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OUR BUFFALO BULLS FOOTBALL DEPTH CHART DEEP DIVE
Plus: What to expect from a surprisingly frisky MAC slate in October.
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THE LATEST UB FOOTBALL NEWS:
Vaccinated or not, you need to wear a mask if you’re going to see the Bulls play at UB Stadium this season.
The News also ran pretty interesting three-part series on the transfer portal and its impact on programs and athletes. Spoiler alert: it’s been brutal.
It’s a few weeks old now, but Hustle Belt had a nice look at UB’s secondary.
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THE BUFFALO BULLS 2021 DEPTH CHART
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We’re getting closer to Thursday, Sept. 2. The moderately anticipated Game 1 showdown between Buffalo and in-state rival(?) Wagner—an FCS squad predicted to be buried in the Northeast Division cellar—kicks off at 7 p.m. and can be viewed on ESPN3.
Don’t expect a nail-biter: OddsShark predicts the score of this game at 53.8-0 in favor of the Bulls. The Action Network is currently making UB a 48.5-point favorite with an over/under of 57.5. Let’s just say not a lot of sharps are banging the money line on Wagner.
This game does have ramifications for Buffalo. Teams with a minimum of six wins and a .500 record are bowl-eligible. One of those wins can come against an FCS squad, presuming that the FCS team is using at least 90% of its 63 allotted scholarships (that’s 57 scholarships).
UB’s last loss to a non-major was a 22-16 decision to Albany in 2016, the first game of the Lance Leipold era. The Bulls finished 2-10.
In the words of S.E. Hinton, that was then, this is now. Let’s take a look at this year’s team.
Bulls on parade: UB’s offense
Image from ubbulls.com
Kyle Vantrease (pictured above) is a 6’3, 220-pound redshirt senior and a third-year starter. He’s thrown for 2,519 career yards and 15 TDs while taking just three sacks and tossing five INTs.
Vantrease will work with a talented new wide receiver this season— Eastern Michigan transfer Quian Williams. He’ll need to build a relationship with receiver Dominic Johnson, a member of the men’s basketball team and a former quarterback who had just five catches for 43 yards in 2020.
Vantrease does not lack for confidence; He’s won two bowl games, and enjoys a fine post-game cigar.
Expect former starter Matt Myers, the 2018 Buffalo News Player of the Year as a high schooler at West Seneca (N.Y.) West, to see the field, as well. Myers brings a level of elusiveness and dynamism to the table that Vantrease can’t quite match, although he’s not quite as polished a passer.
It’s fair to hypothesize that so goes Kevin Marks, Jr., so goes the offense. Marks is UB’s seventh all-time leading rusher with 2,681 yards, and he’s sixth all-time in touchdowns (28).
Marks flirted with the transfer portal in the offseason but decided to return to Buffalo, where he’ll be The Man—but will surely notice the absence of former backfield mate Jaret Patterson (pictured below), who’s earning himself a spot on the WFT roster in the NFL, as well as three starting offensive linemen from the 2020 season.
Also in the rotation will be well-regarded scatback Ron Cook, Jr., a sophomore from Washington, D.C., better known for his skills as a kick returner, and Buffalo native Dylan McDuffie, who will likely take on a larger role after posting four yards on one rushing attempt in 2020.
Image from emueagles.com
It’s going to be touch and go in the receiver room. Losing top wideout Antonio Nunn to the NFL (he’s in the Atlanta Falcons’ camp) and Trevor Solomon-Wilson, the team’s second-leading receiver, to Kansas, will hurt.
Even so, Quian Williams (pictured above) is intriguing. He snagged 76 passes for 983 yards and eight touchdowns for EMU over the past two seasons. He slipped down the Eagles’ depth chart in 2020, but he’s still the most experienced player in this bunch.
Jovany Ruiz—a former walk-on from nearby Fredonia, N.Y.—caught 20 balls for 192 yards and a touchdown in 2020.
Dominic Johnson was recruited as a quarterback before moving to wide receiver in 2020. As suspected, there was a transition period, and he grabbed just five passes for 43 yards in seven games.
The X-factor in this group: Khamran Laborn, a lightning-fast junior college transfer from Norfolk, Virginia (he’s Kevin Marks’ cousin) with a knack for finding the end zone. His older brother, Khalan, was a five-star recruit who spent three years at Florida State.
Khamran is small—5’9, 165-pounds— but potentially an exciting, all-around weapon.
