#98 Buffalo Football 2016 Preview

Buffalo Bulls
Overall Rank: #98
#7 Mid-American

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Year one under Coach Lance Leipold went quite well for Buffalo. The Bulls won a couple of non-conference games against Albany and Florida Atlantic and managed to win three MAC games in a row against Ohio, Miami and Kent State, with the latter two coming on the road. Those are pretty decent wins for a rebuilding program. However, Coach Leipold had a lot of experience on offense and now the reloading really begins. Still, with a year of experience in the new regime, this is a Bulls squad that should again have a shot at bowl eligibility in late November.
2015 Record: 5-7, 3-5
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Lance Leipold (5-7 at Buffalo, 5-7 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Andy Kotelnicki
Defensive Coordinator: Brian Borland
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jordan Johnson, RB, 811 yards
Passing: None
Receiving: Marcus McGill, WR, 581 yards
Tackles: Brandon Berry, LB, 104
Sacks: Brandon Crawford, DE, 2.0
Interceptions: Ryan Williamson, S, 2; Boise Ross, CB, 2; Andrews Dadeboe, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: QB Chris Merchant, WR Collin Lisa, WR Mason Schreck, OL Roubbens Joseph, OL Brandon Manosalvas
Key Losses: QB Joe Licata, TE Matt Weiser, WR Ron Willoughby, OL John Kling, LB Nick Gilbo, LB Okezie Alozie
Coach Leipold is a defensive guy, so expect much better things on that side of the ball moving forward. It starts with a defensive line that was terribly inexperienced last year, but is now growing up. Brandon Crawford is the explosive defensive end and Chris Ford and Max Perisse are developing into solid interior linemen. Crawford tallied just two sacks in 2015 though and that number must go up if this defense is going to win games for the Bulls. Brandon Berry is back after tallying 104 tackles to lead the linebacker corps. However, Buffalo needs to find a couple new linebackers to flank Berry with Nick Gilbo and Okezie Alozie gone. A healthy Jarrett Franklin, who missed all of last season, should help. The secondary was pretty good last year, ranking fifth in the MAC in pass defense. With the return of cornerback Boise Ross and safeties Ryan Williamson and Andrews Dadeboe, the unit should be even better. That will be especially true if the front four can get more consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Unfortunately for the defense, they could play very well and still see their numbers drop due to massive holes on offense. It is a solid defense, but not one that can consistently win games for the Bulls if the offense is struggling. It seems like Joe Licata has been under center at Buffalo forever so it will be a new look for Buffalo with somebody else playing quarterback. Grant Rohach, a graduate transfer from Iowa State, appears to be next in line, but sophomore Chris Merchant and redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson are in the mix too. Jackson has the ability to run and that dynamic could be one of the few things Buffalo’s offense has going for it this season. Of course, whoever can actually throw the ball efficiently and effectively, will get the starting job for now. As big of a deal as it is losing Licata, losing Ron Willoughby and Matt Weiser is a bigger problem. Those two combined to catch 124 passes for 1,431 yards in 2015. Starting running back Anthone Taylor has also run out of eligibility and finished his collegiate career as Buffalo’s fifth all-time leading rusher. Jordan Johnson is an explosive back though and split carries with Taylor a year ago, so at least there is one experienced option at running back.
The Bottom Line:
The offense will be very interesting to watch early in the season. Coach Leipold and coordinator Andy Kotelnicki want to throw the ball. Last year they road with the personnel they had and did what Buffalo was doing the previous years with Licata under center. Now the new staff has an opportunity to mix up what they do on offense and the whole unit could look drastically different as far as scheme is concerned. The schedule plays out pretty nicely too with home games against Albany, Army, Kent State, Ball State, Akron and Miami. The most winnable games on the slate are at home. It may get ugly on the road, but if Buffalo can hold serve at home, they will be bowling and looking ahead to a very promising future.
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 136.9 (103rd in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 249.5 (43, 6)
Total Offense: 386.4 (71, 8)
Scoring Offense: 26.7 (82, 6)
Rushing Defense: 186.1 (84, 10)
Pass Defense: 227.3 (69, 5)
Total Defense: 413.4 (81, 7)
Scoring Defense: 27.6 (72, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (66, 9)
Sacks: 1.83 (83, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.33 (25, 5)