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Previewing the 2021 Buffalo Bulls

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Lance Leipold’s late departure for Kansas forces Buffalo to hit the reset button this summer.

Akron v Buffalo Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Quite a few assumptions and expectations for Buffalo football required a complete reset when Lance Leipold left to take the Kansas head coaching job after the Bulls’ spring practice was complete. New Buffalo head coach Maurice Linguist didn’t retain any of the remaining coaches who didn’t follow Leipold to Kansas, meaning that Buffalo will enter fall camp starting from scratch. It doesn’t help that ten players also hit the transfer portal after the coaching change, meaning that 2021 will be the most Year Zero that is possible.

Linguist spent this spring as Michigan’s new defensive coordinator after spending last season as the defensive backs coach with the Dallas Cowboys. Prior to that, Linguist bounced around college football as a defensive backs coach including stops at Texas A&M (2018-19), Minnesota (2017), Mississippi State (2016) and Iowa State (2014-15). New offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery comes to Buffalo following stints at James Madison (2020), Akron (2019) and Charlotte (2018) following a multi-year stint as Bo Pelini’s first offensive coordinator at Youngstown State.

Kyle Vantrease (6’3” 220 lbs.) has started the last 15 games for Buffalo, completing over 62% of his passes with seven touchdowns and three interceptions in seven games last season. He’s not a prolific runner, but did average 3.5 yards per carry on 11 carries last season with four touchdowns rushing Matt Meyers (6’4” 220 lbs.) started the first five games in 2019, completing 48% of his passes with six touchdowns and four interceptions before suffering a season-ending injury. Trevor Bycznski (6’5” 235 lbs.) threw an interception on his only pass attempt as a freshman last season.

Buffalo needs to replace three of their top four receivers from last season. Only Joany Ruiz (6’0” 195 lbs.) and Dominic Johnson (6’5” 220 lbs.) have caught more than one pass for Buffalo. Ruiz caught 20 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown last season, while Johnson caught five passes for 43 yards last season.

Buffalo needs to replace the departed Jaret Patterson, who tied an NCAA record last season with eight touchdowns against Kent State. But Kevin Marks (6’0” 205 lbs.) isn’t much of a dropoff; he earned third team All-MAC honors last season despite being a backup. In 2019, Marks rushed for 1,035 backing up Patterson and last season, averaged nearly 106 yards a game and outrushed Patterson in four of Buffalo’s seven games last season. Ron Cook (5’7” 190 lbs.) should see more playing time; he’s averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 38 carries the last two seasons.

Only two starters return on the offensive line, led by right tackle Jake Fuzak (6’5” 300 lbs.), a second team all-MAC honoree who’ll likely shift to the left side this fall. Right guard Jack Klenk (6’3” 300 lbs.) also started every game last season. Graduate transfer Jordan Johnson (6’4” 302 lbs.) started all nine games for Eastern Kentucky in the 1-AA spring season following two seasons at East Carolina, where he played in seven games.

Defensively, the Bulls return six starters, but two of the biggest losses were on the defensive line where they must replace a third-round draft pick (defensive end Malcolm Koonce to Las Vegas). Defensive end Eric Black (6’3” 245 lbs.) started last season with 12 tackles and three sacks. George Wolo (6’0” 265 lbs.) started four games at defensive tackle as a true freshman last year with 27 tackles and three sacks.

Linebacker should be the strength of the Bulls’ defense where three-year starter James Patterson (6’0” 230 lbs.) returns after earning first team All-MAC honors last season with 63 tackles. Roverback Kadofi Wright (6’3” 230 lbs.) added 24 tackles and eight pass deflections, while 2019 third team 1-AA All-American transfer Keith Woetzel (6’0” 225 lbs.) from Lehigh will provide additional depth.

In the secondary, two players return after two others departed via the transfer portal. Safety Cory Gross (6’2” 205 lbs.) was last year’s second-leading tackler with 42 in seven games. Cornerback Isaiah King (5’10” 190 lbs.) added 22 tackles. Junior cornerback Aapri Washington (5’9” 195 lbs.) did start 19 games in 2018-19 with 52 tackles and 11 passes defended.

Leipold’s late departure to Kansas means that Buffalo is really starting over from scratch in August, and a team that likely would have been favored to win the MAC East. Now, there’s enough uncertainty with the Bulls to cast a huge question mark over the 2021 season. Perhaps a more reasonable expectation is to manage to win enough games to become bowl eligible, and who knows, if things come together quickly, maybe still win their division.

Poll

What’s your expectation when Buffalo comes to Lincoln?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Buffalo gets their first B1G win since throttling Rutgers in 2018.
    (17 votes)
  • 36%
    Buffalo surprises Nebraska enough to make this a closer game than many might expect.
    (68 votes)
  • 54%
    This one ends up over early as the Huskers get another opportunity to play a lot of youngsters.
    (103 votes)
188 votes total Vote Now