2014 College Football Preview: Buffalo Bulls

Jeff Quinn has some work to do in 2014 if Buffalo is to make a second straight bowl appearance.

2014 College Football Preview: Buffalo Bulls
Buffalo's offense will lean heavily on quarterback Joe Licata (Timothy T. Ludwig / USA Today Sports)

The Buffalo Bulls won the MAC Championship in 2008 in Turner Gill’s third season. After a 5-7 season in 2009, Gill left for the Kansas Jayhawks. Jeff Quinn took over from Gill and had to build the program back up. From 2010 through 2012, Quinn went 2-10, 3-9, and 4-8, respectively. 2013 was a critical year for Quinn as head coach at Buffalo, as noted in detail below.

2013 Buffalo Bulls Season

Quinn had 16 starters back in 2013 including some top talent in linebacker Khalil Mack. Buffalo opened in the Horseshoe against Ohio State and played respectable losing 40-20. They were blown out by Baylor and had trouble with Stony Brook, as it took 5 overtimes to dispatch them. That victory was the first of 7 straight for Buffalo. They won their next six easily, as no game was closer than 20 points in the end. They struggled at the end of the regular season by losing 2 of their 3 games. They ended the season with a loss to San Diego State in the Idaho Potato Bowl.

The entire 2013 schedule is below.

Offense

The offense was very good in 2013. They averaged 30.3 points and 395 yards per game. Leading the offense was Joe Licata, who is back in 2014 along with 6 fellow starters from last year. He threw for 2,824 yards (58%), 24 touchdowns, and 8 touchdowns. With an entire season of starting experience, Licata should perform similarly in 2013.

Licata will need to step up at quarterback because Branden Oliver has moved on. Oliver ran for 1,535 yards (5 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns. Replacing him will be a combination of Anthone Taylor (399 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Jordan Johnson. Devin Campbell will also see time in the backfield. The loss of Oliver will hurt Buffalo and the unit will not match his production.

More bad news for Buffalo is that the top two receivers from 2013 are gone. Alex Neutz led the team with 61 catches for 1,024 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013. Fred Lee had 58 receptions for 692 yards and 5 touchdowns. The top returning receiver is Devin Campbell who had 19 catches for 200 yards. Boise Ross had 13 catches for 156 yards in 2013 and will probably step into a starting role this season. Marcus McGill is back after being injured for the last 9 games of 2013. Devon Hughes and Matt Weiser will join him at wide receiver and tight end, respectively. This unit will not be nearly as good without the top two from last year.

Four starters return on the offensive line, which is good news for the new running backs and receivers. Center Trevor Sales has started the last 25 games while left guard Andre Davis has started the last 37 games. The right guard position will be a battle between Dillon Guy and Robert Blodgett. Guy started 6 games last year and Blodgett started the other 7 games. Right tackle Jake Silas started all 13 games in 2013 and has improved since arriving at Buffalo. Even left tackle John Kling started 6 games in 2013. This unit will be important to the success of Buffalo on offense.

Defense

The defense was solid in 2013 with linebacker Khalil Mack leading the charge. As a unit, the defense gave up 24.4 points and 383 yards per game. This year, only 4 starters return and Mack is not one of them.

The defensive line has to replace two starters. Senior nose tackle Kristjan Sokoli returns after recording 29 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2.5 tackles-for-loss a season ago. Fellow seniors Tedroy Lynch and Dalton Barksdale will join him on the line. Both players have experience and the group should not see a steep drop off.

As mentioned before, Khalil Mack is gone after recording 100 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 7 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. The linebacking unit does have two starters returning in Lee Skinner and Adam Redden. Skinner was second on the team in tackles with 79 and Redden was third with 65. Redden also added 4.5 sacks in 2013. Senior Jake Stockman has made a total of 8 starts over the past two years and should do well as a full-time starter. Nevertheless, the unit will not be nearly as good without Mack.

The defensive secondary was also hit hard by losses with only 1 starter returning. That returner is cornerback Cortney Lester who finished 2013 with 32 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. The three projected starters, Marqus Baker, Okezie Alozi, and Witney Sherry, have all had game experience in the past. The secondary will suffer a bit in 2014.

Special Teams

Most of the special teams unit returns in 2014. Patrick Clarke had a down year in 2013 with 13 made field goals out of 20 attempts. He had a long of 51 yards. Punter Tyler Grassman is back after averaging 40 yards per punt with a net of 36 yards. Devin Campbell will be back returning kickoffs after averaging 23.9 yards per return, including one for a touchdown. Alex Neutz is not at punt returner anymore, but Campbell or Boise Ross could fill in nicely.

2014 Season Outlook

2014 will be an interesting year for Jeff Quinn. Without starters such as Branden Oliver, Alex Neutz, Fred Lee, and Khalil Mack, the team will not be as good as it was last year. That is not to say they cannot reach a bowl game. There is a learning curve with new players and only four returning starters does not bode well. One thing Buffalo does have in their favor is the schedule. The 2014 schedule is below.

The key point about the schedule is that Buffalo will need to win a total of 7 games to be bowl eligible. That is due to having two FCS teams in Duquesne and Norfolk State. Only one of those wins will count towards bowl eligibility, hence why 7 wins would be needed. The Army game could go either way so Buffalo should be no worse than 2-2 after the opening third of the season. Miami (OH) and UMass should also be chalked up as probable victories, which puts Buffalo at 4 wins. The games against Eastern Michigan, Ohio, Akron and Kent State will determine whether or not Buffalo reaches 7 wins. They have an excellent shot at doing so, especially if they beat Army in the second game of the season.