The Buffalo Bulls were one of the MAC’s pleasant surprises of the 2022 football season. After establishing a winning culture under now-Kansas frontman Lance Leipold, the program took a tumble to 4-8 in 2021 under first-year head coach Maurice Linguist.
Through three weeks last September, it appeared that downward spiral was bound to continue — especially after losing a stunner to Holy Cross of the FCS. But Buffalo rattled off five consecutive wins to thrust itself into MAC contention status. The Bulls were on top of the MAC through October after defeating eventual MAC champion Toledo, but another three-game skid struck in November. However, Linguist’s team rebounded once more to qualify for bowl eligibility, and upon reaching the postseason, the Bulls claimed their third-ever bowl victory — edging Georgia Southern 23-21 in the Camellia Bowl.
Linguist and his Bulls now understand the feasibility of MAC championship contention. With starting quarterback Cole Snyder returning alongside a versatile running back corps and All-American free safety Marcus Fuqua, Buffalo is well-equipped for another successful campaign. There are key losses, namely in the wide receiver room and secondary, but what did Buffalo acquire from the transfer portal and through the coaching carousel this offseason to contribute to this 2023 MAC title run?
Additions on the field
Buffalo’s 2023 transfer portal haul didn’t consist of any primary starters from other FBS programs. At the FBS level, the most experienced acquisition the Bulls made this offseason was Duke wide receiver Darrell Harding Jr. This move was essential after the losses of 2022’s top three receivers — Justin Marshall, Quian Williams, and Jamari Gassett. Harding brings 42 games and five starts to an otherwise-inexperienced position group. The 6’4” receiver only caught three passes for 21 yards in 2022, but he registered greater stats in each of the three prior seasons. Overall, the grad transfer carries 35 receptions and 452 yards into his final year of eligibility. Other incoming receivers for Buffalo include Louisville transfer Chance Morrow (who redshirted 2022) and community college transfers Qua Sanders and Micah Woods.
Former UMass tight end Jake Orlando is back in his hometown of Buffalo after spending four years with the Minutemen and securing six catches over that timeframe. The Bulls lost their main tight end Robbie Mangas (who is now on staff as an offensive analyst) and Trevor Borland, so they did additional restocking in the portal by obtaining Dartmouth transfer Zion Carter. The 6’6”, 265 pound tight end only caught one pass in the Ivy League last year, but he made his mark as a viable blocker.
Buffalo’s most notable transfer addition to the interior offensive line was Nick Beans. Beans hails from the Division II level where he started three years at center for Notre Dame College located in South Euclid, OH. The Bulls’ 2022 center Jack Hasz transferred to UNLV so the starting position is certainly open to Beans, who will likely compete with UConn transfer Sidney Walker — returning from a season-long injury which held him out of 2022. On the exterior line, the Bulls obtained an intra-conference transfer Alex Heininger from Central Michigan who served as the Chippewas’ backup left tackle last year. Trevor Brock and Jamarr Davis are among the community college transfers adding depth to an o-line which returns three starters from last fall.
The Bulls also utilized the portal to bolster quarterback depth behind incumbent starter Cole Snyder. CJ Ogbonna is now apart of that room after serving as Southeast Missouri State’s starter in 2021 and throwing for 1,521 yards, 12 touchdowns, and eight interceptions, complemented by 357 rushing yards. Joining Snyder, Ogbonna, and the quarterbacks are a pair of California native community college transfers — Richie Watts and Gunnar Gray.
Buffalo’s running back room is fairly established with Ron Cook Jr., Mike Washington, and Al-Jay Henderson back in the mix, but JUCO All-American running back Dylan Kedzior could compete for fourth on the depth chart after a stellar 1,090-yard, 11-touchdown season at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
Buffalo’s sack output took a hit from 2021 to 2022, but to improve on that facet of the game, the team landed Jyaire Stevens from the portal. Stevens was an All-Patriot League selection at FCS program Lafayette where he generated 40 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks as a defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid.
Joe Andreessen is another FCS transfer who could be an established starter from day one. At Bryant, Andreessen was an All-American linebacker, ranking eighth in the FCS with 10.5 tackles per game in 2022. With tackling machine James Patterson departing the program, Andreessen is an ideal candidate to pair alongside Shaun Dolac in Buffalo’s 4-2-5 defense.
To fortify a secondary which lost the likes of Keyshawn Cobb, Isaiah King, Jahmin Muse, and Elijah Blades, Buffalo desperately needed some newcomers in the secondary. D’Andre Greeley was the program’s lone FBS transfer, and while he didn’t play at Colorado State last year, he was a top-rated junior college recruit in California before his one-year stint in Fort Collins. Greeley is most likely to contribute to the cornerback room, while Cornell transfer Demetrius Harris is set to rotate at safety. Harris was an All-Ivy League Honorable Mention in 2022 after racking up 43 tackles, one interception, and four pass deflections. Marquis Cooper (Colgate) and Amonte Strothers (Delaware) are other incoming FCS transfers looking to replace the aforementioned departures.
Buffalo’s 2023 recruiting class was the third of the Maurice Linguist era and it ranked 86th in the country according to 247Sports — just five spots below the 2022 class. With 15 three-star commits, the class ranked second among all MAC schools, only trailing Eastern Michigan.
Linebacker Dion Crawford was one the Bulls’ top true freshman defensive hauls. The Georgia native attained all-state honors at Collins Hill High School last season after accruing 123 tackles and 11 sacks as a senior. Nick Roy was a fellow three-star recruit who excelled as a linebacker and tight end in Canada, but the 6’3”, 213 pound newcomer is classified as a defensive end on the team roster.
On offense, true freshman running back Lamar Sperling was named 2022 Mr. Ohio Football after a monstrous 3,984-yard senior campaign. And listed at tight end, Mitch Viviano was another three-star recruit on the offensive side of the ball, but he primarily starred as a defensive end at Oxford High School in Michigan.
Additions on the sideline
Maurice Linguist enters his third season as Buffalo’s head coach, but there is still substantial movement within the staff.
Buffalo parted ways with two-year offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery this offseason and filled the vacancy with DJ Mangas — the older brother of 2022 starting tight end Robbie Mangas. DJ served as a defensive analyst at UCF last year, but his prior experience is mostly on the offensive side of the ball. He was an offensive analyst for the 2019 national champion LSU squad and he worked an offensive assistant role with the Carolina Panthers for 2020, before making his way back to Baton Rouge as a passing game coordinator in 2021. In addition to his duties as a first-time OC, Mangas also holds the role of tight ends coach.
Defensive coordinator Brandon Bailey was ironically hired to the same position at Georgia Southern several months after Buffalo’s Camellia Bowl victory over Georgia Southern, creating a vacancy at that coordinator spot as well. Robert Wright is Bailey’s replacement after serving as a defensive analyst on Mike Elko’s staff at Duke. Wright had previous stops at Miami (FL), Illinois, Texas A&M, and Iowa State — working positions ranging from defensive graduate assistant to special teams analyst. Buffalo presents Wright his first opportunity in a coordinator gig.
The other new assistants on staff are running backs coach Bryan Applewhite, defensive backs coach Holman Copeland, and safeties coach Mike Caputo. Applewhite operated as Nebraska’s running backs coach in 2022, Copeland — a former Buffalo grad assistant — spent the last four years as Delaware’s cornerbacks coach, and Caputo was a defensive assistant at Wisconsin last fall.
Buffalo is gifted with the continuity of retaining its head coach, its starting quarterback, and several other stars such as Shaun Dolac and Marcus Fuqua, but with many new faces on the coaching staff, fall camp will require some adjustment period for reigning Camellia Bowl champions.