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2023 Buffalo Bulls Positional Previews: Offensive Skill Positions

Cole Snyder returns with a deep running back room after a successful 2022.

TaxAct Camellia Bowl - Georgia Southern v Buffalo Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bulls enjoyed a bounce-back 2022 in the second year of the Maurice Linguist era. A dreadful non-conference stretch was quickly followed by a 5-game win streak, which lifted Buffalo to the top of the MAC standings. While things turned south again in a winless November, the Bulls ended the season back on track with a Camellia Bowl victory over Georgia Southern. It was the program’s third-ever bowl victory and third in a four-year span.

Buffalo’s 7-6 campaign was fueled by an offense which ranked 64th in scoring at 28.5 points per game. Although the program had been renowned for an extreme lean toward the running game in the Lance Leipold era, we saw a more balanced version of Buffalo in 2022. The Bulls finished 62nd in passing yards per game and 76th in rushing yards per game, despite boasting a 53.8/46.2 run/pass split. In aggregate, they were 75th nationally with 377 yards per game.

Whether it was third down conversion percentage, penalty yardage, turnovers committed, or general rushing and passing numbers, Buffalo hovered around the average in the majority of offensive statistical categories. One thing that made the Bulls stand out was their propensity to gamble on fourth downs. Buffalo finished tied for fifth in the FBS in fourth down attempts last year and converted an impressive 59.5 percent, ranking 27th in the nation.

In 2022, Buffalo sent out a functional offense, but in order to improve upon last year’s 7-6 record, the Bulls must find more areas to specialize in. The team is gifted with an established quarterback jumping to his second year as a starter, a well-seasoned running back room, but there are many vacancies to fill at wide receiver and tight end.

The Bulls’ 2023 offense is operated by DJ Mangas, who enters his first year as offensive coordinator in addition to serving as tight ends coach — replacing former coordinator Shane Montgomery. Mangas was a defensive analyst at UCF last season, but worked on the offensive side in past roles which include offensive analyst and passing game coordinator at LSU and offensive assistant with the Carolina Panthers.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Toledo at Buffalo
Cole Snyder posted the third 3,000-yard passing season in Buffalo history in 2022. He started all 13 games at quarterback, including the Camellia Bowl.
Photo by Joshua Bessex/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Buffalo enjoys the always-welcome luxury of returning a starting quarterback. Cole Snyder, who transferred from Rutgers prior to the 2022 season, enters year two as a full-time starter. While Snyder didn’t qualify for All-MAC honors in his first season taking charge of the Bulls’ offense, he was more than serviceable. Snyder started all 13 games and eclipsed the 3,000 yard passing threshold — posting the third most prolific passing season in Buffalo history. And one of Snyder’s best abilities was availability, as he was the only quarterback to throw a pass for the team in 2022.

While his 58.8 percent accuracy could certainly use a boost in 2023, Snyder’s touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18-to-8 was more than enough to place the Bulls in the upper 50th percentile in scoring offense. The 6’2” New York native wasn’t relied upon to deliver 300 yards on a weekly basis — as he only eclipsed this mark once — but when Buffalo needed him most, he delivered some clutch passes near the pylons. Snyder delivered two game-winners in the final 75 seconds while trailing, a 15-yard strike to Justin Marshall to defeat Miami (OH) and a 16-yard heave to Quian Williams to topple Akron.

Snyder isn't a quarterback frequently on the receiving end of designed run calls, but he dabbles in the mobility department every once in a while. He finished 2022 with 146 rushing yards on 110 attempts, and sack yardage often offset his rushing gains. Still, he posted single-game stat-lines of 51 and 35 rushing yards last September to keep defenses honest.

Unlike last year when the team was breaking in a new starter, there shouldn’t be much quarterback competition this fall. The only other quarterback returning in 2023 is redshirt freshman Mike DePillo, who has not taken an FBS snap.

Snyder’s primary backups are likely Buffalo’s transfer additions this offseason. CJ Ogbonna hails from Southeast Missouri State where he was an 11-game starter in 2021 at the FCS level. In 2021, Ogbonna passed for 1,521 yards and 12 touchdowns while racking up 357 rushing yards. Buffalo is Ogbonna’s third collegiate stop as prior to Southeast Missouri State, he won an NJCAA national championship at Hutchinson Community College.

Additionally, the team brought in two California junior college quarterbacks. Gunnar Gray comes in wielding junior status after a successful stint at San Diego Mesa College while Richie Watts is fresh off a CCCAA title at the College of San Mateo. Mason Cumbie and Anthony Policare round out the 6-member quarterback group as true freshmen.

Running back

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 12 Akron at Buffalo
Ron Cook Jr. has been a member of Buffalo’s roster since 2019, being present for three bowl wins and earning All-MAC kick returner honors twice as a Bull.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Buffalo’s running back room remains in stellar shape for 2022 as all three primary contributors from 2022 remain on the roster. The thunder and lightning combo of Mike Washington and Ron Cook Jr. should operate in a similar manner to last year, providing versatility at the position. Washington is 6’2”, 215 pounds, and led Buffalo in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns last season with 150, 625, and seven, respectively. The speedy 5’9”, 190 pound Cook, who also doubles as a return specialist, totaled 600 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 139 attempts in 2022. Both running backs were steady contributors in the receiving game, as Washington ranked fourth on the team in receptions and Cook checked in at fourth in receiving yards.

