Buffalo football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Bulls, best players and season prediction.
That wasn’t quite what the Lance Leipold experience was supposed to be all about.
A legendary D-III head coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater, he led the Warhawks to six national championships in eight seasons with five perfect 15-0 campaigns in his last six. And early on in his first season at Buffalo, it looked like he was about to work some magic, too.
No one was expecting a MAC title right away in Amherst, but a 5-4 start made it look like a bowl appearance – or at least eligibility – would mean a potentially strong debut. Buffalo had a few good years before Leipold took over, and then, just when it seemed like 2015 was going to kick in to a whole other level …
Pffffffft. The air went totally out of the balloon.
UB needed just one win in its last three games to get bowl eligible for just the second time in seven years, but the defense went bye-bye in losses to Northern Illinois and Akron, and most inexcusably, the team couldn’t get by UMass at home with everything on the line.
To put it into perspective, Leipold lost one more game in his first year in Amherst than he did in his entire eight-year run in Whitewater.
Can the coaching be the difference in what needs to be a bigger step forward?
There might not be the skill players in place like there were last year, but the infrastructure is there offensively with the strong line up front. The defense only loses two starters and should be more aggressive and steady, and there some good additions looking ready to roll right away.
In the weaker of the two East division, the Bulls should be able to make more noise. It should be more like what Leipold was supposed to do coming in from Whitewater. He knows how to coach winners, and UB has the talent to become one.
What You Need To Know About The Buffalo Bulls Offense
The offense had the pieces to be fantastic, and it wasn’t. The running game didn’t work, the passing game put up yards, but wasn’t efficient, and the scoring didn’t come on a steady basis. RB Anthone Taylor is gone, but Jordan Johnson is a great-looking back behind a veteran line with four starters back. Can the receivers come into place right away? Collin Lisa needs to be a No. 1 target, but overall the corps needs to be more explosive.
Biggest Key To The Buffalo Offense
Can the passing game be more efficient and effective without the top receivers? That was the key to Leipold’s Whitewater teams – the offenses were ultra-effective and efficient. Even with QB Joe Licata back and a few veteran receivers leading the way – including an All-MAC tight end in Matt Weiser – the offense never really got going. Now Licata, Wieser, and top targets Ron Willoughby and Marcus McGill gone, but there could be an upgrade at quarterback with Rohach expected to take over. He’ll get time behind a veteran line, and he has a lot to prove.
What You Need To Know About The Buffalo Bulls Defense
Outstanding at times two years ago, it had to undergo a little bit of an overhaul last year. The improvement never came, struggling late in the year in three key games and didn’t do enough to come up with key stops. The run defense wasn’t there, the pass rush was lacking, and it wasn’t a consistent enough season. This year, the entire defensive front is back along with all-star LB Brandon Berry. The secondary that was young and needed help comes back potentially nasty starting with corner Boise Ross. Now the big stops have to come.
Biggest Key To The Buffalo Defense
The run defense was okay, but it wasn’t good enough. The Bulls have the bulk up front, and it has the linebackers to clean everything up. Now the production has to come week-in-and-week-out against the better ground games. Last year, UB was 0-6 when allowing 200 rushing yards or more, and 5-1 when allowing fewer. By comparison, the defense allowed just three 200-yard games – and lost them all – two years ago. As a program, Buffalo is 1-18 over the last four years when allowing two bills, with the only win coming against Morgan State early in 2012.
Buffalo Will Be Far Better If …
The ground game starts to work again. The woeful kickoff return game needs to improve, and the penalties have to slow down, but the team mostly needs the running attack to be more dangerous after running for just 1,643 yards and averaging under four yards per carry. The O came up with 200 yards on the ground with four scores in the opener against Albany, and that was it for the 200-yard mark. There weren’t enough big runs and there were too many third-and-long situations. With a veteran line, the Bulls have to start being far nastier at controlling games.
Best Buffalo Bulls Offensive Player
OT John Kling, Sr. – The veteran left tackle is very big, very tough to get around, and very, very good, earning All-MAC honors for a line that didn’t do enough for the ground game, but was terrific in pass protection. With four starters back, the line has the upside to be the best in the MAC, or close to it, and Kling is the best blocker to work around.
Best Buffalo Bulls Defensive Player
LB Brandon Berry, Sr. – Nick Gilbo led the team with 113 tackles, but fellow linebacker Okezie Alozie was third and Brandon Berry was No. 2. Berry is built like a safety, but he can pop to go along with good range and nice hitting ability in the open field. He’s the best of a good-looking defensive front and should be on the way to another All-MAC season. He came up with 103 tackles, and he should lead the D in stops on the outside.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Grant Rohach, Jr. – Will the Iowa State transfer be the guy who replaces Joe Licata? It’s not a lock that he’ll be the starter right away with Tyree Jackson and Chris Merchant two decent young option waiting for their turn, but he’s the former Big 12 starter – although not a great one – starting as a freshman and getting bypassed as a sophomore. He’s not all that big, but he’s an experienced passer who chose Buffalo even though he had his pick of Group of Five schools to transfer to.
The Buffalo Bulls Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s bowl eligible. The Bulls should’ve beaten UMass at the end of last year to get to six wins, and there’s no excuse not to be there this season. Seven wins is a fair goal, and anything less than six will be disastrous in Leipold’s second year and with the veterans returning on D.
2015 Buffalo Bulls Fun Stats
– Fumbles: Opponents 14 (lost 7) – Buffalo 8 (lost 4)
– Kickoff Return Average: Opponents 22.4 yards – Buffalo 16.6 yards
– Fourth Down Conversions: Buffalo 15-of-23 (65%) – Opponents 12-of-28 (43%)