Neither Buffalo nor Ohio garnered much consideration for the top spot in the MAC East in preseason predictions, but Tuesday night's showdown in Athens is suddenly a key matchup in the division. Kent State and Miami (Ohio) were the preseason favorites in the East, and while neither team is out of the mix, the Bulls are 4-0 and Bobcats are 3-1 in league play (and both are 5-3 overall). The winner of Tuesday night's game will take a big step forward in the race to claim the division title.
Although Buffalo has been flying under the national radar, this team has made considerable progress after last year's 4-8 mark. After Lance Leipold left for Kansas following spring ball, Michigan assistant Maurice Linguist was hired as the program's new head coach. The Bulls struggled with the coaching and overall roster transition last year but have shown marked improvement in '22. After an 0-3 start, they have reeled off five wins in a row, including a 34-27 victory over Toledo on Oct. 22. Buffalo plays at Central Michigan on Nov. 9 but plays its final two matchups — Akron and Kent State — at home.
Similar to Buffalo, Ohio had to navigate a late coaching change last year after Frank Solich retired and longtime lieutenant Tim Albin was promoted to head coach. The Bobcats went 3-9 in Albin's debut but showed some improvement late in the year. That has carried over into 2022, as Ohio is one win away from bowl eligibility (5-3) and has won three games in a row. Also, one loss (Kent State) came by seven, and the other two (Penn State and Iowa State) were against Power 5 opponents.
Ohio holds a 16-11 series edge over Buffalo. The Bulls defeated the Bobcats 27-26 last year. However, Ohio won the previous two games and has not lost to Buffalo in Athens since '08.
Buffalo at Ohio
When Buffalo Has the Ball
Buffalo's offense ranks third in the MAC in scoring (30.8 a game) and fifth in yards per play (5.3). However, an offense that leans slightly to the run (330 rush attempts vs. 272 passes) ranks No. 108 nationally in success rate. More consistency is needed here, but this unit has succeeded at scoring in the red zone (second in the MAC) and ranks second in the conference in plays of 40-plus (10).
Although Buffalo could use more down-to-down consistency, this group is likely to find room to operate on Tuesday night. Ohio's defense ranks 10th in the MAC against the run, giving Ron Cook Jr. (496 yards), Mike Washington (487), and Al-Jay Henderson (182) lanes on the ground. Opponents are averaging 4.8 yards per rush against Ohio, and MAC opponents Kent State (338) and Northern Illinois (267) shredded this group earlier this year.
Quarterback Cole Snyder ranks fifth in the MAC in passer rating (130.7) and has thrown for 1,907 yards and 12 touchdowns through eight contests. The Rutgers transfer has tossed five interceptions over 270 attempts, but four of those came in two games (UMass and Coastal Carolina). He's also added 131 yards and four scores on the ground. Helping Snyder out is a talented group of playmakers on the outside, including Justin Marshall (35 catches), Quian Williams (41), and Jamari Gassett (25). Ohio's secondary ranks 10th in the MAC in pass efficiency defense, so similar to the battle up front, this group is going to have its hands full.
Each of Ohio's first six opponents scored at least 30 points, but this group held Western Michigan to 14 and Northern Illinois to 17. Was that a sign of things to come or playing struggling offenses (in NIU's case with a backup QB)? The Bobcats give up too many big plays (15 of 40-plus), struggle to generate pressure in MAC games (nine sacks), and allow nearly seven yards a snap (6.9).
When Ohio Has the Ball
It's strength versus strength when Ohio has the ball. The Bobcats rank second in the MAC in scoring (32 points a game) and first in yards per play (6.34). Buffalo will counter with one of the conference's top defenses, as Linguist's group is holding teams to 24.8 points a game and 5.5 yards per snap (MAC contests). The Bulls will give up some yards but have found a way to get stops. Turnovers have played a part in that, as Buffalo leads the MAC in takeaways (17).
The development of quarterback Kurtis Rourke is a big reason why Ohio's offense has improved on the stat sheet this year. The Canada native leads the MAC in passer rating (159.7), passing yards (301), and is first in yards per attempt (8.8). Rourke is completing 68.5 percent of his passes and can pick up yards when needed on the ground (189 rushing yds, 4 TDs). Through the air has been the Bobcats' best method of attack, as the offense ranks No. 1 in the MAC in passing yards (308.5) a contest. Sam Wiglusz (50 catches) has been Rourke's favorite target, with James Bostic (18), Jacoby Jones (23), and Miles Cross (27) rounding out the top weapons. Buffalo's pass rush has been quiet in MAC games (eight sacks), but the secondary has held up well (fourth in the conference in pass efficiency defense).
Ohio's rushing attack ranks 11th in the MAC in per-game production (118.1), with Sieh Bangura (495 yards) as the go-to option. However, conference opponents have found room against Buffalo's defense (169.3 yards a game), so there could be opportunities for Bangura and Rourke to find rushing lanes on Tuesday night.
Three out of the last four meetings between these two teams were decided by one score. Considering Buffalo and Ohio have combined for seven games that were decided by eight points or less in 2022, and the recent series history, this one is likely to go down to the wire on Tuesday night. Both teams should be able to move the ball successfully on offense, but while the gap isn't too wide on the stat sheet on defense, one side has an edge. With Buffalo more capable of getting a stop or two late to get the ball back to Snyder and the offense, that might be enough to win on Tuesday. As we see most weeks in the MAC, this one is a toss-up. But let's give a slight edge to the Bulls.
Prediction: Buffalo 31, Ohio 27
*Price as of publication.