The Washington-Cook duo likely fields the majority of the carries, but Al-Jay Henderson returns after a breakout campaign featuring a team-high 5.1 yards per rush. Henderson saw a career-high 99-yard rushing performance against UMass last year en route to a 301-yard season, and he’s an established and viable option to allocate reps toward.

The running back depth chart is similar to quarterback, as the key cogs are back and the depth is heavily supported by junior college transfers. In the running back room, Buffalo landed Dylan Kedzior who was a JUCO All-American at Hutchinson Community College after posting a 1,000-yard season and Jacqez Barksdale who averaged over 6.1 yards per carry Coffeyville Community College last fall.

Joseph Giggie and Mark Anthony Scott Jr. are also back on campus for their redshirt freshman seasons after sitting the entirety of last fall. The only true freshman listed on the roster is Lamar Sperling, who earned the 2022 Ohio Mr. Football designation thanks to shattering the Ohio High School Athletic Association record with 3,984 rushing yards in a season. We’ve seen true freshmen running backs at Buffalo break out in the past like Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks in 2019, so even with the Bulls’ returning depth, keep an eye on the utilization of Sperling.

Wide receiver

Miami v Duke
Darrell Harding Jr. is one of the most established players in Buffalo’s new-look receiving corps, totaling five career starts and 452 receiving yards.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Unlike quarterback and running back, there is plenty of reloading required at wide receiver. Only 26.2 percent of all receiving yardage returns, and less than half of that 26.2 percent comes from wide receivers.

Buffalo unleashed one of the best receiving duos in the MAC last year, sending out Quian Williams and Justin Marshall. The team must replace 743 receiving yards and five touchdowns of production from Williams, who is now a member of the Toronto Argonauts, as well as 837 yards and nine touchdowns from Marshall, who is hoping to secure a roster spot on the Atlanta Falcons. But even the team’s third option from 2022, Jamari Gassett, left the program. After a season featuring 28 receptions for 347 yards (and the iconic “gas it” touchdown celebration), Gassett transferred to Florida A&M of the FCS.

Just 376 yards return from the wide receiver room and that can all be traced to three players. Cole Harrity (13 receptions, 170 yards) and Marlyn Johnson (17 receptions, 133 yards) as the only returning Bulls with at least 10 catches or 100 yards in 2022, and both of those receiving totals should balloon in 2023. Former Arizona transfer Bobbie Curry is another returning Bull expected to carve out a larger role for himself in 2023. Curry was fourth in receptions and second in touchdowns in the Wildcats’ receiving room in 2021, and with eight FBS starts under his belt, he could revert to starting material with a strong showing in fall camp.

Speaking of starting caliber receivers, Buffalo definitely acquired one in the transfer portal this offseason. Darrell Harding Jr. arrives from Duke after totaling career numbers of 35 receptions and 452 receiving yards. Harding is equipped with five starts and 42 games of experience, and his in-game experience with the Blue Devils dates back to 2019. Established transfer receivers, such as Williams and Marshall, have shined tremendously in Buffalo recently, and the 6’4” Harding hopes to see a similar production spike in his new home.

Chance Morrow (Louisville) and Victor Snow (Nevada) were the other FBS transfers Buffalo added to the receiver room, but unlike Harding, they played extremely limited reps at their previous schools. Morrow redshirted the entirety of 2022 while Snow’s career stat-line features one reception for one yard. Micah Woods and Qua Sanders are more seasoned transfer arrivals as both were established community college receivers, and both look to leverage that experience to bolster depth in a revamped receiving room.

Other incumbent receivers on Buffalo’s roster include Javien Cuff, Nik McMillan, Tadd Barr, Aidan Walline, and Jeremy Yancey. Among these, the only one to log a reception is Cuff, who caught one pass for nine yards in 2021.

Tight end

Former UMass tight end Jake Orlando is expected to compete for the starting job this season after the departures of Robbie Mangas and Trevor Borland.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Buffalo’s top two tight ends from 2022 were Robbie Mangas and Trevor Borland. Mangas is still a Bull in some capacity, but he’s now an offensive analyst and quality control coach after leading all tight ends in receptions (16) and receiving yards (141) last year. Borland transferred to WKU this offseason, meaning the Bulls must break in new starting candidates at the position.

There was significant consultation in the transfer portal at this position and Buffalo’s most experienced FBS acquisition was Jake Orlando. Orlando caught six passes across the last two seasons at UMass and the Buffalo native moves closer to home with 21 games of action under his belt. The 6’6”, 245 pounder is the likely candidate for the starting role, but there are other incoming transfers competing alongside him.

Zion Carter arrives from Dartmouth of the FCS level, where he excelled as a blocking tight end. Blocking tight end is a position in itself at Buffalo, considering the Bulls’ proclivity to run often. For instance, Jake Molinich was a full-time starter for several years at Buffalo and only caught six passes, but was a vital piece to those Jaret Patterson-Kevin Marks gargantuan rushing numbers. Carter could thrive in that role as could Jake’s young brother Wyatt Molinich, who enters his senior season after mainly working in a scout team role. Molinich is one of two returning roster members at the position, as is redshirt freshman Cameron Ball, but neither have recorded a stat in their time at Buffalo.

Ryan Daly and Andrew Schnackenberg are newcomers from community colleges, while Bodhi Ogg and Mitch Viviano (who mainly starred as a defensive end in high school) are true freshman adding depth to one of Buffalo’s least experienced position groups.