Non-Conference Preview -- Part 3

This is the third in a four part preseason tour of the non-conference opponets. I'll continue my with a look at the hapless Buffalo Bulls. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


The years pass. College football teams rise and fall.  One constant, though, is the plight of the Buffalo program, perennially among the very worst teams in Division IA football.  The Bulls have frequently lost to Division I-AA opponents, for reasons more readily apparent than with Rutgers.  The Bulls often rank near the bottom of many national statistical categories.  And the Bulls often inhabit the nether regions of national polls (e.g., CBS SportsLine 117).  Buffalo (2-9, 2-6 MAC) experienced a minor breakthrough in the Mid-American Conference last year with its first two-win season. 

Bulls Head Coach Jim Hofher has struggled to recruit talent to Buffalo.  New York State is not considered a football hotbed and Syracuse is the dominant home state program.  As a result, Hofher has taken more than his share of athletically or academically marginal recruits.  As a result, the depth chart is constantly in a state of flux, as ineffective starters are displaced by ineffective replacements.  Compounding the talent shortage, Buffalo continues to be plagued with horrendous attrition that saps the roster and stunts the development of the program, much as it did at Rutgers under former Head Coach Terry Shea.  Promising young players (relative to Buffalo) disappear, depriving the Bulls of veteran leadership and production, forcing younger players to fill the gaps before they are ready to contribute, and disrupting continuity.  Hofher returns 13 starters from an experienced team.  Here's a look at the hapless Buffalo Bulls. 


Buffalo lost five starters from an anemic offense that could run the ball but couldn't pass.  The Bulls run a multiple offense that uses a pro set as its base formation.  The Bulls will also deploy a 2TE or 3WR look.  But the emphasis is on a running game and a deep backfield.  When Buffalo played Rutgers in the 2003 season opener, the Bulls stunned Rutgers by employing the Navy double slot option.  A formation that takes advantage of Buffalo's depth at TB.  Buffalo's 2004 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 148 rushing yards per game (#67 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 122 passing yards per game (#113 in Division 1A)
  • 270 yards per game (#116 in Division 1A)
  • 18 points per game (#108 in Division 1A)

Buffalo returns all of its TBs from a very deep backfield.  Starting FB Tyrone Wilson and backup FB Dimitri Facaros, both of whom were used exclusively as blockers, departed. 
Starting TB and leading rusher RS Jr Steven King (94 carries for 445 yards and 7 TDs plus 4 receptions for 9 yards) returns.  Second leading rusher RS Jr TB Chris McDuffie (94 carries for 404 yards and 2 TDs plus 11 receptions for 43 yards), who was the top backup last season, apparently is sidelined with an injury.  RS Jr TB Jared Patterson (83 carries for 265 yards and 4 TDs plus 4 receptions for 20 yards) and RS Jr TB Dave Dawson (59 carries for 350 yards and 3 TDs plus 4 receptions for 28 yards) will start the season as the backups to King.  True Fr FB Philip Warren will replace Wilson as the starting FB while RS Fr FB Chris Sharon will be the backup.  The backfield is, by far, Hofher's deepest position on the team. 

Buffalo lost two starters off a veteran OLine – four-year starter RG Erik Zeppuhar and two-year starter C Eric Weber.  Backup LG Dan Minocchi and backup RT Terrance Miles, who replaced the injured starter but was eventually displaced as the starter midway through last season, also departed.  Former starting RT RS Jr Tim Schmidt, who suffered a season ending knee injury in Game 1 last year, apparently has been lost to academic ineligibility.  Three-year starter RS Sr LT Zack Love and two-year starter RS Sr LG Mike Schifano return.  Starting RT Sr Leroy Auguste, who replaced Miles in the starting lineup last year, also returns.  Former backup C RS So Jamey Richard will replace Weber in the starting lineup.  RS Jr Gerry Weissinger, who played both OL and DT last year, will be the starting RG.   Backup LT RS Sr Luke Johnson and former backup RG RS So Travis Coughlin, who was switched to LG, are the most experienced backups.  RS Fr C Jeff Neidermier, RS Fr RG Jon Geddes, and true Fr RT Ray Norell will complete the second team.  Hofher will rely upon the veteran left side of the OLine to open holes for his deep stable of running backs. 

