In his fourth year in Buffalo, HC Lance Leipold finally found his grove\. The former head coach of DIII juggernaut Wisconsin-Whitewater jumped to the MAC in 2015 and instantly made an impact on the recruiting trail, clearing the path for a 10-2 regular season record in 2018. The Bulls fell just short of the conference title, blowing a 19 point lead to Northern Illinois in the title game after giving up 20 unanswered points, and also lost their bowl game to a really great Troy team.
Now, after maybe their best season in school history, the Bulls will have to reload after losing a ton of key pieces from the MAC East title squad.
The offense is tricky as the Bulls lose two stars from a squad that put up almost 35 PPG last year. Dual-threat playmaking QB Tyree Jackson and star wideout Anthony Johnson are both gone to the NFL, and the Bulls also lose another 1,000+ receiving yards due to the transfers of K.J. Osborn (Miami) and Tyler Marby (Maryland).
The quarterback race seems to be a mystery. Two juniors return but with very few attempts between them in Kyle Vantrease (nine attempts) and Dominic Johnson (two attempts) along with redshirt freshman Matt Myers and true freshman Trevor Bycznski. Bycznski is probably the most talented of the four but also will have to learn the system. All four have size (6’3″+ and 220+) although none are as big as Jackson. I think Myers is probably the best option because of his dual-threat ability, but expect the four to share time, at least early on.
The Bulls will almost certainly rely on the run game in 2019 because along with the loss of Jackson, they also lose four of their top five receivers. The top returner is Charlie Jones (395 yards, 21.9 YPC) who actually outpaced Johnson in per-reception yardage last year and could be an explosive deep threat. Junior Antonio Nunn should step up after racking in 12 receptions in 2018, and incoming freshman Trevor Solomon-Wilson is a name to watch, along with Alabama transfer Daniel Lee.
The good news on the offense is that whoever the quarterback is, he will be able to turn to a talented run game, which returns 2018 MAC Freshman of the Year RB Jaret Patterson (1,013 yards, 5.5 YPA) as well as a strong #2, Kevin Marks, another freshman who put up solid numbers in 2018 (845 yards, 4.7 YPA). The line loses C James O’Hagan but brings back their other four starters, including All-MAC contenders in G Paul Nosworthy and T Kayode Awosika.
The offense will surely take a step back after a tremendous 2018, but the run game’s strength should keep things afloat, and if the Bulls can find a reliable go-to at quarterback to prevent teams from stacking the box, this offense has real potential.
Jaret Patterson’s brother, James, is one of just a couple of starters back on defense, but he is a big name to get back after racking up eight TFL and four forced fumbles last season as a freshman. Star MLB Khalil Hodge is gone, but Patterson should be able to dull that pain a bit by sliding into the mike role, and although this team does lose six of its top nine tacklers, there is certainly still some talent to be seen.
Junior ends Taylor Riggins and Malcolm Koonce (combined eight sacks) should be able to keep pressure on offenses even if there isn’t much to speak of on the interior of the line due to the departure of Justin Brandon. Eddie Wilson will have to fill into that role at nose guard after picking up three starts as a true freshman, and another couple of youngsters to watch are Kadofi Wright and Tim Terry Jr., who will take over the rover and will roles after both played in all 14 games last season.
The secondary loses names like Tatum Slack and Cameron Lewis, but a pair of upperclassmen at safety both look promising in Tyrone Hill and Joey Banks. Aapri Washington looked solid as a freshman last year at corner, but the question of whether this secondary will be able to stack up to last year’s unit will largely be up to how good of a guy the Bulls can get across from him.
There is a lot of promise in this defense, and with just two seniors in the projected starting lineup, this group has some potential in 2020, but for 2019 the lack of experience may cost them, and I expect them to slip a bit from last year’s numbers, although I’m interested to see how Patterson fills Hodge’s role at mike as he showed a lot of potential last year.
The schedule isn’t great for a team with a lot of turnover as their toughest two games of conference play come right out of the gate. The quarterback situation and the holes they are trying to plug on defense lead to a lot of variability in the model, and the schedule features three projected double-digit wins, one projected double-digit loss, and every other game projected within one possession, six by about a field goal or less. This team has a shot to be a contender in the conference but also might be fighting for bowl eligibility at season’s end, it really all comes down to the situation at quarterback.
I could 100% forsee another double-digit win season, but I could just as likely picture a scenario where this team misses a bowl game. I’ll trust the talent and ignore some of the gaps in experience and call for a bowl birth, but I wouldn’t expect this team to be challenging Ohio in the MAC East. In 2020 though, this team is looking like the overall conference favorite as it will bring back almost everybody.
|at Penn State
|AT MIAMI (OH)
|at EASTERN MICHIGAN
|at KENT STATE
Average Projected Record: 6.9 wins, 5.1 losses (4.7 wins, 3.3 losses)