Buffalo at a Glance
|Head Coach||Lance Leipold (Fifth season with Buffalo (23-27), 132-33 overall|
|2018 Record||10-4, 7-1 (1st MAC East)|
|2018 Postseason||Dollar General Bowl (42-32 loss vs. Troy)|
|Biggest Losses||QB Tyree Jackson, WR Anthony Johnson, WR K.J. Osborn, WR Charlie Jones, C James O'Hagan, DE Chuck Harris, DT Justin Brandon, LB Khalil Hodge, CB Tatum Slack, CB Cameron Lewis|
|Biggest Returnees||RB Jarrett Patterson, RB Kevin Marks, WR Charlie Jones, LB James Patterson, DE Taylor Riggins, DE Malcolm Koonce, CB Aapri Washington|
|Summary||After coming within one point of a MAC title, Buffalo will look to build on last year's success with a new man under center.|
|Matchup with PSU||The Bulls visit Happy Valley for the first time in four years in a prime time matchup.|
Life without Tyree Jackson begins a year earlier than head coach Lance Leipold probably anticipated. Coming off of a solid junior season in 2018 that saw him complete 55% of his throws for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, Jackson opted to enter the NFL Draft. While he was up and down, the Bulls were still the nation's 10th-ranked passing offense by S&P+. Repeating that success in 2019 will be quite the task, however. Not only is Jackson off to the NFL, but leading receivers Anthony Johnson, K.J. Osborn, and Charlie Jones are gone, as is All-MAC center James O'Hagan. The former three accounted for 128 receptions, over 2,000 yards, and 21 touchdowns.
The good news for Leipold and offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki is the return of top running backs Jarret Patterson and Kevin Marks. The pair carried the ball 363 times one year ago and accounted for nearly 1,900 yards and 27 touchdowns. The duo will be leaned on heavily with so much of last year's passing attack gone.
That question of who plays quarterback will not be answered for some time, as four players will look to take the reigns. Junior Kyle Vantrease saw limited action as Jackson's backup over the previous two years but has hardly made himself the favorite. Classmate Dominic Johnson saw even fewer snaps. Redshirt freshman Matt Myers and true freshman Trevor Bycznski round out the competition.
While the offense loses some of their biggest names, the Bulls' defense returns several key players. Perhaps none is more important than James Patterson, brother of running back Jarrett. One year ago he was second on the team with 77 tackles, a pair of interceptions, and four forced fumbles. With Khalil Hodge graduating, Patterson will be leaned on heavily.
Up front, defensive ends Taylor Riggins and Malcolm Koonce return and figure to give coordinator Brian Borland a pair of experienced pass rushers. In 2018 the pair accounted for 10.5 TFLs and eight sacks. The senior duo will need to be at least as good in 2019.
In the secondary, three big pieces are gone from a group that ranked 15th in completion percentage allowed. Cameron Lewis, Brandon Williams, and Tatum Slack picked off eight passes and defended 12 more, but all three are gone. Aapri Washington, however, returns and had a pair of interceptions last year. Both safeties, Tyrone Hill and Joey Banks, return as well.
To put it bluntly, Buffalo's special teams have been abysmal for several years. In Leipold's five years in Buffalo, the Bulls have yet to rank higher than 121st in the S&P+ special teams measure. The lone bright spot, return man Charlie Jones, transferred to Iowa.
The Bulls missed eight extra points, and three field goals last year. Punts averaged just 38.5 net yards, and not a single kickoff went for a touchback.
Buffalo figures to take a step back with so much production gone from last year's 10-win team. The question, however, is how big that step is. Quarterback play will be a big part, of course. If one of the candidates can step up, the Bulls could once again contend in the MAC East. If not, Lance Leipold will need a defense that ranked 83rd in S&P+ a year ago to take strides to keep his young offense in games.
The Nittany Lions will be big favorites when the Bulls visit in week two, and figure to have plenty of chances to continue breaking in a young offense, and finding the right combinations on the defensive side of the ball.