Buffalo took a step backwards last season, winning just two games after going 5-7 in head coach Lance Leipold’s 2015 debut. The Bulls ranked last in the MAC in points scored and 10th in points allowed per game, so there’s room for improvement on both sides of the ball. Leipold is hoping a dual-threat quarterback and trio of running backs can give the receiving corps time to develop, but that’s somewhat dependent upon how quickly an improving offensive line comes together. The defense returns eight starters, but this is a unit that ranked last in the conference against the run. Leipold has brought in more talent into the program, now is the time for some of these young guys to take a step forward, even if it doesn’t result in more wins this fall.
Previewing Buffalo Football’s Offense for 2017
There is nowhere to go but up for an offense that has lacked big-play ability the past two years. The best reason to expect improvement is sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson, a 6'7", 245-pounder with a cannon arm. He can run, too, gaining 399 yards on the ground. After starting nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, Jackson looks poised for a breakthrough.
The offensive line should be better. Impressive Rutgers transfer Jacquis Webb takes over the left tackle job. Quality center James O’Hagan anchors a more experienced middle three. Grambling transfer Paul Nosworthy adds quality depth, at the least.
UB has been recruiting well-regarded running backs for several years now, so there is no panic over replacing stellar Jordan Johnson. Johnathan Hawkins, Theo Anderson and Kamerion Pickett should rack up yards.
The big question mark is wide receiver. The leading returnee, Kamathi Holsey, had only 19 catches. UB tied for 10th in the MAC in pass plays of 20-plus yards two years ago and tied for eighth last year. Defenses have squatted on the passing game for too long. Maybe talented junior college transfer Anthony Johnson can break out after sitting last season. Ditto for youngsters K.J. Osborn and Antonio Nunn. Jacob Martinez and Jamarl Eiland have ability in the slot, but UB hasn’t used slot wideouts well the past two years. The coaches must do a better job establishing an offensive identity.
Previewing Buffalo Football’s Defense for 2017
The good news for the UB defense that is eight starters return. But the Bulls need several of them to take leaps forward in performance, because the team ranked 10th in the MAC in points allowed and 124th in the nation in run defense. Of course, a little more support from the offense would help. UB faced the fourth-most rushing attempts in the country.
Khalil Hodge, a second-team All-MAC performer, is an asset at middle linebacker. Chris Ford and Justin Brandon should form a capable defensive tackle combination. Ends Demone Harris and Charles Harris (no relation) need to make more noise, and the Bulls need a young player to become a situational edge rusher. The hope is Jordan Collier and some speedy backups add more range on the field side at outside linebacker. UB gave up 10 runs of 40-plus yards (only eight teams allowed more). The Bulls weren’t assignment sound against QB option runs, either.
UB has been accumulating young talent at cornerback, starting with capable Cameron Lewis. Consistency at safety has been a problem. Ryan Williamson and Tim Roberts both like to hit. The Bulls need another player to step into the safety rotation.
Previewing Buffalo Football’s Specialists for 2017
Lack of depth at linebacker has hindered the Bulls’ special teams in recent years. UB is confident it has more contributors at the position, which should help. Placekicker Adam Mitcheson has two seasons of experience and should be ready for a strong junior season. The punting duties will be decided between Kyle DeWeen, who won the job as a walk-on last year, and sophomore Taylor Sheets.
The 2016 season was a reality check for the program. Coach Lance Leipold added some much-needed speed the past two years, but it will take time for the youth to develop. Strength coach Ryan Cidzik is in only his second year. Good player development is critical for the Bulls, who aren’t in a position to recruit more polished products than the MAC powers. More patience is required for a program that has had just two winning seasons in 18 years at the FBS level. If Jackson can make good progress this season, the future will look a lot brighter.
National Ranking: 123
MAC East Prediction: 5
(Khalil Hodge photo courtesy of Paul Hokanson/UBBulls.com)