clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2022 Non-Conference Opponent Primer: Buffalo Bulls

Buffalo endured a down year in 2021, with a roster heavily affected by attrition and the transfer portal. Can they get back to the post season in year two of the Mo Linguist era?

NCAA Football: Coastal Carolina at Buffalo Nicholas LoVerde-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 Buffalo Bulls were a team in transition. Former head coach Lance Leipold left for Kansas, and the Bulls roster was decimated by graduation and transfers. After losing all-time great running back Jaret Patterson and three members of a great offensive line, it wasn’t hard to see that this squad would struggle to reproduce the results from the last few years of the Leipold era.

Enter Mo Linguist, who was hired from the NFL and was given his first chance to be a head coach. The Bulls were plagued by inconsistency in his first year, ultimately finishing 4-8 (2-6 in the MAC East). The second year under a new coaching staff is often times a critical one, and the Bulls could use a good start to the season after losing their last four games in 2021.

Unfortunately for Buffalo fans, their 2022 non-conference schedule is not kind, and is actually a bit unique in the MAC. The Bulls only play one Power Five team, but they also only have one home game. They are the only program in the conference for whom both of those things are true.

Nonetheless, there is some solid talent returning here, and Linguist hit the transfer portal hard to add some talent at spots where it was needed. Let’s take a look at the Bulls non-conference slate to see how they match up.

Saturday, Sept. 3: Buffalo @ Maryland Terrapins

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Virginia Tech at Maryland Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Mike Locksley era has been interesting for Maryland.

Nobody will deny Locksley’s talent as a recruiter, and he is incredibly well connected with the high school coaches in the talent rich Northern Virginia/Washington, DC metro area. Getting talent onto campus hasn’t been a problem. Winning games has been.

2021 was an up and down year in College Park, with the Terps winning their first four games before losing six of their last eight. After defeating Rutgers in the season finale to clinch bowl eligibility, Maryland headed to New York City for the Pinstripe Bowl, where they boat raced a depleted Virginia Tech team 54-10.

Maryland was 13th in the FBS in passing offense last year, averaging 304.6 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (Tua’s little brother) set just about every single season passing record at the school, and he returns along with a deep stable of wide receivers. The speedy Rakim Jarrett leads the way after amassing 829 receiving yards and five scores last year, and he’ll be joined by fellow big play threat Dontay Demus, who averaged over 18 yards per reception on the season. On top of that, the Terps also added Florida transfer Jacob Copeland, who led the Gators with 41 receptions and 642 receiving yards in his last year in Gainesville. This is one of the deepest receiver rooms in the Big Ten, and the Bulls secondary will have their hands full.

The run game is not quite as high powered for Locksley’s squad, ranking 91st in the country with 136.4 rushing yards per game and four yards per carry. Leading rusher Tayon Fleet-Davis is gone, but running back Colby McDonald showed great promise as a true freshman, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. All signs point to him being the lead back. Ramon Brown is a name to remember, who comes to College Park as a four star high school recruit. He figures to get some carries and provide a change of pace.

The offensive line struggled at times last year, but there are four starters back and a few proven commodities. Left tackle Jaelyn Duncan was a Second Team All-Big Ten selection last year, and fellow senior Spencer Anderson provides versatility, having played both right tackle and center. Despite the individual talent in this unit, there were some issues in 2021. As mentioned previously, this is a team that only averaged four yards per carry on the ground, and this line also allowed Tagovailoa to be sacked on 5.1% of his drop backs on the season. Both of those marks ranked 11th in the Big Ten, and both need to be improved if the Terps want to return to a bowl game. Because of these struggles, you’d have to figure teams will bring the pressure against Maryland this year. Buffalo will likely be no different.

Defensively, things were a struggle last year for the Terps. This unit ranked 98th nationally in scoring defense, 99th in pass defense, and 85th in total defense. Only four starters return, and there will be some underclassmen that will be expected to step into the starting lineup.

The defensive line is the most solidified group on this side of the ball. Defensive tackle Ami Finau was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection last year, leading the team with five tackles for loss and disrupting things in the middle. Next to him is fellow defensive tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite, who was second on the team with four sacks. With two proven veterans in the middle, it’s not crazy to think that the run defense will be improved.

Ruben Hippolyte is the only starter that returns in the linebacking unit, and likewise for cornerback Jakorian Bennett in the secondary. Bennett is a great individual talent, leading the team with 13 pass break ups and three interceptions last year on the way to a Third Team All-Big Ten selection. Fellow cornerback Deonte Banks is returning after missing the last ten games of the season, and if fully healthy should provide a serviceable corner on the other side of the field. The safety position is a cause for concern – Jordan Mosely and Nick Cross made for a formidable duo last year, and were the top two tacklers on this defense. Both are gone, and there’s nobody on the roster with any significant game experience. Buffalo has built their identity as a run first team over the past decade, but if there’s a unit to exploit in this game, this could be it.

