Preview 2017: Buffalo Has The Pieces To Be Far Better
After a disastrous season, Buffalo might just have the pieces to be far, far better.
There’s a sophomore slump, and there’s what Buffalo went through in head coach Lance Leipold’s second season.
After going 5-7 in his first year, the Bulls were supposed to take off last year and be a bit of a sleeper in the MAC race.
Instead, they were among the worst teams in college football.
They managed to miss the layup against Albany to start the season. They had the third-worst scoring offense in the country – scoring just ten points in the first quarter all year. They didn’t just lose, they were blown out by double-digits in eight of the ten defeats.
So why does it seem like things are about to be a whole lot better in a big hurry?
Leipold’s a D-III coaching legend – with six national titles and a runner-up finish in eight seasons at Wisconsin-Whitewater – but it’s taken a while to try building up Buffalo to be what he needs to win.
It’s taken a slew of JUCO transfers, a few key recruits, and the hope that a few unwanted players by the bigger boys end up blowing up once they get to Amherst. It hasn’t happened yet, but there are several nice building blocks.
Four starters return to an O line that wasn’t all that bad, and transfers will help fill the other spot. Yeah, the top receivers are gone, and leading rusher Jordan Johnson is gone, but the replacements are promising, and 6-7, 245-pound quarterback Tyree Jackson is going into his sophomore year.
The defense that struggled has a potentially amazing linebacking corps around tackling-machine Khalil Hodge in the middle. The safeties are good enough, six starters in the back seven return, and there’s real, live size up front to hope for more production against the run.
And now it’s up to Leipold to be the difference-maker. He’s got to be a better head coach than the guy on the other side of the field – he’s got to channel the success from the lower level.
And he needs some luck.
UB has an interesting collection of talent and enough experience to be stronger – and it had better be.
There’s no way it’ll be worse than last year’s 2-10 run, but for a program that won 18 games over a three-year span before 2016, merely being competitive again is too low a bar.