For the UMass Minutemen, this week's game against the Buffalo Bulls feels a lot like deja vu. A year ago UMass won their first game against Akron, only to fall a week later to Buffalo as all hopes of a winning streak in Year 1 disappeared. Now, with a win over Miami (Ohio) in the books, the Minutemen will be looking for that elusive second win and the program's first winning streak at the FBS level.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure they will find it in Buffalo.
The Bulls have been one of the more enigmatic teams in the MAC, nearly losing to FCS Stony Brook before rattling off three straight blowout wins over UConn, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan. While not powerhouses, the wide margins suggest that the Bulls have started to hit their stride just in time for the Minutemen to show up.
Schedule aside, the Bulls are as good as their recent performances indicate. Branden Oliver is still one of the best running backs in the league, Alex Nuetz is one of the best receivers and Khalil Mack is arguably the best football player in the conference. There is a reason they are 20.5-point favorites, and it isn't just because they are playing UMass.
The best UMass can hope for on Saturday is that their strength on defense can hold up long enough for the offense to get something going. If the Bulls keep scoring like they have the past three games (41, 42, 33 points respectively) it will be impossible for the Minutemen to keep up. But if they can keep it in the mid-20s, the possibility of an upset can hang around.
For Buffalo to cover the spread....
The Bulls have to keep doing what they've been doing. There is no discernible difference between UMass and the EMUs and WMUs of the world and Buffalo should be able to keep imposing its will. UMass' defense is stout, but if they are playing as much as they were in the early-season losses they will wear down, let up big plays, and ultimately lose by 21 or more points.
For UMass to beat the spread...
The defense will have to get the Bulls off the field on third downs and keep the ball in the hands of the offense for as long as possible. The Minutemen can't lose the time of possession battle by too wide of a margin if they are going to keep this one close. Jamal Wilson and A.J. Doyle are going to be the keys here, and Charley Molnar shouldn't be afraid to let them drive the car.
If UMass is going to actually win, all of that will need to happen and the defense will have to create some turnovers and big plays. There are no home-run hitters on the offense so their big plays will be few and far between, leaving the defense to come through with some big-moment stops and turnovers to swing momentum in UMass' direction.
In the end...
I think Buffalo is playing too well right now and UMass doesn't have the firepower to keep up. The defense plays well for three quarters and the offense has another productive week, but in the end it just isn't enough.
Buffalo wins 34-17.
More from Hustle Belt:
- MAC Blogger Roundtable: Fleck, First Downs, and Flukes(?)
- Ohio at Eastern Michigan Preview: The Bobcats Look To Right Their Ship Against A Struggling Eagles' Team
- Phil Steele's Midseason All-MAC Teams
- Men's College Basketball Preseason USA Today Coaches Poll: Surprise, No MAC Teams Ranked
- Hustle Belt Awards Standings: Week 7