The Buffalo Bulls (8-5, 5-3 MAC in 2019) will start the 2020 campaign as one of the favorites to win the MAC, claiming the top spot in the preseason media poll and a very close second in the coaches poll.
Their opponent, the Northern Illinois Huskies (5-7, 4-4 MAC in 2019), are on the opposite side of the coin. They were picked to finish dead last in the MAC West and 11th overall, only receiving more points than Akron in each of the preseason polls.
When: Wednesday, November 4 at 7 p.m. (EST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Weather: Clear and in the mid-50s at kickoff
Odds: Buffalo is favored by 10 points and UB has a 61.2% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
This will just be the 14th meeting between these schools all-time, with the Huskies holding a commanding series lead. NIU lost the first ever meeting between the two programs, way back in 1968, but, since then, the Huskies have rattled off a dozen straight wins and have a 12-1 record against the Bulls.
Most games have been blowouts but the last two have been much closer. Each was decided by a single point, with the Huskies claiming a 14-13 win in 2017 and come-from-behind victory in the 2018 MAC Championship Game in which the Huskies erased a 19 point deficit in the final 16 minutes of the game to win 30-29.
Buffalo has historically struggled in DeKalb. As a home team, the Huskies are 6-1 and have an average margin of victory of nearly 30 points (41-13). The last time the Bulls scored more than 14 points at Huskie Stadium Richard Nixon was president - 11/21/1970.
Largest margin of victory:
NIU: 73-10 (63 points), 2000
Buffalo: 20-7 (13 points), 1968
Longest win streak:
NIU: 12 games (1970-Present)
Buffalo: 1 game (1968)
Current streak (Last Meeting):
NIU - 12 (30-29, 2018)
Quick Facts (2019 stats):
Points per game: 31.5
Points allowed: 20.6
Total yards: 388.5 (138.1 passing, 250.5 rushing)
Yards allowed: 292.0 (197.8 passing, 94.2 rushing)
Buffalo comes in to this season with high expectations. They finished with the best overall record in the MAC last season and have won six of their last seven games.
Once again they’ll most likely use their ground attack as much as possible. And, with Jaret Patterson in the backfield, why not?! Patterson averaged nearly six yards per carry last season en route to 1799 yards and 19 touchdowns. He rushed for over 140 yards in each of the last six games and had a MASSIVE day against Bowling Green, rushing for 298 yards and six touchdowns against the Falcons. Look for him to get the bulk of the carries again this season and punish defenses with his combination of speed and power.
When it’s not Patterson carrying the ball, Kevin Marks has proven himself to be an excellent second option. Last season Marks ran for 1078 yards and eight touchdowns with an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
Junior quarterback Kyle Vantrease didn’t have to do too much last season but he was very effective and efficient when called upon. He connected on 58.7% of his throws for 1193 yards and had eight TDs to just two interceptions. He also had six rushing touchdowns and can keep plays alive with his legs.
The offensive line is replacing three starters but should still be able to give Patterson/Marks some running lanes and protect.
On defense, Buffalo touts one of the best defensive lines in the MAC. Taylor Riggins and Malcolm Koonce are beasts on the edge and combined for 21.5 TFL and 17.5 sacks last season. Riggins was fourth on the team with 50 tackles while having a team-high seven QB hurries and three fumble recoveries. Koonce led the team with three forced fumbles and also had 34 total tackles and five QBH.
Jaret is not the only Patterson that has succeeded at Buffalo though. His fraternal twin brother, James Patterson returns as a linebacker for the Bulls. Last season he amassed 41 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and an interception, a forced fumble, and a quarterback hurry.
E.J. Brown will look to replace Joey Banks in the secondary. Brown originally signed with the West Virginia Mountaineers before transferring to Iowa Central CC where was a second-team JUCO All-American last year. Last season he piled up 75 tackles, four pass break ups, and had three fumble recoveries.
Joining him as the last line of defense is senior safety Tyrone Hill. Hill, last year, was third on the team with 70 tackles and also had ten pass breakups and three TFL.
Quick Facts (2019 stats):
Points per game: 22.8
Points allowed: 28.2
Total yards: 358.7 (217.6 passing, 141.1 rushing)
Yards allowed: 386.5 (208.6 passing, 177.9 rushing)
There are a lot of question marks heading into this season for the Huskies. And second-year Head Coach Thomas Hammock will have his work cut out for him as 55% of his roster is made up of freshman (62 players out of the 113 are listed as freshmen).
We do know that senior Ross Bowers will be back as the starting quarterback. Bowers proved to be a better passer than the last few Huskie quarterbacks, throwing for 2130 yards last season, but a porous offensive line led to sacks, forced throws, scrambles, and even injuries. He finished the year with just seven touchdowns and eight interceptions.
NIU did bring in a slew of QBs this offseason, four transfers and two freshman, that could see time if Bowers struggles or goes down with an injury.
After Tre Harbison transfered from NIU last November, Huskie fans thought they’d see Jordan Nettles this year...but he opted out from this season and left a huge hole at running back.
The Huskies will most likely use multiple back with Erin Collins potentially being the go-to back. Collins, a junior transfer, ran for 618 yards and 11 touchdowns last year at Hutchinson Community College.
Wide receivers Cole Tucker and Tyrice Richie, along with tight end Daniel Crawford, return as Bowers’ most dangerous passing threats. Each of them had over 400 yards receiving last season and combined for eight touchdowns.
Like the offense, the defense also lacks depth and experience. The Huskies lost five of their top six tacklers from last season; only Vinny Labus returns. Labus is part of the NIU linebacker group that should be the bright spot on defense. Kyle Pugh returns, as does Lance Deveaux Jr.
They also added 28-year old Greg DeLuca who, after playing football and lacrosse for the Duke Blue Devils from 2010-2013, spent the last six years in the US Navy as part of the Navy SEALS. He returns to college football for his final year of eligibility while he finishes his masters degree at NIU.
Up front, the Huskies had two defensive linemen transfer to Iowa this offeseason (Matt Lorbeck and Jack Heflin) leaving Weston Kramer as the most experienced man up front. Kramer had 23 tackles and 2.5 TFL last season.
In the secondary, the Huskies lost Mykelti Williams, Treyshon Foster, Jalen McKie, Marshe Terry, and Devon Haney. That leaves Dillon Thomas as the most senior DB returning. Thomas, a cornerback, had 48 tackles, four pass break ups, and a forced fumble last season.
He’ll get help from transfer Woody Appolon, a 6-4 junior safety who had 30 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and an interception during the past two seasons at a pair community colleges in Kansas.
This is a great opportunity for the Bulls to break the streak against NIU.
Buffalo seems to have the more experienced team with plenty of depth while the Huskies will look to a lot of young players this season and hope to see them grow for the next few seasons.
If (and that’s a big if) the Huskies can contain Jaret Patterson and Marks, and force Vantrease to throw the ball more than Lance Leipold wants, the Huskies could keep it close.
But, with Buffalo most likely controlling the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense, it seems like the Bulls will get their first victory over NIU in 52 years.
Buffalo Bulls - 38
NIU Huskies - 21