Buffalo lost its most experienced receiver – three-year starter and leading receiver WR Matt Knueven (29 receptions for 415 yards and one TD).  Backup TE Brian Miller (10 receptions for 92 yards and one TD) also departed.  Starting WR and second leading receiver So Terrance Breaux (23 receptions for 330 yards and one TD) and starting TE RS Jr Chad Upshaw (13 receptions for 146 yards and 2 TDs) return.  JUCO Jr WR Evan Wallace will replace Knueven in the starting lineup.  Backup WRs RS Jr Brian Watson (9 receptions for 85 yards) and So Bryan Kisabeth (4 receptions for 87 yards) return but both have been displaced from the two-deep.  RS Sr WR Derrick Dyer, who missed most of the 2003 season with a knee injury and the 2004 season with academic ineligibility, and Fr WR Brett Hamlin will replace Watson and Kisabeth as the backups.  RS So TE Trevor Scott will backup Upshaw.  Hofher lacks weapons at receiver, which is not a recipe to improve an impotent passing attack. 

The QB situation is a disaster.  Both starter P.J. Piskorik (61 of 133 for 616 yards, 2 TDs, and 8 INTs plus 57 carries for 189 yards and one TD), who finished the season as the third starter at QB once he returned from an injury and suspension, and former two-year starter Randall Secky (35 of 88 for 349 yards, one TD, and 6 INTs), who began the season as the starter but was displaced, departed.  RS So QB Chris Moore (13 of 19 for 263 yards, one TD, and one INT), who replaced Secky as the starter, is apparently out after undergoing surgery for a rotator cuff injury.  Backup QB So Datwan Hemingway (8 of 19 for 110 yards and one TD), who saw action last year as the #4 QB, apparently was lost to academic eligibility.  RS Jr Stewart Sampsel, the fifth string QB last year, beat JUCO Jr QB Tony Paoli for the starting QB job.  Hofher is scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill his QB position.  That doesn't bode well for an inept passing game. 

Buffalo lost only four starters from an experienced defense that was the least ineffective unit on the Bulls' team.  Hofher employs 4-2 defensive scheme similar to that of Villanova.  Two safeties essentially play as OLBs, giving the defense a 4-4 look that puts pressure on the offense when used aggressively.  The defense can make plays but also give up plays.  Buffalo's 2004 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 189 rushing yards per game (#87 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 214 passing yards per game (#59 in Division 1A)
  • 402 yards per game (#81 in Division 1A)
  • 32 points per game (#94 in Division 1A)

Buffalo returns intact its LB unit, which constituted three of the top five tacklers although the defense only deploys two LBs.  Two-year starter and second leading tackler Sr ILB Bryan Cummings (75 tackles, 9 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and one FF) and starting ILB RS Jr Jeff Bublavi (62 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, and one FR), who displaced the starter midway through last season, will anchor the defense.  Former starting ILB RS Sr Rich Sanders (62 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, and one FF), who was replaced by Bublavi, is still listed on the Buffalo roster but has mysteriously disappeared from the two-deep.  Backup ILB RS So Ollice Ervin (17 tackles, one TFL, and one FR) apparently will assume the primary backup role.  So ILB Todd Robertson (7 tackles) will replace the vanished Sanders on the second team.  Buffalo has two experienced LBs but attrition has compromised the deepest unit on the defense. 

The starting DLine returned all four starters.  Backup DT Sagan Atuatasi (12 tackles, one TFL, and one FF) was the only scheduled departure.  However, two-year starter RS Sr DT Bill Meholif (33 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 3 sacks) will miss the season with a chronic knee injury that cost him the 2003 season.  Three-year starter RS Sr DE Phil Jacques (30 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3 sacks, one FF, and 2 FRs), starting DE RS Sr Aaron Sanders (47 tackles, 12 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, one FF, and 3 FRs), and starting DT RS Sr DT Kirk Berry (11 tackles, one TFL, and one FR), who displaced the starter early last year, return as starters.  Former starter RS Sr DT Rob Schroeder (20 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and 2 FFs), who was replaced by Berry last year, will return to the starting line in place of Meholif.  Backup DE Sr Anthony Andriano (30 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and one FR), the primary backup, is the only experienced backup on the DLine.  RS So DE Andrae Smith, who missed last season with an injury, RS Fr DT Ronald Hilaire, and RS So DT Marck Abraham, who redshirted last year (academics?) will complete the second team.  The DLine is experienced but the loss of Meholif has hurt the depth of a unit that was vulnerable against the run. 

