What’s the new craze right now? It’s Buffalo Bulls athletics, of course!
Buffalo is ranked in men’s basketball after a road win at West Virginia to open the season. This comes just eight months after Nate Oats’ Bulls stunned the 4-seeded Arizona Wildcats in March Madness. Speaking of March Madness, the women’s basketball team earned a Sweet 16 bid as an 11-seed last March.
That brings us to the football team. For the first time since joining the FBS in 1999, the Bulls have the number “9” in the win column. It’s been a special season for Lance Leipold and the Bulls, and after years of patiently waiting, Leipold’s vision of the program is finally coming to fruition. Receiving 29 votes in the AP Poll, Buffalo remains one victory away from receiving a plane ticket to Detroit for the MAC Championship Game on November 30 — which would be the team’s first since 2008.
Only one other team could possibly claim the Bulls’ almost-locked-up spot: the Ohio Bobcats.
Ohio, the preseason MAC favorite, saw its conference title odds take a drastic tumble in Oxford last Wednesday night. The Bobcats lost their first “Battle of the Bricks” matchup in years, falling to Miami (OH), 30-28 after nearly completing a furious 21-point second half comeback. Now, a win over the Bulls in Athens doesn’t seal the Bobcats’ fate in Detroit. Even with a victory, Ohio would need to seek miraculous help from 2-8 Bowling Green. The Bobcats’ only feasible scenario of winning their first MAC title since 1968 involves winning out and watching Buffalo fall at the hands of Bowling Green.
Regardless of the Bobcats’ slim conference title chances, this game should be a treat for all MACtion lovers. For one, the matchup invites arguably the two greatest quarterbacks in the MAC onto the same playing field.
Tyree Jackson, the 6’7” athlete who is getting looks from NFL scouts already, is one of the artists behind the Bulls’ prolific start. The junior quarterback has pieced together a career-high season in passing yards while throwing 24 touchdowns and rushing for six. Jackson is gifted with a cannon arm and shines on his down field passes, but Ohio trots out the more mobile quarterback.
Nathan Rourke landed a spot on the All-MAC Second Team as a newcomer to the program in 2017. One season after leading all quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns, Rourke is doing it again on the ground. He only has eight rushing touchdowns, but his legs have left opposing defenses baffled all fall. As a passer, he’s developed immensely. Rourke already bested his 2017 passing touchdown numbers with 19 this year — and he only has five interceptions on the flip side.
Two weeks ago, both quarterbacks enjoyed career games in the scoring department. In a win over Miami (OH), Jackson contributed three touchdowns through the air and three on the ground to add 36 points to the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Rourke feasted on Western Michigan’s defense for five total first half touchdowns (three passing, two rushing), checking out of the game at halftime when the score was 45-0.
There is more offensive talent than just the junior quarterbacks on these two offenses. The running backs add plenty of skill to these versatile offenses as well. Ohio’s veteran running back, A.J. Ouellette, has 47 career games under his belt, but he’s still achieving new heights. The longtime power back shattered a career high with 168 rushing yards last Wednesday, averaging 11.2 yards per carry.
Buffalo’s offense counters with a much younger running back. Freshman Jaret Patterson has become a highlight reel this season with his refusal to go down after initial contact. Patterson has 585 rushing yards to his name in the last five contests, finishing with over 90 yards each time. In each of those games, he’s found the end zone which leads him to second on the charts in the MAC with 10 rushing touchdowns.
In the receiving department, it’s a battle of seniors, Papi White and Anthony Johnson. White, a longtime utility player for Ohio, has settled into the No. 1 wide receiver role this year and he is flourishing. The 5’9” Oklahoma native currently has career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns, with his latest score occurring on an impressive juggling grab in the end zone at Miami (OH). Johnson, a surefire NFL Draft pick, demonstrated why he entered the season with so much hype after an 8-catch, 238-yard, 3-touchdown performance on national television two weeks ago. Nevertheless, injuries have hampered the senior’s season, boosting the development of counterpart receiver K.J. Osborn — team-high 45 receptions, 761 yards.
Defensively, inconsistencies are evident among both teams. Buffalo allows 22.5 points per game, while Ohio gives up 27.5. Both teams have shown recent defensive brilliance with the exception of one game — the Miami (OH) matchup. Buffalo (51-42, W) and Ohio (30-28, L) showed plenty of defensive lapses against the rising RedHawks, but the Bulls’ offense managed to surpass Miami’s offense in terms of production, while Ohio dug itself into a 21-point hole that its offense could not escape.
In the yards department, the teams become more polarized. Buffalo is 22nd in the FBS, allowing 329 yards per game, while Ohio is 77th with 413. With a Khalil Hodge-led defense, the Bulls rank 10th in the nation in turnover margin at a +9. However, the Bobcats are tied at the same spot at a +9. Ohio has created more turnovers, but the Bobcats have suffered from rampant fumbling issues at times.
- Time and Date: Wednesday, November 14 — 7 p.m. ET
- Venue: Peden Stadium — Athens, OH
- Network: ESPN2
- Spread: Ohio (-2)
- ESPN FPI Predictor: Ohio has 62.4% chance to win
- All-time series: Ohio leads series, 14-10
This decade, the series definitively favors the home squad. Ever since 2010, the winner has been the team which calls the playing field its own. Buffalo won last year’s matchup at UB Stadium on Black Friday, staving off a late Ohio comeback to seal a .500 season. But Buffalo hasn’t won in Athens since the Bulls’ last MAC championship run, back in 2008.
It is fortunate for everyone involved that this game will appear on national television. With two of the top MAC offenses conglomerated into one game, this is must-watch television for any college football fan. Buffalo has been a great story this year and could clinch a MAC title appearance with a win, but Ohio can redeem itself with a victory and an outside chance at Detroit.
This one is tough to predict.
Ohio is 4-0 in Athens this year, while Buffalo is 4-0 away from home. Something has to give.
Buffalo hasn’t been challenged much this year, outside of a 42-13 collapse against Army’s triple option offense. The Bulls required a fourth quarter comeback to beat a since-improved Temple team on the road. Also, Buffalo needed a fourth quarter push to rid themselves of a 42-42 tie against Miami (OH). Ohio’s offense will be one of the best Leipold’s defense has seen this season.
Ohio is glad to be at Peden Stadium again after road struggles all season long. The Bobcats seemed to be hitting their stride after three-straight wins of 35 points or greater, but Ohio’s 28-7 deficit at Miami will probably cost the team that coveted spot in Detroit. Rourke has been destroying defenses all season long, and Buffalo showed against Miami that even the Bulls are susceptible to struggles.
It’s going to be high-scoring, but the difference in this one is that Buffalo’s defense — especially in the linebacking corps of Khalil Hodge, James Patterson, and Jordan Collier — is stronger than Ohio’s defense. It won’t nearly be as breeze like the Kent State game last week, but the 10-1 record is in sight.
Prediction: Buffalo 44, Ohio 37