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Men of mystery! Zac Lefebvre, last year’s top tight end target, is starting a career as a personal trainer in Central New York. Jake Molinich (pictured above, #44) led the remaining trio in 2020 with one catch for six yards.
Cole Burniston, a junior and a former All-New York State and All-Western New York running back at Canisius High School, has one touchdown catch in his career but he’s special teams stalwart.
Sophomore Trevor Borland is a blocking specialist, which may be helpful given the flux on the offensive line.
Redshirt sophomore and three-star recruit Tyler Stephens may sneak to the head of the pack by season’s end—a 6’6’, 230-pound sophomore with 1,064 yards and 12 touchdowns in his senior year at LaBrae (Ohio) High School.
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There’s some serious flux on the offensive line courtesy of the Kansas exodus spurred when former Head Coach Lance Leipold took a job (and a decent chunk of the team) to Lawrence.
Jack Klenk and Jake Fuzak are the stalwarts here, the lone holdovers from last year’s dominant bunch that limited opponents to one sack and powered Buffalo to the second-leading rushing attack in the nation.
Caelen Shepherd (6’6, 290), a redshirt sophomore and former 2nd Team All-Maryland high schooler, doesn’t have a ton of game reps.
Eastern Kentucky transfer LG Jordan Johnson, a three-year starter, would have been a great addition at left guard —but after getting announced as a member of the team in June, he was gone within days and is apparently through with football.
Sophomore Bence Polgar (6’3, 288-pounds) and Swiss junior Alain Schaerer (6’3, 287-pounds) are large men, but have a combined six games of experience. It’s going to be a baptism by fire for these guys.
Running of the Bulls: UB’s defense
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Taylor Riggins (pictured above) was a 2019 All-MAC edge rusher who missed 2020 with injury. He will be asked to step in for Malcolm Koonce, another All-MAC star who was nabbed by the Las Vegas Raiders in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Riggins, who checks in at a fearsome 6’2, 245-pounds, racked up 50 tackles (10 for losses), 8.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries two years ago. Buffalo would love to have that production back.
Six-foot-three, 247-pound defensive end Eric Black carved out a place on the line after walking onto the team in 2018. He’s played in 18 games over the past two seasons, including seven as a starter in 2020. Four and a half of his 19 career tackles are for losses.
Sophomore tackle George Wolo, a large man at 6’2, 270-pounds, made an impact as a freshman with 27 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. Wolo recorded seven tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble against Ball State in the MAC Championship Game
Fellow lineman Dom Polizzi, a 6-1, 282-pound walk-on from Brockport, N.Y., had six tackles and a fumble recovery in 2020.
Bigger things are expected from both Wolo and Polizzi this year, especially with the loss of Eddie Wilson to—you guessed it—Kansas.
Add junior Max Michel to the mix here, too. The junior recorded 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks last season. He played his best game in the Camellia Bowl, notching six tackles, a forced fumble, and a sack.
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Maybe the strongest unit on the team: three seniors, three potential game-changers.
James Patterson (pictured above) is Jaret Patterson’s 6’0, 230-pound fraternal twin brother and a football savant in his own right. In 2020, he was an All-MAC linebacker and the team leader in tackles, and a four-year starter.
Big things are also expected of Kadofi Wright, a 6’3, 230 Richmond product who’s been called “the most freakish athlete in the game.” He’s back for his sixth season, courtesy of COVID rules. Can he be as reliable as Patterson while providing explosive, game-changing plays like his 65-yard pick-six against Northern Illinois?
Tim Terry, a 6’2, 230-pound Pittsburgh native, recorded 21 tackles and took a fumble to the house in the season opener against Northern Illinois.
Image from ubbulls.com
Despite senior CB Tyrone Hill, Jr.’s transfer to Eastern Washington, UB’s defensive backfield is loaded with talent.
Ja’Marcus Ingram arrives from Texas Tech and may just end up starting at one of the corner positions.
Cory Gross is a physical safety who handed out 42 tackles in 2020.
E.J. Brown is a super senior safety with 18 tackles of his own last season.
Isaiah King has a nose for the ball carrier and scored a touchdown against Northern Illinois.
Aapri Washington (pictured above), banged up last season, had a breakout 2019 with 32 tackles and two INTs.
Hard-hitting safety Marcus Fuqua had a pick last season.
Keep an eye on the progress of cornerbacks Wankeith Akin, Mark Davis, and Larry Robbins, each of whom struggled with injuries in 2020.
