Non-Conference Preview, Part 1

With the preview of the conference potion of the schedule complete, I'll embark on a pre-season tour of Rutgers' non-conference opponents. This is the first in a five part series beginning with a look at season opener Buffalo. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


Last year, I noted that Buffalo is measuring its progress in baby steps.  Head Coach Jim Hofher apparently took that literally and started 11 true or redshirt freshmen last season.  Eight were full time starters.  The youth movement wasn't strictly by design as attrition-induced depth problems, especially on the OLine and DLine, pushed four young linemen into the fire.  While his young players gained valuable experience, Buffalo paid a steep price (1-11, 0-8 MAC) for that learning curve.  A season-opening loss to Division IAA Lehigh was offset by a win at Rutgers the following week - Buffalo's first win over a BCS conference team.  But a subsequent spanking at the hands of fellow Division IA newcomer Connecticut triggered a ten game losing streak to end the season.  The Baby Bulls were worse on both sides of the ball in 2002 - fewer points scored (one, per game), fewer rushing yards gained (20), fewer passing yards gained (25), more points allowed (9), more rushing yards allowed (30), and more passing yards allowed (50).  Furthermore, the Baby Bulls found ways to lose several close games. 

Hofher is continuing to build for the future, having redshirted 17 freshmen from the 2002 recruiting class.  However, roster attrition (nine players - all underclassmen - lost since spring camp) is still prompting Hofher to force feed young players and recruit JUCO replacements (eight this year, including four late additions).  Hofher returns 14 players from the nation's youngest team.  Here's a look at the growing Bulls of Buffalo. 


Buffalo returns 7 starters from a unit that was nearly as bad as was Rutgers last season.  Last season, the Bulls moved away from their spread offense and more typically employed either a pro set or a 2TE/single back look.  Although Hofher hired a new offensive coordinator, I expect more of the same this year as Buffalo attempts to capitalize upon an experienced OLine and a deep backfield.  Buffalo's 2002 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 18 points per game (#112 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 276 yards per game (#116 in Division 1A)
  • 98 rushing yards per game (#109 in Division 1A)
  • 178 passing yards per game (#89 in Division 1A)

Buffalo returns all five starters from an experienced OLine that is still young - two-year starter RS Sr RT Jeff Mills, two-year starter RS Jr RG Erik Zeppuhar, RS Sr C Kevin Dunn, S So LG Mike Schifano, and RS So LT Zack Love.  Former starters RS Jr C Eric Weber, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, RS Jr RG Dan Minocchi, and Sr LT Alex Alvarez are the most experienced of the backups.  RS Fr LG Tim Schmidt and JUCO transfer Jr RT Luke Johnson likely will complete the second unit.  An OLine that was young and thin last season is now experienced, more mature, and deep.  Exactly what Hofher needs to open holes for a running game that will have to carry the offense. 

Buffalo returns its top two TBs in MAC Freshman of the Year RS So Aaron Leeper 235 carries for 917 yards and 10 TDs plus 27 receptions for 132 yards) and backup RS So Dave Dawson (61 carries for 365 yards and 2 TDs plus 6 receptions for 49 yards).  Starting FB Jason Montanez has departed and backup FB So Ramon Guzman (5 receptions for 19 yards and one TD) was lost unexpectedly.  Former starter RS Sr Tom Shaughnessy, a pure FB, will again assume the starting duties.  JUCO Jr FB Tyrone Wilson will backup Shaughnessy.  Leeper and Dawson, behind an experienced OLine, give the Bulls two promising young TBs around which to feature an offense. 

RS Jr QB Randy Secky (204 of 421 for 2,015 yards, 12 TDs, and 13 INTs) will return as the starter.  Backup QB So Mike Radon was lost unexpectedly.  Former backup QB RS So PJ Piskorik, who was academically ineligible last season, rejoined the team in spring camp.  Secky's performance as a first-year starter was solid as he completed nearly half of his passes and only threw one more INT than TDs.  However, he will need to improve his accuracy and his decision-making if he is to relieve the pressure on the running game to keep the Bulls from being too one-dimensional.

Buffalo lost heavily in its receiving corps, which has been the strength of the offense in recent seasons.   Leading receiver and four-year starter WR Andre Ford (54 receptions for 748 yards and 7 TDs), Second Team All-MAC TE Chad Bartoszek (45 receptions for 350 yards), two-year starter WR Maurice Bradford (15 receptions for 252 yards and 2 TDs), backup WR Dan Lindsey (13 receptions for 142 yards), and backup TE Jason Smalarz all departed.  RS So Tim Dance (16 receptions for 167 yards and 2 TDs) and Jr WR Matt Knueven (8 receptions for 89 yards and one TD) will likely replace Ford and Bradford.   RS Fr TE Chad Upshaw will likely start while JUCO transfer Jr TE Brian Miller will be the backup.  Sr WR Azzaam Stallsworth (13 receptions for 130 yards), JUCO transfer Jr WR Derrick Dyer, and RS Fr WR Brian Watson will jockey for the backup jobs.  The loss of both Ford and Bartoszek will be difficult to replace. 


Buffalo lost only three starters from a squad that regularly started six freshmen.  Hofher will employ a conventional 4-3 defensive scheme.  Buffalo's 2002 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 35 points per game (#100 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 434 yards per game (#103 in Division 1A)
  • 207 rushing yards per game (105 in Division 1A)
  • 227 passing yards per game (#75 in Division 1A)

The starting LB unit, featuring three of the top five tacklers, returns intact - two-year starter and second leading tackler RS Sr MLB Lamar Wilcher (69 tackles and 5 TFLs), RS Jr OLB Rodney Morris (62 tackles and 6 TFLs), and So OLB Bryan Cummings (54 tackles and 6 TFLs).  Backups OLB Ryan Buttles (43 tackles) and OLB Jason Coley (27 tackles and 2 TFLs) departed.  Sr OLB Chris Clifton (18 tackles) and RS So MLB Rich Sanders (15 tackles) return as backups.  RS Fr OLB Jeff Bublavi and James Vann will vie for the final backup role.  The LB corps is the deepest and most experienced unit on the team.  But they must improve their playmaking (e.g., TFLs, sacks, FF, and FR), which was virtually non-existent last year. 

