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Bowling Green Falcons vs. Buffalo Bulls football preview: A beastly East opener

The Falcons and Bulls renew a rivalry that has recently produced several nail-biters and held great importance in the race for the division championship. Will we see another classic on Saturday?

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Bowling Green Falcons and Buffalo Bulls begin their eight-game Mid-American Conference schedules on Saturday, October 3rd when they meet in Amherst, N.Y. at University of Buffalo Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised by Time Warner Cable Sports and BCSN.

The Falcons and Bulls have met only 12 times, but their series has often been special. In 2006, they met in the second game of the season and suffered through multiple lightning delays before BGSU won a 48-40 thriller. Two years later, Buffalo won their first-ever division championship in an epic 40-34 double overtime victory. The Falcons won by a single point, 30-29, en route to a bowl game in 2009, but in 2010, the Bulls won 28-26 to earn a second straight triumph in Bowling Green.

When BGSU visited the Bulls in 2013, they earned a measure of revenge for 2008 by claiming a 24-7 win. That victory sealed the Falcons' first division title in ten years. One year later, the Falcons won another thriller over the Bulls. The winning score in the 36-35 affair was scored with just 2:19 left in the game.

Overall, Bowling Green owns a 9-3 edge in the season series and has won five in a row in Buffalo.

The Bulls arrive at this game with a 2-2 record after splitting a pair of games at home and on the road. They've defeated Albany and Florida Atlantic but have also fallen to Penn State and, most recently, Nevada at home.

Buffalo presents a well-balanced offense with two of the best offensive stars in quarterback history. Against BGSU, quarterback Joe Licata should move into second place on UB's career passing yards list. To date this season, he's completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 894 yards, six touchdowns and just four interceptions. Meanwhile, fellow senior and running back Anthone Taylor is the fifth-leading rusher in Buffalo history. He leads the Bulls this season with 381 yards and five yards per carry.

However, Buffalo's offense was anything but balanced in last year's game against BGSU. Anthone Taylor carried the ball a career-high 36 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Of the Bulls' 71 plays, 47 were runs, and they held a 38:08-21:52 edge in time of possession. The Bulls began the game with a drive that lasted almost ten minutes.

You can expect to see much of the same this year, as head coach Lance Leipold attempts to keep the Bowling Green offense off the field. The strategy could pay off, as BGSU  has struggled against the run at times this season, particularly in their first two games. Against Tennessee and Maryland, the Falcons gave up 555 rushing yards (6.2 per carry). That performance did improve against Memphis (155 yards, 3.1 per carry) and even more against Purdue (77 yards, 2.0 per carry).

If Buffalo needs to throw the ball, Licata will likely target Ron Willoughby (22 catches, 269 yards, 1 TD) or Matt Weiser (17-176-1).

Bowling Green travels to Buffalo with a 2-2 record in tow following road wins over Maryland and Purdue, as well as a road loss to Tennessee and a home defeat at the hands of Memphis. The victories over the Terrapins and Boilermakers give BGSU three wins over the Big Ten in the last two seasons. They're playing this game with a 12-game winning streak against MAC East teams on the line.

We all know by now what the Falcons will seek to do on offense. Their up-tempo game will combine a mix of runs and short passes, but quarterback Matt Johnson will not hesitate to throw deep if the opportunity is there. Johnson leads the country with 1,760 passing yards. If you think that's a factor of his number of attempts, consider that his yards per attempt is 8.5. He also has a 13:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has thrown for 400 yards in each of his four games this season.

Overall, the Falcons have accumulated at least 539 yards of offense in each of their four games, and quite a bit of that has been on the ground. Travis Greene, who is less than 700 yards from BGSU's career rushing record, leads the team with 232 yards and three touchdowns. Fred Coppet has added 224 yards, and short-yardage specialist Donovan Wilson has three touchdowns. BGSU is averaging 149.5 yards per game and 4.1 per carry.

Buffalo's rush defense has been suspect, as they've given up 183.8 yards per game, including 289 in their most recent game against Nevada. However, their pass defense has been fantastic. The Bulls are allowing opposing passers to complete only 50.4 percent of passes, have as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns allowed, and are only giving up 182.8 yards per game. It will absolutely be a challenge for Babers' offense.

Another challenge for Bowling Green to overcome? Penalties. The Falcons still haven't cleaned up that issue, as they have committed at least ten penalties in every game this season.

The weather forecast calls for a high of 55 and mostly cloudy conditions, but it will also be windy, which may affect the passing game for both teams. With that in mind, this game could be quicker and lower scoring than many might otherwise expect. Buffalo will obviously be looking to run the ball, but if the Falcons have difficulty passing, they could also run the ball to try to exploit what has been, so far, a Bulls' weakness.