The secondary suffered severe attrition.  Three-year starter and leading tackler FS J.J. Gibson (113 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 2 INTs, and 3 FRs) departed.  Backup CB Michelin Ambroise (7 tackles) also departed.  Starting SS RS Jr Ryan Sherwood-Ericsson (53 tackles, 4 TFLs, one sack, and 2 FF) suffered a career-ending neck injury last season and will not return either.  Starting CB So James Evans (39 tackles, one sack, 4 INTs, and 2 FF) is academically ineligible.  Backup SS So Jamal Chisam is out with a knee injury.  Former starting TB Aaron Leeper, who was switched to CB in spring camp, will miss the season with ongoing shoulder problems.  Two-and-a-half year starter and third leading tackler RS Sr CB Gemara Williams (73 tackles) will be the leader of the secondary.  Former starting WS RS Jr James Vann (45 tackles, 2 TFLs, one sack, and one FF) has been relegated to backup duty.  Former backup WS RS Jr Ramon Guzman (37 tackles, 4 TFLs, and 2 sacks) has replaced Vann as the starting WS.  RS So FS Kareem Byron, who was academically ineligible last year, and So SS Jesse Imes (16 tackles), who was a backup CB last year, will replace Gibson and Sherwood, respectively, in the starting lineup.  True freshman CB Gerald Jackson will fill the void left by Evans' unexpected departure.  Backup SS Sr Sherwan Saaty (11 tackles and one sack), joins Vann as the only other experienced backup.  Sr CB Stephen Thomas (10 tackles) and Fr CB Andre Evans will complete the second team, with Evans pulling double duty at both CB positions.  Previously the strength of the defense, the secondary is now a mess. 


Buffalo lost only one specialist – PR Matt Knueven (6 yards per return).  RS Jr TB Dave Dawson (1 yard per return) will replace Knueven as the PR.  Dawson (20 yards per return) will also return kickoffs.  JUCO Jr WR Evan Wallace will replace the injured McDuffie (20 yards per return) as the other KOR.  RS Sr PK Mike Baker (5 of 13 FGAs and 24 of 25 XPAs) and So P Ben Woods (41 yards per punt) will resume kicking duties.  The punting is the only strong aspect of the Bulls' special teams. 


Buffalo has an 11 game schedule with five home games.  The Bulls play once on Thursday night, in the season opener at Connecticut.  Buffalo has a short season, with only one bye week in late-September and finish the season in mid-November.  The non-conference schedule tough with Big East opponents Connecticut, Syracuse, and Rutgers.  Buffalo will play a standard eight games MAC schedule.  The Bulls drew a slightly unfavorable conference schedule.  The Eastern and Western MAC divisions are balanced so there is no advantage or disadvantage in playing all the Eastern division opponents.  Buffalo plays two of the three middling Eastern Division teams – Akron and Ohio – at home.  The Bulls play at Western Division favorite Toledo, sparing the home schedule an otherwise certain loss.  Buffalo gets one of two Western Division middlings – Eastern Michigan – at home.  The home schedule has three winnable games against Akron, Ohio, and Eastern Michigan.  The road schedule has two winnable games – at Western Michigan and at Kent State.  The key to the season is the final month, when Buffalo plays three of its five swing games against Ohio, at Kent State, and against Eastern Michigan.  Buffalo could finish with between none and five wins. 


September 1

@ Connecticut

September 10

@ Syracuse

September 17


October 1

@ Western Michigan

October 8


October 15

Bowling Green

October 22

@ Toledo

October 29


November 5

@ Miami (OH)

November 12

@ Kent State

November 19

Eastern Michigan



I predict the Bulls will finish 2-9 (2-6 MAC).  The Bulls will be swept in their non-conference games against the Big East.  A loss at rebuilding Western Michigan will extend the losing streak to four games.  Buffalo will halt the skid with a win over Akron.  A five-game losing streak will ensue.  Buffalo will its second slide with a win over Eastern Michigan in the season finale. 

Coming Next:  Keys to the Buffalo Game.  I'll review the five keys to a decisive win at Buffalo.  I'll also identify five key players whose contributions will be of special interest. 

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