Attrition forced Hofher to start three freshmen on the DLine last season - RS Fr DT Rob Schroeder (37 tackles, 8 TFLs, and 4.5 sacks), RS Fr DT Bill Melihof (28 tackles and 6 TFLs), and RS Fr DE Phil Jacques (36 tackles, 4 TFLs, and 2 sacks).  Starting DE RS Sr Demetrius Austrum (29 tackles, 6 TFLs, and 3 sacks) provides the most experience for a very young unit.  Depth already took a hit when Melihof suffered a season-ending ACL injury during spring camp.  Furthermore, backup DT So Kevin Wiggans (24 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 2 sacks) and RS So DE Ken Soltis, a converted MLB, were lost prematurely.  JUCO transfer Sr Sagan Atuatasi will replace Melihof in the starting lineup.  Backup DE Jr Anthony Andriano (41 tackles, 11 TFLs, and 4 sacks) is the best playmaker on the defense.  Backup DT Sr Rashod Clark (11 tackles and 2 TFLs) provides experience inside but is undersized.  RS So DE Aaron Sanders and RS So DT Kirk Berry are undersized and inexperienced but represent the best options that Hofher has to fill the holes on his depth chart.  Buffalo is still young on the DLine and has little depth as attrition has decimated this particular unit for the second consecutive. 

The secondary suffered the most losses on the defense as two-year starter CB Mike Lambert (42 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 INTs, and 2 FR) and backup CB Dahnel Singfield (27 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 2 FF) departed.  In addition, CB RS So Kevin Concepcion (52 tackles, 2 INTs, and 2 FF), backup FS So Joe DiGiorgio (24 tackles), RS Fr CB Anania Boyd, and RS Fr FS Antonio Jones were lost prematurely.  Two-year starter and leading tackler RS Sr FS Mark Graham (89 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 6 INTs) and RS So SS Gemara Williams (43 tackles and 4 TFLs) will anchor the secondary.  RS So Angel Baines - a transfer from Mansfield College - and RS Fr Michael Arroyo, RS Fr Delando Bradford, and RS Fr Brandon Smith will jockey for starting and backup CB positions.  RS Jr SS JJ Gibson (68 tackles) is the only experienced backup.  RS Fr FS Ryan Sherwood-Ericsson will likely be the backup to Graham.  Buffalo is experienced at safety but very vulnerable on the corners. 


Buffalo suffered a complete turnover of its specialists.  P Scott McMahan (40 yards per punt) and Sr PR/KOR Andre Ford (8.5 yards per punt return plus one TD and 21 yards per kickoff) departed.  And RS Sr PK Dallas Pelz (9 of 13 FGAs and 8 of 13 XPAs) was displaced by RS So PK Mike Baker (1 of 2 FGAs and 8 of 8 XPAs).  RS So Tim Dance will likely return punts while RS So Aaron Leeper (17 yards per return) will return kickoffs.  JUCO transfer Jr P Dominic Milano will assume punting duties.  With the exception of the replacement of McMahan, the turnover offers the opportunity to improve upon unimpressive special team performances. 


Buffalo has a full 12 game schedule with 6 home games.  The Bulls have only one bye week - in mid-November after playing for 10 consecutive weeks - and the season ends early.  The Bulls will play 8 conference games.  The Bulls face a tough MAC schedule as their two West Division crossover games are against Toledo and Northern Illinois, who both should contend for the West Division crown.  Buffalo plays two of the three best East Division teams on the road and gets two of the three weaker East Division teams at home.  However, fellow bottom feeder Kent State hosts Buffalo this year.  The MAC media have picked Buffalo to finish last in the seven-team East Division.  Iowa will be Buffalo's most formidable non-conference opponent.  Rutgers and Connecticut represent programs at comparable levels although Connecticut appears to be growing up quickly while Rutgers has no business being at Buffalo's level.  A victory over Division IAA Colgate is mandatory.  Buffalo will struggle to escape the MAC East Division cellar.  


August 30

@ Rutgers

September 6

@ Iowa

September 13


September 20


September 27


October 4

@ Central Florida

October 11

@ Miami (OH)

October 18


October 25


November 1

@ Toledo

November 8

Northern Illinois

November 22

@ Kent State



I predict the Bulls will finish 3-9 (2-6).  Rutgers will decisively avenge last year's embarrassing loss.  Rebuilding Iowa will have no problem thumping the Bulls in Iowa City.  The Bulls will beat Colgate and avoid the embarrassment of another loss to a Division IAA program.  Connecticut will win in Buffalo for the second consecutive year as the Huskies continue their development into a Big East program.  Buffalo will open the MAC schedule with four consecutive losses, including blowouts at the hands of Central Florida, Miami (OH), and Marshall.  A win over Ohio will precede two more bad losses to Toledo and Northern Illinois.  But the Bulls will close the season with its first MAC road win - over Kent State.  The two conference wins and three total wins will put Hofher back where he began with the Bulls program two years ago, but with a younger and more experienced talent base. 

Coming Next:  Non-Conference Preview, Part 2.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at Week 2 opponent - regrouping Michigan State.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.

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