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WINTER IS COMING: PREVIEWING THE FINAL FOUR FOES OF UB FOOTBALL'S 2022 SEASON
Plus: RIP UB Bull Run, Buffalo introduces player-selected Leadership Group, and MAC coaches share their predictions (spoiler alert: some are dumb).
Image from ubbulls.com
Busy week here at the newsletter—we have today’s third and final installment of the season preview; we’ll have notes from head coach Maurice Linguist’s (pictured above) first presser of the regular season on Tuesday; we’ll have a piece on the season opener at Maryland before Saturday’s kickoff; and we will be in attendance at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium for the Bulls-Terps game, so expect a wrap-up, too.
In case you missed it:
Let’s get right to it. But first, the news:
Image from ubbullrun.com
Respect is due: Tim Riordan of the venerable UB Bull Run announced that the blog is being shuttered. I remember reading Tim and co.’s work over a decade ago, when I first caught the UB football bug (I had such high hopes for Zach Maynard). So long, Tim—we wish you well. Hopefully, you’ll make a comeback on your own terms.
Hot off the presses: Rachel Lenzi of The Buffalo News emptied the notebook this week, which is great for those of us who subscribe to the paper of record. She published a Monday piece on team chemistry, with lots of (long) Maurice Linguist quotes and some interesting takes from UConn transfer Sidney Walker. Sunday brought both a strengths (defense) and weaknesses (offense) post, and a great, emotional feature on West Seneca native / impact linebacker Shaun Dolac. There’s also a game-by-game breakdown of the schedule, in case you’re not getting enough of that sort of thing here.
View from the other side: The editors of Testudo Times, a Maryland community on SB Nation, shared their predictions for the 2022 season.
Other blogs, other voices: Hustle Belt, a very good Mid-American Conference blog (if not a little heavy on the MAC West teams), previewed UB’s non-conference schedule.
Counting the Votes: The results of two referendums were announced on Monday. The first was the UB Football Leadership Group, as voted upon by the players. Here are the selections:
All three quarterbacks made the list, as well as a nice mix of established Bulls veterans and newcomers.
Groupthink: The second vote worth noting was the MAC Preseason Coaches Poll:
The East mirrors the end-of-season standings from 2021. Coaches—not always the most creative bunch. The fact Western Michigan and Ball State received more first-place (and conference champion) votes than Toledo, or Bowling Green’s East Division first-place and championship votes, suggest some of the coaches weren’t taking the process entirely seriously. I’d be willing to bet my lunch Scot Loeffler (BGSU) and Mike Neu (BSU) laid the single votes on their own teams. You can smell the desperation.
All right, then. On to November.
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UB Bulls November 2022 Schedule Preview
Image from ohiobobcats.com
AT OHIO. Nov. 1, 7 p.m., ESPN2. The first #MACtion game of the season! Exciting stuff. Unfortunately for the Bulls, Ohio (3-9, 3-5 in the MAC in 2021) is looking sharper than last year, when the Bobcats flipped coaches mid-summer and lost seven of their first eight games.
Offensively, this team should be much improved—sophomore quarterback Kurtis Rourke, a dynamic passer and rusher, is back and healthy. The backfield of redshirt freshman Sieh Bangura and junior O’Shaan Allison may be the breakout tandem of the conference. It doesn’t hurt to have an o-line bringing back four starters.
There’s a ton of talent, if not experience, for Rourke to throw to—receivers James Bostic and Sam Wiglusz are Vanderbilt and Ohio State transfers, respectively, and Aramoni Rhone and tight end Tyler Foster are both three-star recruits.
Defensively, the ‘Cats bring back nine starters (including hard-hitting linebacker Bryce Houston, Jr., pictured above), and add three-star Purdue defensive end Dontay Hunter II and Michigan State transfer Chris Mayfield.
Sadly, it looks like we won’t be able to make fun of head coach Tim Albin, his loss to Duquesne, and the general collapse of the Ohio football much longer. The home team in the Buffalo-Ohio series in 10-1 since 2010, and bad news, gang, this one’s at Peden Stadium.
Considering the Bulls should’ve lost this game at home last season—remember Bobcats quarterback Armani Rogers’ 99-yard touchdown run, an NCAA record? Alex McNulty’s game-winning field goal as time expired, which came after he missed a game-losing field goal and was bailed out by an offsides call? UB going down 21-0, and trailing 21-10 in the fourth quarter?—Buffalo may be running with the devil in this one.
Seriously, just how much of an outlier was 2021?
With all the success and all the consistency this program showed for so many years, this couldn’t all just go down the drain because Frank Solich decided to do something else.
There’s still a good starting 22 here, and there are still the right expectations to be good enough to be in the mix for big things in the MAC.
However, there wasn’t enough done through the transfer portal, the depth is a bit concerning, and the schedule isn’t all that bad.
