The Bulls rank No. 89 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018
Buffalo was one of three 6-6 teams that didn't receive a postseason invitation. Their six losses came by a combined 29 points, and the largest was a 10-point defeat at Minnesota in the opener. Heightened expectations for the Bulls begin with towering quarterback Tyree Jackson, the 6'7", 245-pound dual threat who produced 2,293 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns with only three interceptions in eight games as a sophomore.
Previewing Buffalo Football's Offense for 2018
When a knee injury forced Jackson out, Drew Anderson (transferred to Murray State this offseason) compiled 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns with just one turnover before sustaining a shoulder injury. Along with third-stringer Kyle Vantrease, who started one game as a true freshman, the Bulls' quarterbacks combined to lead the MAC in passing offense (290.8 ypg).
Buffalo boasts the top returning receiver in the nation in Anthony Johnson. The 6'2", 207-pound junior college transfer caught 76 passes for 1,356 yards and a school-record 14 touchdowns last season. He ranked second in the country in receiving yards per game (113.0). Returning starters K.J. Osborn and tight end Tyler Mabry are also athletic targets. Antonio Nunn emerged as deep threat as a freshman.
Running back Johnathan Hawkins entered last season atop the depth chart but played in only three games before getting shut down with a shoulder injury. Emmanuel Reed averaged 94.3 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown over the final 10 games. Hawkins is the bigger back (5'11", 208), but the 5'8" Reed can be tough to tackle. Jackson was the Bulls' second-leading rusher through four games but stopped scrambling after he returned from injury and will continue to be judicious about leaving the pocket.
Three starters return from an offensive line than allowed only 17 sacks, including third-team all-conference center James O'Hagan and left tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk.
Previewing Buffalo Football's Defense for 2018
The Bulls bring back the bulk of a unit that improved from 95th to 48th in scoring defense. Excluding a seven-overtime shootout with Western Michigan, they allowed 20.5 points in the other 11 games.
All-MAC middle linebacker Khalil Hodge returns after finishing second in the country with 154 tackles. Senior Chuck Harris is an anchor at defensive end, but Buffalo must replace top pass rusher Demone Harris. Junior college transfer Atunaisa Vainikolo should slot next to 305-pound senior Justin Brandon in the middle of the D-line. UAB transfer Jordan Collier flourished at outside linebacker after converting from safety, but the weak-side position is a big question mark.
Senior cornerbacks Cameron Lewis, Brandon Williams and Tatum Slack all started at least six games last season. Lewis battled injuries but is the best of the group when healthy. Both starting safeties graduated. Junior college transfer Joey Banks is expected to fill one of the spots. The Bulls' eight interceptions last year ranked second to last in the MAC.
Previewing Buffalo Football's Specialists for 2018
Placekicker Adam Mitcheson missed a MAC-high nine field goals last year, including a couple of potential game-winners. Osborn is capable but unspectacular as a returner.
Coach Lance Leipold won five Division III national championships at Wisconsin-Whitewater but has not reached the postseason in three years at Buffalo. With so much firepower returning, anything less than a trip to a bowl game will be a major disappointment.