Kick Bull: The Specialists
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Kicker Alex McNulty (pictured above) was a perfect 42-for-42 on PATs in 2020...but was 1-for-4 on FG attempts.
Punter Evan Finnegan averaged 38.8 yards per punt and looked shaky at times. Can Jackson Balter give either of the incumbents a challenge? The door is certainly open.
PREVIEWING BUFFALO’S MAC GAUNTLET
Previously, we ran through the Bulls’ non-conference schedule. Let’s see what the Mid-American Conference has to offer when the #MACtion starts in October.
Image from wmubroncos.com
Western Michigan at Buffalo (Homecoming Weekend)
Saturday, Oct. 2 at 12 p.m. TV TBD.
Western Michigan had the 118th-most experienced team in FBS last year, but still managed to win four of six games—and was a victory away from taking the MAC West.
The Broncos had the 16th-ranked offense in the nation in 2020, and should be strong once again with the return of Kaleb Eleby (1,700 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, two interceptions; pictured above) and former Michigan State RB La’Darius Jefferson (624 rushing yards, four touchdowns).
The defense will also be a problem, as Jackson Caudell of Fansided notes:
The team’s top pass rusher Ali Fayad is back for his senior season and for his career he has 16.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Ralph Holley is going to lead the interior and he was a first-team All-MAC. …(and) The secondary is going to return plenty of experience this season. At cornerback, Patrick Lupro is the top guy on the outside and he has all-conference potential and he will be joined by Keith Jones. At safety, the top three guys return and A.J. Thomas, Bricen Garner, and Harrison Taylor combined for 115 tackles last season and could be in for big years in 2021.
Phil Steele wrote that Western Michigan is bringing back 19 starters and “look like (Head Coach Tim) Lester’s best team yet and they could be favored in 3 of their 4 MAC games. This team is very capable of finally getting over that last hurdle and getting to their first MAC title game since 2016.”
Image from kentstatesports.com
Buffalo At Kent State
Saturday, Oct. 9, Time TBA. TV TBD.
Kent State has a brutal non-conference September: a season opener at Texas A&M and road trips to Iowa and Maryland. After a breather against Bowling Green, the Head Coach Sean Lewis’ Golden Flashes face Buffalo at home and Western Michigan and Ohio on the road.
Kent State may be up to the challenge.
Lewis’ FlashFAST offense racked up 607 yards and 50 points a game in only four contests in 2020, and including a 70-41 loss to Buffalo. Eighteen starters are returning, like 1st Team All-MAC QB Dustin Crum, leading rushers Marquez Cooper (pictured above) and Bryan Bradford, and the entire starting offensive line.
Four-year Syracuse WR Nykeim Johnson, Jr. transferred into the program, joining Ja’Shaun Poke, a 5’10, 170-pound cheat code and one of the fastest men in FBS.
The defense may be a problem notes Pete Fiutak of College Football News:
Eight of the top nine tacklers are back and most of the starters are there, but is there more talent and production? As good as the offense was, the defense gave up yards and points just as fast, allowing 38 points per game and having a nightmare of a time against the run.
The 70 points the Flashes gave up to UB was their worst performance against a conference foe in school history. Overall, the Kent State defense was ranked 80th in Division 1 in 2020.
“The unit should improve,” admits ESPN.com’s Bill Connolly, “but it's still a long way from good.”
Connolly has pegged for a 4-8 season; the MAC media, however, overwhelmingly tabbed the Flashes as the MAC East favorite.
Image from ohiobobcats.com
Ohio At Buffalo
Saturday, Oct. 16, Time TBA. TV TBD.
Frank Solich retired in July and assistant-turned-head coach Tim Albin is rolling with a redshirt freshman, Kurtis Rourke, at quarterback, but does have the cushion of senior Bobcats peppered healthily throughout his offense.
“Ohio brings back almost its entire offensive two-deep and seven defensive starters, and the schedule offers only one truly likely loss,” writes ESPN.com’s Connolly (Louisiana, in Connolly’s estimation).
Running back De’Montre Tuggle (pictured above) is a preseason 1st Team All-MAC pick. Isaiah Cox, Shane Hooks, and Cameron Odom are steady, if unspectacular, receivers.
The Bobcats had the 51st-ranked defense in the country in 2020, allowing 389 yards per game, but only three games. Small sample size!
Don’t tell that to CFN’s Pete Fiutak:
The team will be rock-solid. The lines are great, the skill parts are as good as any in the MAC, and with 17 starters back, there’s more than enough experience to be relatively sharp even with just three games of work last year. (Ohio) has the team, the slate, and the parts in place to get to the MAC title game for the first time since 2016...this year might finally be his breakthrough with the program.