There are too many good players on this year’s team to have a second straight clunker, but can the lines be better? Can the defense show up? Can the offense start to take over games with the ground attack like it used to?
The Bobcats are going to be better.
Image from cmuchippewas.com
AT CENTRAL MICHIGAN. Nov. 9, 7 p.m., ESPN2. More #MACtion! Get excited to see Central Michigan (9-4, 6-2), one of the surprise teams of 2021, in prime time.
But first—the Chippewas open the season at #12 Oklahoma State. Do you remember this from 2016?
If you’re an OSU fan — or even a casual consumer of college football — you no doubt remember the extra play that CMU was awarded that resulted in the upset in 2016.
With a lead, Mason Rudolph attempted to run out the clock by throwing the ball away before the MAC officials calling the game incorrectly awarded the Chippewas an additional possession. A prayer of a pass was thrown short, tapped back, caught and OSU officially lost the game.
During his first media luncheon of the 2022 season, Mike Gundy was (of course) asked about the last time CMU came to BPS. For what it’s worth, he stated that this go-round would be proceeded over by a Power Fiver crew.
“One of my goals, at some point when I’m done, I’m gonna write a book,” said Gundy. “I have so much stuff, I don’t know if you’ll be able to get it in an actual book. There’ll be a good chapter on that.”
In a mix of poetry and irony, Gundy could hit a career milestone against Central Michigan. If the Cowboys start out their 2022 season 1-0, Gundy will have his career win No. 150. That’s quite an accomplishment, especially with all of those victories coming at the same school.
But Gundy joked on Thursday that if things were made right following the two schools’ last meeting, he would have already reached said landmark.
“… I want to be able to, at some point, figure out how I can get that win back, because I’d already be at 150,” Gundy said. “Then we wouldn’t be talking about it. But there’s gotta be some circuit judge that would say, ‘The game was really over,’ you know?
That’s pretty solid—it’d be great for the Bulls to have a legit rivalry with a random Power 5 blue blood (is Oklahoma State a blue blood?).
The Chips return the nation’s top-leading rusher, Lew Nichols III (1,848 yards on the ground in 2021). They bring back quarterback Daniel Richardson (pictured above), who threw for 2,633 yards and 24 touchdowns after starting the first four games of the campaign on the bench. They have what may be the toughest defensive line in the MAC, including defensive end LaQuan Johnson, Sr. (eights sacks in 2021), nose tackle Robi Stuart, Sr. (12.5 tackles for losses), and defensive tackle Jacques Bristol, Jr. (five sacks).
The returners from 2021 finished the season on a six-game winning streak, headlined by wins at Western Michigan and in an impromptu Sun Bowl against Washington State. The departed leave big shoes to fill on both sides, yet the team has the resources to go about filling them.
Even though the outside thought is that the Chippewas will end the year behind Toledo and Northern Illinois, expectations are different inside the locker room. However, rather than rush to dreams of title game glory at Ford Field in Detroit, (head coach Jim) McElwain is stressing a day-to-day approach.
"I don't believe in putting undue pressure on yourself," McElwain said. "Having the Detroit piece, that's going to happen based on the work you put in today and building on it every single day. We talk about winning the now. I think it's important we don't have lulls in preparation headed that way."
There are holes—the back seven took a hit on defense, and the Chips lost two of their top two receivers—but a trip to Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant is not likely to lead to an easy win for the Bulls.
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Image from si.com
AKRON. Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m., CBSSN. Akron (2-10, 1-7) is supposed to be better this year. Former Oregon and Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is the coach! Multi-talented DJ Irons, Jr. is the full-time quarterback! Uh…I’m running out of gas. Here’s what our guy Fiutak had to say at Yahoo Sports:
The coaching will be better and the system should be stronger, but the offensive playmakers have to emerge. None of that matters if the offensive line isn’t far, far better after finishing last in the nation in sacks allowed, and without much of a running game to count on. For good and for bad, just two steady starters return to the front around veteran LT Xavior Gray.
Now the running attack has to follow. Minnesota transfer Cam Wiley was a great get to help bump up the production along with leading rusher Jonzell Norrils. The Zips only ran for 1,463 yards and eight scores – that’s about to change.
Zach Gibson took over the quarterback duties last year, but now he’s off to Georgia Tech. DJ Irons is a very big, very interesting quarterback who wasn’t all that bad before getting banged up. He’s a potential playmaker to work around, but leading receiver Konata Mumpfield is gone to Pitt and second-leading target Michael Mathison is done, too.
There are parts around TE Tristian Bank including LSU transfer Alex Adams – the system will make the receivers shine.
The D might take a little while longer to get going than the offense. The Zips didn’t do much on the offensive side, and they really didn’t do much for long stretches defensively. There wasn’t enough of a pass rush and the run defense was among the worst in the nation.
