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2022 MAC Football Positional Previews: Buffalo Bulls offensive line

Offensive line dominance has been Buffalo’s identity over the past three seasons. With Gabe Wallace serving as the only returning starter, how do the Bulls fare in 2022?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Wagner at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No MAC offensive line has undergone more of a transformation since 2020 than the unit residing in Buffalo.

Just two years ago, the Bulls were one of 11 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best offensive line. At the time, Buffalo built up a reputation of dominating in the trenches. In the pass protection department, the Bulls allowed just one sack in their final eight games in 2019 and one sack across an entire 7-game 2020 campaign. In the run blocking realm, the line paved the way for the All-MAC running back duo of Jaret Patterson, who led the FBS in rushing yards per game in 2020, and Kevin Marks, who also averaged over 100 yards per game that season.

Even after considerable turnover from 2020 to 2021 including the losses of head coach Lance Leipold and offensive line coach Scott Fuchs, Buffalo still made its presence felt in the trenches. Head coach Maurice Linguist and offensive line coach Matt Stansfield ensured that assertiveness at the line of scrimmage would remain one of the identities of the program. The offensive line tied for 17th in the FBS and ranked second in the MAC in fewest sacks allowed per game — permitting 16 in 12 contests. Even the run blocking remained productive in the post-Jaret Patterson era, as the line guided Dylan McDuffie and the running back crew to the nation’s 31st-ranked rushing attack.

Now, Buffalo must survive another round of major turnover. This time, guard Gabe Wallace is the only starter returning to the program in 2022. The notable departures include two-time Second Team All-MAC left tackle Jake Fuzak and 2021 Third Team All-MAC right guard Jack Klenk — both due to expired eligibility. The other two starters from last fall tested the transfer portal this offseason and found new homes in the midwest. Center Bence Polgar transferred to Missouri in December and right tackle Deondre Doiron reunited with Leipold at Kansas this spring.

Thus, Wallace assumes a massive leadership role within the unit for 2022. Wallace started the first two games last season at right tackle before transitioning to left guard for the remaining 10 contests, so with the lack of seasoned tackles on the roster, he could feasibly shift back to the exterior.

The only other returning lineman who has a start at Buffalo under his belt is Jack Hasz, who earned the nod at center in a Week 4 victory over Old Dominion last September. Hasz saw in-game repetitions at both center and guard, and he’s likely to make the jump to a starter alongside Wallace this season.

With few returning contributors, Buffalo addressed its lack of depth by consulting the transfer portal. Desmond Bessent was a coveted haul from the portal after starting two games at left tackle for San Diego State — one of the premier o-lines in the Mountain West. The 6’7”, 305 pound Bessent brings 20 games of experience into Buffalo’s offensive line room and could provide instant impact to a team losing both of its starting tackles.

Also, the Bulls added Isaiah Wright who spent several seasons as an interior offensive line reserve at Rutgers. Additionally, Linguist and his staff recruited the FCS level for linemen, landing Nick Hartnett from VMI, Will Swope from Cornell, and Artese Gregory from Southern Utah. Hartnett was one of the best linemen at the FCS level, earning First Team All-SoCon honors in 2020 and 2021 while operating at guard and center. Given his dominance at VMI, Hartnett enters Buffalo as a solidified starting-caliber player to work alongside Hasz in the interior. Swope also built an impressive résumé at his former school, leading Cornell to an Ivy League-best 0.9 sacks allowed per game as a full-time starter.

Buffalo’s transfers will likely compete in position battles with some of the incumbents as the Sept. 3 opener at Maryland approaches. Caelan Shepard and Tyler Doty are among the more experienced reserve linemen who earned valuable in-game experience in 2021. Also, defensive tackle-turned-offensive lineman Dom Polizzi was just rewarded with a scholarship this summer and he could see a spike in playing time after serving as a special teams staple in Linguist’s first year at the helm.

A projected starting lineup consists of Wallace and Bessent at the tackles, while Hasz and Hartnett occupy two of the interior spots — although Wallace might remain at guard. One of the transfers or returning reserves will emerge as the fifth starter in fall camp to complete the unit.

This offensive line group must focus on meshing this offseason, especially given the lack of in-game cohesiveness shared between its members. But after handling last year’s offensive line turnover with success, Linguist and Stansfield could very well have the tools needed to sustain Buffalo’s recent tradition of exhibiting one of the MAC’s elite offensive lines.