“Ohio is sound on both sides of the ball and has developed well this offseason before the retirement of Solich. Offensively, the Bobcats have great talented skill players they can rely on,” concludes Fansided’s Michael Hanich. “Their success on offense will be determined by the offensive line. On the defensive side of the ball, they have talented players throughout the field as they need to settle on key positions, especially at middle linebacker and the edge. The Bobcats have the coaching to compete for the MAC East title, but they will learn throughout the season if they have enough to upset Buffalo in 2021.” Yikes.
Image from gozips.com
Buffalo At Akron
Saturday, Oct. 23, Time TBA. TV TBD.
In a conference full of teams that can light it up, Akron is the dim bulb. The Zips averaged 17.2 points per game last season and, conversely, allowed touchdowns on nearly 46% of their opponents’ possessions. This resulted in a 1-5 record with the lone victory coming over lowly Bowling Green.
Is this the breakthrough season for Tom Arth, who is currently 1-17 as Akron’s head coach? Probably not.
Running back Teon Dollard ran for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020, but was suspended this spring following a felony weapons charge. Quarterback Zach Gibson threw for an unremarkable 784 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions in last year’s truncated slate. Top receiver Nate Stewart is gone, transferring to Montana State.
Leading tackler Bubba Arslanian (pictured above) is back at linebacker, and A.J. Watts—the cornerback responsible for the team’s two interceptions in 2020, and one of its two forced fumbles—returns, as well. They’re the only clear bright spots from a team ranked 110th in total defense last season that gave up over 7.5 yards per play and 460 yards per game.
Akron’s only had nine winning seasons since 1975. This is not likely to be the tenth.
“Last year I called for them to escape the basement and they did, beating Bowling Green and ‘Improved’ to -178.5 ypg in MAC play but were again #12,” writes Phil Steele. “They had 12 solid quarters in their six games and 12 not-so-solid quarters. This is Arth’s third year and I would favor this team by three TDs over his first year’s squad (which finished 0-11).” Thanks?
Image from bgsufalcons.com
Bowling Green At Buffalo
Saturday, Oct. 30, 12 p.m., CBS Sports Network.
Scot Loeffler’s Falcons will rank among the worst teams in the nation. They were outscored 225-57 and finished 0-5 in 2020. Their closest loss was a 42-17 defeat by visiting Buffalo.
BGSU had the second-worst defense in FBS, the worst run defense, and allowed opposing teams to score 96% of the time they reached the red zone.
How do things get better? Hitting the weight room, apparently, and growing up.
The strength gains and the size gains have been exceptional. I said last year, we needed to get bigger, and we’re seeing that. Are we where we need to be yet? No, but there’s some significant gains, particularly on the offensive line. I think the team chemistry and the pride is starting to take place, and you can feel a positive culture occurring in our program right now. We’re very young. We’re extremely young, and I want to say that we only have 22 players who are at three years, two years, and one year of eligibility. There’s good things about being young, and there’s bad things. The good thing is, you can develop them, and you’re going to have a really healthy program down the road. The negative part is that you’re still young...and our number one priority is strength.
Bowling Green did not place any players on Athlon Sports’ top four All-MAC teams. Phil Steele was a bit more kind, as defensive end Karl Brooks, linebacker Darren Anders, and cornerback Davon Ferguson were named 4th-Team All-MAC members of his preseason squad.
Senior quarterback Matt McDonald (pictured above), last season’s starter after sitting out a year following his transfer from Boston College, is making his way back from shoulder surgery.
True freshman running back Jaison Peterson has impressed in 7-on-7 drills.
BGSU had a strong recruiting class in 2020, and some of the young men who wore redshirts—like cornerback DeShawn Jones, Jr., defensive lineman Billie Roberts, quarterback Riley Keller, and tight end Levi Gazarek—may be ready to see some action, according to Yahoo Sports.
It’ll be tough for the Falcons, who open at Tennessee and later catch back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Kent State. A learning experience.
Maybe, in a of couple years, this team will be start a new glorious new era, rolling back the clock to the days when Urban Meyer stalked the sidelines at Doyt L. Perry Stadium. Meyer and the coaches that followed him—Dave Clawson (currently the head coach at Wake Forest) and Dino Babers (Syracuse) reeled off 11 winning seasons in 14 years.
In the meantime, UB should roll these guys.
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