On the plus side, the Zips are loaded with veteran tacklers. Jeslord Boateng leads the a good-sized linebacking corps with a decent number of options. The hitters are there, but the pass rush has to come from some where – Boateng and two others tied for the team lead with 1.5 sacks. There’s just enough bulk to work in a good rotation on the nose.
There’s a good chance the secondary is among the team’s biggest strengths if it gets any help from the pass rush. Senior Charles Amankwaa led the team with three picks, Jaylen Kelly-Powell is a good hitter with 73 tackles last season, and there’s enough versatility to play around with the options.
Worst case scenario, this should be the game that puts Buffalo over the top for bowl eligibility. Respect to Akron—they’ve owned Bowling Green for the past few seasons!—but even with a hired gun like Moorhead at the helm, the Zips are two or three years away from being an early-December bowl team. If the Bulls lose, especially at home, the season has likely already taken a seriously dark turn.
Image from kentstatesports.com
KENT STATE. Nov. 26, TIME & TV TBD. The Golden Flashes (7-7, 6-2) open their season with Power 5 games against Washington, #9 Oklahoma, and #3 Georgia. Gotta make that money, man.
Who can blame them? Consider this quote from Florida State athletic director Michael Alford:
We just redid our concessions. We are looking at suites. We are looking at what we are doing with premium seating in the future. Because the average SEC team brings out from their stadium about $34 million. We bring in $20 million. Average Big 10 is about $30 million. So there’s about a $9 million gap.
The Seminoles net $20 million a season from Doak Campbell Stadium and say, “we’re about two-thirds of where we want to be.” For a MAC team, $20 million is an opportunity to swim, Uncle Scrooge style, in a mountainous pile of cash.
How much do you think Kent State pulls out of Dix Stadium per season? Or, for that matter, Buffalo from UB Stadium?
Anyhow—this is a transition season for KSU in some ways, particularly at quarterback.
“Outside observers fully expect Kent State’s offensive production to drop off in 2022 for one seemingly obvious reason: Redshirt junior Collin Schlee will be a first-year starting quarterback for the Golden Flashes, while former star signal-caller Dustin Crum chases his NFL dreams in Kansas City,” writes Allen Moff of the Kent (Ohio) Record-Courier. “Insiders, who have watched Schlee dominate at practices and make several impact plays while seeing limited game action the past two years, don’t necessarily share that same view…Schlee (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) is a dual-threat quarterback similar to Crum, only he’s bigger, stronger and probably a little faster. He’ll be a more physical runner than Crum, and he’ll likely run a little more often. He’ll make more mistakes than Crum, who threw just 10 interceptions in 669 pass attempts over the past three seasons, but Schlee should keep the big plays coming for a Kent State offense that’s averaged 33.6 points per contest since 2019. “
Schlee still has studs on offense like explosive sophomore running back Marquez Cooper (1,205 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in 2021) and junior wide receiver Dante Cephas (1,240 receiving yards, nine touchdowns), who epitomize the #FlashFAST offense beloved by head coach Sean Lewis.
Lewis’ fascination with pinball-style scoring has led to some issues on defense, where the transitions continue:
The Flashes have struggled in general defensively under Lewis, but have been particularly vulnerable against the run. Over the past four seasons Kent State has surrendered 5.1 yards per rush and 131 touchdowns on the ground in 33 games.
Problems have started with depth and size issues up front, which have allowed opponents to repeatedly impose their will on the Flashes in the trenches. That could finally change this fall.
While Kent State’s defensive line remains undersized as a group, the unit is filled with players who have proven themselves to be solid contributors in the past. West, senior Saivon Taylor-Davis, junior CJ West, junior Adin Huntington, and grad student Antoine Cook return to anchor the unit along with grad students Sekou Diaby and Kesean Gamble - who both missed all of last season due to injuries.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back. I’m excited to see us cause havoc this year, go get after the quarterback and allow everyone else to play faster and more free,” said West. “We’ve talked a lot about last year, but finally we just told ourselves let’s stop talking about it and let’s put in the work, make sure our preparation is right. Then the time comes to prove everybody wrong and answer the questions, we’re going to be up for the test.”
With all these changes aside, the pundits have Kent State in a dogfight with Miami to win the MAC East. Last season, the Flashes took home the divisional title with a thrilling overtime win against the RedHawks. There’s a good chance this game at Buffalo will have title ramifications, as well—hopefully, for our guys in Blue and White.
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UP NEXT: Coach Mo’s presser dissected, and the Maryland preview
We’re there, everyone. It’s a game week. Up next—we’ll break down Coach Linguist’s Tuesday press conference, take a closer look at Maryland, and consider why this game is so important for the Bulls for reasons beyond wins, losses, or a Big 10 payday. Horns up, everyone.