Saturday, Sept. 10: Buffalo vs. Holy Cross Crusaders

NCAA Football: Holy Cross at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Often times, fans of FBS programs see FCS teams on their schedule and take for granted that it will be a win. I’m here to warn you, that may not be the case in this instance.

Holy Cross is coming off of one of their best seasons in school history, earning the Patriot League’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs with a 9-2 record. Included in that record was a season opening 38-28 victory over FBS UConn. Not only did the Crusaders make the playoffs, but they advanced, defeating Sacred Heart 13-10 in the first round before a narrow 21-16 to defeat to Villanova in the quarterfinals.

This is a high-powered offense that averaged 32.3 points per game last year and is led by dangerous dual threat quarterback Matthew Sluka. Sluka last year produced over 2,000 yards of total offense, accounting for 1,495 yards through the air and 898 yards on the ground. He produced 25 total touchdowns (14 passing, 11 rushing), and was the catalyst for everything that the Crusaders did offensively. Though Sluka was the leading rusher, running back Peter Oliver also returns after piling up 797 yards and four scores on 150 attempts. Leading receiver Jalen Coker proved to be a threat on the outside, producing 663 yards and four scores on 50 receptions. Though two starters on the offensive line have graduated, this figures to once again be a high powered offense that the Bulls cannot take lightly.

Defensively, the Crusaders are stout. Linebacker Jacob Dobbs was 8th in the FCS last year with 137 tackles and was named the pre-season Defensive Player of the Year in the Patriot League. He is the leader of the defense, to be sure, but this unit is solid all around. Holy Cross ranked 18th in the FCS last year in scoring defense, giving up only 18.6 points per game. Even more impressive, the Crusaders were seventh in the FCS in rushing defense, giving up only 88.6 yards per game and an astoundingly low 2.7 yards per rush. Though there was some off-season attrition on the defensive line, All-Patriot League defensive tackle Dan Kuznetsov is back to lead the unit, and this rush defense figures to be formidable once again. Buffalo is well known as a run first team, and their offensive line will be tested here.

Buffalo should have a talent advantage in this game, but this is not a contest to take lightly. The Crusaders demonstrated last year that they are capable of taking down an FBS foe, and a loss here would be disastrous for the Bulls.

Saturday, Sept. 17: Buffalo @ Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

NCAA Football: Cure Bowl-Northern Illinois at Coastal Carolina Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo heads south to Myrtle Beach in Week 3, for what is the return trip of this home and home series. Last September, the Chanticleers walked into UB Stadium ranked 16th in the country and were favored by 14 points over the Bulls in the first ever meeting between these two programs. Despite the large spread, Buffalo gave Coastal all they could handle, ultimately falling 28-25.

The Chanticleers have become an incredibly solid program in the Sun Belt, and they’ve done it quickly. Though they’ve only been members of the FBS since 2017, Coastal has gone 22-3 over the past two seasons and spent 10 weeks in the polls last year.

Coastal is led by a high powered, balanced offense, with quarterback Grayson McCall at the helm. McCall burst onto the scene as a true freshman two years ago, and enters this season as back to back Sun Belt player of the year. He was superb last season, completing 73% of his passes for 2,873 yard and an impeccable 27-to-3 touchdown to interception ratio. To put it simply, he will give the Bulls defense all they can handle.

One area of concern is wide receiver, where the top three contributors from last year are gone, including leading receiver Jaivon Heiligh (66 receptions, 1,128 yards, 7 touchdowns). Running back Braydon Bennett is actually the leading returning receiver here, with only 295 yards. Georgia State transfer Sam Pinkney started 31 games over the last four years for the Panthers, and is expected to step in to the number one receiver role. There will need to be a few underclassmen that step up within this group. Tyson Mobley and Jared Brown are names to watch for.

The aforementioned Bennett is back at running back, as is Reese White. They have big shoes to fill, as last years’ leading rusher Shermari Jones has moved on after piling up 1,040 rush yards and 13 scores in his final season on campus. Bennett and White are more than capable, having proven themselves last year in the Chanticleers “running back by committee” system. Combined, the duo rushed for 1,198 yards and 14 scores.

Another area of concern on this offense is the offensive line. Coastal ranked sixth in the FBS in rushing offense last year, averaging 228.8 yards per game. That was due to a dominant, veteran offensive line, from which three of the starters must be replaced. Tackle Antwain Loper and center Willie Lampkin are the only starters returning, and even at that, Lampkin is transitioning to center from guard. There may be a learning curve there, as he’ll be learning his new position on the fly. Freshman Willie Moise looks to be the new starter at right guard, and sophomore Donnell Wilson at right tackle. This will be a young unit, and it’s easy to see how this rushing offense could take a step back this year.

Defensively, only three starters return from last seasons’ unit that finished the season ranked 25th in total defense. The pass defense was especially stout (16th in the country at 190.3 yards per game) but senior corner back D’Jordan Strong is the only returning starter. Make no mistake, Strong is fantastic and was a First Team All-Sun Belt performer last year, but every other position here is a question mark. Lance Boykin made three starts last year, as did safety Tavyn Jackson. Similar to the offensive line, it’s easy to see how this unit could take a step back this year, and expecting them to hold teams under 200 yards a game may be asking a bit much.

