Group of 5 Spotlight: Buffalo Bulls DE Chuck Harris' Fast Rise; Old Dominion's Royal Upset

Harris' impressive start has thrust him into the conversation for MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors

It's been a good first month for the Buffalo Bulls. They improved to 4-0 last week, their best start since becoming a Div. I-A/FBS program 19 years ago, culminating in a 42-13 shellacking of Rutgers — Buffalo's first-ever win against a Big Ten opponent.

 

Already boasting a win over Temple in Week 2, which scored a victory just a week later against the Big Ten's Maryland Terrapins, the Bulls are planting their flag and flying it high in New York.

 

 

A matchup this week with in-state opponent Army could provide another nice resume boost, with the Black Knights fresh off taking Oklahoma to overtime in Norman. A win would complete a perfect September heading into Mid-American Conference play for head coach Lance Leipold's program — a program steadily building to this level in Leipold's fourth season.

 

The foundation was laid almost immediately upon the six-time Div. III national championship-winning coach arriving from UW-Whitewater with his first recruiting class. Leipold signed a pair of prospects out of Michigan who have developed into NFL draft-caliber talents in their time at Buffalo: quarterback Tyree Jackson, and defensive end Chuck Harris.

 

But whereas Jackson lettered each of his four years at Mona Shores High School before becoming a Bull, Harris only played three years of organized football total prior to college.

 

"I used to hang out with the football players," said Harris, despite not being on the Southfield Arts & Tech High School team. "I never came out [for the team] because the timing wasn't right."

 

Harris said he played a lot of basketball, and in pick-up football games, but it wasn't until his high school coach became the first to sort of recruit Harris that he was part of an actual team. Just a few years later, he was recruited again by Leipold.

 

Buffalo offered the ideal situation for the football newcomer. Harris said he knew Buffalo was right for him immediately upon his official visit, citing the respect and enthusiasm the Bulls staff showed. UB also allowed Harris to fulfill his wish to go away from Detroit for a bit — "but not too far," he adds.

 

In just a few whirlwind years, Harris went from out of the game, to signing his letter of intent, and participating in his first year with the program.

 

"Participating as a true freshman, playing in live games, helped me a lot," Harris said. And he made an immediate impact as a reserve with three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

 

Now in his fourth year in the program, and with motivation from new defensive ends coach Roc Bellantoni — "Coach Roc always stays on me," Harris said — the defensive end is putting together a career season.

 

He's racked up five sacks through four games, tied for third in college football. Harris is second on the team behind only tackling machine and another NFL-caliber prospect, Khalil Hodge, with 21 total tackles. He's already forced a pair of fumbles, tying Harris for third in the nation.

 

Continued at his current pace, Harris would finish the 2018 regular season with 63 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks. Compare that to the MAC Player of the Year stat line of another recent player: 100 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks.

 

That's the 2013 output of Khalil Mack, whose performance for the NFL's Chicago Bears adds to the outstanding September Buffalo football's enjoyed.

 

"I actually didn't know that," Harris said of his torrid pace comparable to Mack. "I can't make that comparison. That's a Hall of Famer right there."

 

OK, so Mack might be an unfair benchmark against which to measure any player. But as a pillar for his team, Harris has the potential to lead Buffalo to unprecedented heights. The Bulls have already hit some impressive milestones in 2018. Might a MAC championship be in line?

 

"That's always the goal," Harris said. "But this team, it really feels like things are happening."

 

A Royal Flush

Our friends in the desert pegged winless Old Dominion as a 28.5-point underdog in the Monarchs' Week 4 home date with No. 13-ranked Virginia Tech. That number only matters insomuch as it provides context to definitively call Old Dominion's 49-35 win the biggest upset of this college football season to date.

 

Well, 28.5 points also would have made an intriguing over/under for Old Dominion's fourth-quarter scoring. The under won ... barely. The 28 points the Monarchs scored in the final 15 minutes — two via Jeremy Cox rushing touchdowns, two on Blake LaRussa touchdowns passes — were more than Old Dominion scored in any of its previous three games.

 

"We tried several different coverages," Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente said in his postgame press conference. "We threw the kitchen sink at them. We didn’t always handle the adjustments very well."

 

Saturday's win is another milestone for the Old Dominion, still a relatively young program. Much like the victory is quantifiably the biggest upset of the season in college football; it doubles as the biggest win period in program history. It's the Monarchs' first against a Top 25 opponent, made all the more impressive by it coming against an in-commonwealth counterpart. Head coach Bobby Wilder and his staff should be able to get some mileage out of this on the recruiting trail.

 

Through each new landmark in the growth of the program, Wilder's been on the sideline. He coached Old Dominion in its 2009 debut season, to a pair of Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs in 2011 and '12, through the Monarchs' FBS transition in 2014, to 10 wins and a first-ever bowl game in 2016, and now the upset that shocked everyone.

 

 

Mean (Joe) Green(e)

North Texas boasts the coolest play of the college football season thus far with Keegan Brewer's punt return-fakeout. Now, the Mean Green can also stake claim to the best hype video of 2018 to date.

 

 

If the Academy Awards introduce a College Football category, consider this entry starring "Mean" Joe Greene and LaDarius Hamilton your front-runner. The production was, "a collaborative team effort, involving our equipment staff, creative/video/communications group, as well as our marketing team and our VP and director of Athletics Wren Baker," per Jordan Stepp of the North Texas athletic communications staff.

 

North Texas legend Greene's iconic Coca-Cola commercial from 1979 has been referenced throughout pop culture for the past four decades on programs like Family Guy.

 

 

But the North Texas homage best stacks up to the original.

 

Hamilton will sport the iconic No. 75 when the Mean Green honor "Mean" Greene this week against Conference USA counterpart Louisiana Tech.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of TheOpenMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

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