In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 85 Buffalo
The top-end talent is there with Anthony Johnson, Khalil Hodge, James O'Hagan and others. Are the second-tier players good enough for the Bulls to avoid stagnant offensive stretches and generate defensive pressure?
2017 Record: 6-6 (4-4, MAC)
Buffalo hit bowl eligibility but didn't go bowling.
Both sides of the ball took huge steps forward in tripling their win total from 2016. Despite injuries at quarterback that forced third-stringer Kyle Vantrease into action, the Bulls led the MAC in passing. JUCO transfer Anthony Johnson went bananas in his first season and is now the most productive returning receiver in the country.
Still, they scored 47 total points over a three-game midseason stretch and couldn't generate defensive pressure or force many turnovers.
Head Coach: Lance Leipold (4th Year, 13-23)
Three seasons after Buffalo plucked Lance Leipold from UW-Whitewater, the jury is still out. Leipold rebounded nicely from the two-win dud in 2016 with six wins last year, only their third season with at least six victories since the program returned in 1999.
He shuffled his coaching staff during the offseason and is now on a mission for depth.
“It's different than our first three spring because of the depth, experience and understanding of what we're going to do here," he said in April. “Now we're working on building depth and competition within the positions. I'm really happy with how our guys have embraced that and their work ethic, and the things we're trying to improve on within the offense and defense and special teams. We've put in great emphasis fundamentally to be better there and I like where we are at."
QB Drew Anderson, WR Kamathi Holsey, DE Demone Harris, LB Jarrett Franklin, S Ryan Williamson, S Tim Roberts
Anthony Johnson's monster season overshadowed a career year from senior Kamathi Holsey. The former JUCO transfer averaged more than 17 yards per reception. Backup quarterback Drew Anderson transferred to Murray State after some strong appearances in relief of Tyree Jackson.
Pocket pressure didn't come often from the Bulls' defense. Demone Harris was one of the few players capable of applying pressure. He led the team in tackles for loss (8.5) and was second in sacks (three). Elsewhere, both starting safeties — Ryan Williamson and Tim Roberts — are gone, as is linebacker Jarrett Franklin.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Tyree Jackson, RB Emmanuel Reed, RB Theo Anderson, RB Jonathan Hawkins, WR Anthony Johnson, WR K.J. Osborn, WR Antonio Nunn, TE Tyler Mabry, OT Evin Ksiezarczyk, C James O'Hagan
Tyree Jackson, unofficially one of the largest quarterbacks you've ever seen (6-foot-7, 245 pounds), is back after starting eight games and missing four with a knee injury.
The strong-armed, dual-threat quarterback was efficient, averaging nearly nine yards per attempt while throwing four touchdowns for every one interception. He's still a little rough around the edges but has the skill set to sit alongside Ohio's Nathan Rourke as the top passers in the MAC.
"There is always room for improvement, no matter how much success or little success, there is always room for improvement,” Jackson said. “That's the big thing our coach preaches to us in the quarterback room and as an offense."
Anthony Johnson had a couple nice JUCO seasons but no one expected him to catch 76 passes for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 207-pounder — who looks like a tight end but has surprisingly average measurables — passed on the 2018 draft and analysts have been gushing over his potential for 2019.
"2019 draft thought…Buffalo WR Anthony Johnson is a hell of a lot of fun to watch," tweeted Bleacher Report's Matt Miller in early May.
Johnson is the headliner but they also return junior K.J Osborn and sophomore Antonio Nunn. Nunn is a speedster who averaged a whopping 20 yards per catch as a true freshman. Three of his 15 catches went for at least 40 yards.
Senior center James O'Hagan, on the Rimington Watch List for a third straight season, leads an offensive line that returns three starters. They'll protect Jackson and block for a trio of experienced backs. All three top running backs return, and I'm most intrigued by Theo Anderson, a 5-foot-10, 220-pounder who came on in November, racking up 224 yards on 36 carries (6.2 yards per carry) in wins over Bowling Green and Ball State.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Chuck Harris, DT Justin Brandon, LB Khalil Hodge, LB Jordan Collier, CB Brandon Williams, CB Tatum Slack, CB Cameron Lewis
Longtime Leipold assistant Brian Borland is back at defensive coordinator for a unit that improved a lot last year. He employs a similar strategy to that of former Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers: Bend but don't break.
The one problem: It's really hard not to break when you can't exert much will on the opponent. They limited big plays but couldn't generate big plays of their own, ranking 100th or worse nationally in sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers. The offense ranked ninth nationally for fewest turnovers but they had a turnover margin of plus-one.
Khalil Hodge had twice as many tackles as any other Buffalo player. Let me say it again: Khalil Hodge had TWICE as many tackles as any other Buffalo player. His school record 154 tackles ranked second nationally and included 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Not many players can blitz, cover and play sideline to sideline like he can.
Alongside Hodge is Jordan Collier, a pleasant surprise at linebacker who moved from safety after transferring from UAB. He's not big (5-foot-11, 217 pounds), still looks like a safety but he was a big weapon for Borland. The secondary lost Williamson and Roberts but they get back three senior corners in Williams, Lewis and Slack. Slack led the team with nine passes defended last year.
Hodge and defensive end Chuck Harris are the only returning players who had multiple sacks last season.
DE Taylor Riggins, DT Atunaisa Vanikolo, DT DeShondrick Foxworth, S Joey Banks
The defensive line lost Demone Harris but gained three transfers. Former UMass end Taylor Riggins hasn't played football in a long time, redshirting in 2016 and sitting out last season per NCAA rules, but he'll add depth to the line. JUCO transfers Atunaisa Vanikolo and DeShondrick Foxworth will make immediate impacts.
Safety Joey Banks arrives from City College of San Francisco and should earn a starting spot.
Buffalo doesn't have back-to-back home or road games until the final third of the season.
They play Temple for the first time since 2011 (16 all-time meetings, including annually from 2006-11) and Rutgers for the first time since 2007 after meeting six times between 2000-07.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. Delaware State|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||at Temple|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Eastern Michigan|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||at Rutgers|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||vs. Army|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Central Michigan|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||vs. Akron|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||at Toledo|
|Tuesday, Oct. 30||vs. Miami (OH)|
|Tuesday, Nov. 6||vs. Kent State|
|Wednesday, Nov. 14||at Ohio|
|Friday, Nov. 23||at Bowling Green|