Lefebvre, have played a big role in Vantrease's success as a passer. Nunn leads the team with 11 receptions, 239 yards, and two touchdowns, and his 119.5 receiving yards per game ranks second in the MAC. Ruiz has 42 yards and a touchdown on four receptions, and though Wilson has just two catches — both of them coming last week against Miami — one was a 78-yard touchdown, giving him 103 yards on the season. Lefebvre leads all MAC tight ends in receptions (6) and receiving yards (109) and he has scored once.
When Bowling Green Has the Ball
Bowling Green limped to a 3-9 record in 2019, including a 2-6 mark in MAC play, with an offense that ranked 128th in scoring (16.0 ppg), 124th in yards per play (4.56), and 120th in total yardage (319.1 per game). There was hope for improvement with a Power 5 transfer quarterback (Matt McDonald, who originally signed with Boston College), a pair of talented, veteran running backs (Andrew Clair and Bryson Denley), an All-MAC candidate tight end (Quintin Morris), and one of the best recruiting classes in the conference (No. 2, according to 247Sports). Unfortunately, the first two games have produced similar results.
The Falcons have averaged 13.5 points per game, 316.0 total yards per game, and 5.06 yards per play thus far, which rank No. 122, No. 116, and No. 100, respectively, out of 126 active FBS teams this year. McDonald has completed just 14 of 50 pass attempts — a dreadful 28.0 percent, which is 18.9 percentage points fewer than the second-worst MAC quarterback — for 233 yards and zero touchdowns with two interceptions while averaging 4.7 yards per attempt (1.0 less than any other MAC signal-caller). His 59.14 rating is the lowest in the league by a huge margin. Julian Ortega-Jones is tied for the team lead in both receptions (4) and yards (66). Morris has also caught four passes but has gained only 37 yards. Noah Massey has 66 receiving yards on three catches, and Tyrone Broden's three grabs have resulted in 64 yards.
Clair and Denley haven't helped much, either. Clair ran for 37 yards on 12 carries in the opener but sat out last week, and it's unclear if he will be able to return Tuesday. Denley has averaged just 2.3 yards per carry across two games, gaining 35 yards on 15 attempts. However, two freshmen have been bright spots — especially true freshman Terion Stewart, who ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries last week, an average of 11.6 yards per attempt. Trevon Raymore, a 240-pound redshirt freshman, ranks second on the unit with 103 yards on a team-high 21 carries.
The Falcons were just as bad defensively last season, and early indications are things could get worse before they get better for Brian VanGorder's unit. In 2019, Bowling Green ranked 126th out of 130 FBS teams in scoring (38.6 ppg), 129th in yards allowed per play (7.03), and 117th in total defense (467.2 ypg), including 242.8 rushing yards per game, which ranked 126th. So far in 2020, Bowling Green has allowed an FBS-worst 50.0 points per game, 595.5 total yards per contest, and 302.5 rushing yards per game. Bowling Green ranks slightly better with an average of 6.73 yards per play allowed — currently 110th.
While Toledo and Kent State are both quality opponents, Buffalo's offense is arguably better and presents more balance than either of Bowling Green's first two opponents. The Bulls also have a deeper and more talented defense, led by defensive lineman Malcolm Koonce, linebackers James Patterson and Kadofi Wright, and defensive back Tyrone Hill — all of which have All-MAC potential. The unexpected often happens in the MAC. Nevertheless, we should expect another easy Buffalo victory and another blowout loss for Bowling Green.
Prediction: Buffalo 45, Bowling Green 13
(Jaret Patterson photo by Paul Hokanson/UBBulls.com)