The defensive line is the strongest point of this defense, with Freshman All-American defensive end Josaiah Stewart leading the way. Stewart set a school record last year with 12.5 sacks, which led all FBS freshman. He will be a problem for every team the Chanticleers face this year. Senior defensive tackle Jerrod Clark also returns after posting five tackles for loss and two sacks last year. This pair will make for a formidable duo up front, and Georgia Tech transfer Ja’Quon Griffin will add depth.

Much like the secondary, the linebacking unit is a question mark. The top returnees are JT Killen and Mason Shelton, though the two combined for only 24 tackles in 2021. Their role will be greatly elevated, and South Carolina transfer Jahmar Brown figures to fill the third starting spot.

If you’re sensing a theme here, it’s that this is young team. Despite their talent, it may be a stretch to predict another 10 win season for the Chanticleers in 2022. McCall will pose a major problem for this Buffalo defense, no doubt about it. But this young Coastal defense is replacing so much, and it feels like the Bulls will have an opportunity here to prove themselves. A road win here would be huge for coach Linguist as he builds his program.

Saturday, Oct. 15: Buffalo @ UMass Minutemen

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 UConn at UMass Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bulls round out their non-conference schedule with a familiar foe in former MAC member UMass. The Minutemen actually defeated Buffalo to close out the 2015 season in what would prove to be their final game as a member of the conference.

To say things have been a struggle for UMass since leaving the conference would be putting it lightly. Competing now as an independent, the Minutemen have gone a combined 6-34 over the past four seasons. Former Michigan and Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown returned to Amherst this off-season for his second stint as head coach, having also led the Minutemen from 2004-2008 when they were still a member of the FCS.

This is a team that finished last season 126th in the FBS in scoring offense (16.3 points per game), 123rd in total offense (300.3 yards per game), dead last in scoring defense (43.1 points per game) and 125th in total defense (485 yards per game). Those numbers are…not good.

The only real bright spot on offense is senior running back Ellis Merriweather, who provided the only consistency for this unit in 2021. The six foot two, 225 pound bruiser bullied his way to 1,187 rushing yards and five touchdowns last year on 218 carries. He will be the workhorse yet again, and it’s not a stretch to imagine that this offense will be based around him.

Quarterback is a bit of a question mark, though Brady Olson did show some flashes last year as a true freshman. He struggled mightily with consistency, as you would expect from a freshman, but he did break the 200 yard mark in games against Boston College and Eastern Michigan. Zamar Wise also saw time and provides more of a dual threat, and may see the field in certain run based packages. With a lack of talent on this roster, and a new coaching staff coming in, some type of two quarterback system feels likely.

Leading receiver Rico Arnold returns, and he was the only receiver to catch more than 20 passes last season, finishing the year with 27 receptions for 461 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Josiah Johnson has shown flashes, and may be poised for a breakout year. After coming on strong at the end of last season and finishing the year with three touchdowns of his own.

One other area for optimism here is the return of three starting offensive lineman. Sophomore left tackle started all 12 games last year as a true freshman and could be a building block for the future. This line was not good last year, giving up sacks on 7.8% of passing downs, but having continuity here will help. Right guard Ethan Mottinger also started all 12 games last year as a true freshman, and it seems likely that both young lineman will benefit from having been thrown into the fire last year.

On defense, this team last year was a disaster. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.

Don Brown is highly regarded as a defensive coach, and fixing this unit will be his top priority. 13 defensive lineman return that saw action last year, which does feel like a good thing. The downside to that is that this unit registered the second fewest sacks in the nation. If this defense wants to improve at all, they must be better up front. The duo of Cletus Mathurin and Billy Wooden will lead the way up front, with both defensive tackles having started eight games last season. Transfers Marcus Bradley (Vanderbilt) and Marcus Cushnie (Florida State) are two other names to remember and figure to play a prominent role.

Anybody who knows Don Brown knows that he loves to blitz, but there does seem to be a bit of a hole at linebacker. Leading tackler Gerrell Johnson returns, but everybody else of note is gone. Johnson is solid, having racked up 80 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year, but he will need help. Rutgers transfer Zukudo Igwenagu seems in line to claim one of the other linebacker spots, as does Dartmouth transfer Jalen Mackie. This unit is a question mark.

Cornerback Josh Lewis is probably the most talented returning starter on this defense, and he gives the secondary a solid foundation. Penn State transfer Typler Rudolph figures to step in at one of the starting safety spots, along with Te’Rai Powell, who impressed as a first year starter last year, compiling 56 tackles and four tackles for loss in 11 games.

UMass is a team in transition right now, so it’s tough to know what to expect. The Bulls certainly have a lot of question marks themselves, so this makes for an intriguing game. If Mo Linguist wants to keep his rebuild on schedule, this is a game that the Bulls need to win. They will have a talent advantage, but again, the Minutemen are a bit of a wild card this year with a new coaching staff and so much young talent. If Buffalo wants to get back to a bowl this year, they must win this game.