Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.
1. Stars leave
If you're not at a powerhouse, the cards are always stacked against you. No one knows this better than the University of Buffalo.
The Bulls joined FBS in 1999 and proceeded to win 12 games in eight seasons. Turner Gill improved the program's output from one win to two in 2006, then five in 2007, then eight (with a shocking MAC title) in 2008. The Bulls faded back to 5-7 the next year, and Gill left for Kansas.
Jeff Quinn, Brian Kelly's offensive coordinator at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati, took over for Gill, and as with Gill, it took him a few years to truly build traction. In his fourth season, however, he helped to engineer another eight-win season and the program's second bowl trip (a Potato Bowl loss to San Diego State). His reward? Well, a contract extension, for one; also: a staff overhaul and a roster without Khalil Mack and other stars.
Quinn began the offseason tasked with replacing four assistants: co-coordinator and DBs coach Maurice Linguist (hired as Iowa State's new DBs coach), defensive line coach Jappy Oliver (Virginia's new defensive line coach), quarterbacks coach Don Patterson (UConn's new quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach), and strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval (Wyoming's new director of sports performance).
New assistants can work out perfectly well -- as with any hire, from head coach to graduate assistant, it is more-or-less a coin flip -- but these new assistants will be working with new talent in key roles. Running back Branden Oliver and receiver Alex Neutz are gone. So are all-conference guard Jasen Carlson and both starting defensive ends. Star defensive backs Okoye Houston and Najja Houston have run out of eligibility, as has outside linebacker Adam Redden. And, of course, so has surefire first-round draft pick Khalil Mack.
So basically, almost every reason for Buffalo's strong 2013 campaign is gone, other than Quinn himself. And now the rebuilding resumes. Will it take four more years for Quinn to break through again?
2. Now what?
That was, of course, a bit fatalistic. Not every difference-maker is gone, and this is not an abandon-all-hope situation.
The new assistants have quite a bit of experience and/or upside -- new defensive line coach Chris Cosh is a former coordinator at USF and Kansas State, new defensive backs coach Eric Lewis was Weber State's coordinator last year, etc. -- and this team didn't exactly lose all 22 starters. The quarterback is back, as are four starters on a seasoned offensive line. The edges of the defense (end, OLB, cornerback) have been dinged, but the backbone up the middle could be strong. Special teams should still be a relative strength.
The cupboard is not bare, but we'll have to see whether Quinn's 2014 Bulls are capable of taking advantage of a weak schedule (opponents projected better than 100th in the initial F/+ projections: two) and reaching bowl eligibility again in a transition year.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 5-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 80|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at Ohio State||9||20-40||L||21.7 - 22.4||L|
|7-Sep||at Baylor||7||13-70||L||24.4 - 41.4||L|
|14-Sep||Stony Brook||N/A||26-23||W||14.4 - 24.3||L|
|28-Sep||Connecticut||93||41-12||W||27.3 - 19.8||W|
|5-Oct||Eastern Michigan||124||42-14||W||21.3 - 28.1||L||-5.4|
|12-Oct||at Western Michigan||117||33-0||W||27.0 - 15.3||W||-2.9|
|19-Oct||Massachusetts||118||32-3||W||22.2 - 29.6||L||-1.0|
|26-Oct||at Kent State||106||41-21||W||36.0 - 31.6||W||+1.9|
|5-Nov||Ohio||104||30-3||W||38.0 - 8.7||W||+6.2|
|12-Nov||at Toledo||62||41-51||L||33.9 - 35.0||L||+7.4|
|19-Nov||at Miami (Ohio)||123||44-7||W||25.3 - 24.2||W||+5.3|
|29-Nov||Bowling Green||47||7-24||L||18.4 - 21.9||L||+6.0|
|21-Dec||vs. San Diego State||89||24-49||L||19.0 - 35.5||L||+1.9|
|Points Per Game||30.3||53||24.4||40|
|Adj. Points Per Game||25.3||94||26.0||49|
3. A couple of eggs, but otherwise...
For most of the 2013 season, Buffalo was a team slightly better than the norm.
Adj. Score is designed to gauge how a team would have performed against a perfectly average opponent (with an average number of breaks) in a given week; in four of 13 games, the Bulls were within 10 points of said average opponent, one way or the other. Two games plumped the Bulls' averages up a bit (wins over Western Michigan and Ohio by a combined 63-3), but two games were major drags on the averages (losses to Baylor and SDSU by a combined 119-37). Remove Baylor and SDSU, and Buffalo's adjusted scoring margin is plus-2.3 points per game, a healthy, above-average mark.
But when it poorly for the Bulls, it went really poorly.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.2%||69||Succ. Rt. +||88.9||99|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.3||95||Def. FP+||96.4||94|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||53||Redzone S&P+||94.6||84|
|Q1 Rk||124||1st Down Rk||105|
|Q2 Rk||94||2nd Down Rk||102|
|Q3 Rk||64||3rd Down Rk||86|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Joe Licata||6'2, 226||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||233||402||2824||24||8||58.0%||19||4.5%||6.5|
|Tony Daniel||6'5, 206||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Collin Michael||6'5, 224||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Anthone Taylor||RB||5'10, 209||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||82||399||3||4.9||4.2||39.0%|
|James Potts||RB||5'11, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||58||201||0||3.5||2.7||31.0%|
|Joe Licata||QB||6'2, 226||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||15||34||1||2.3||3.9||26.7%|
|Devin Campbell||RB||5'11, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||21||2||1.9||2.6||18.2%|
|James Coleman||RB||6'1, 232||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Gary Hosey||RB||6'0, 230||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
4. Oliver was respectable and replaceable
In this preview, we're going to be talking about some truly impressive (and departed) stars. Everybody knows about Khalil Mack, but there were other high-level performers on the defense as well. And Alex Neutz was outstanding despite a poor bowl game.
It's easy to lump running back Branden Oliver into that group, and for all we know he was infinitely better in 2013 than any Buffalo running back will be in 2014. He was prolific for the Bulls, racking up over 4,700 rushing and receiving yards (and 35 touchdowns) in four seasons up north. But his averages were never eye-popping. He was decent in most areas -- efficiency, durability, receiving, etc. -- and spectacular in none.
Of all of the departed stars, Oliver is the one I'm least concerned with Buffalo replacing. Between Anthone Taylor (who approximated Oliver's production quite well), veterans James Potts and Devin Campbell, and perhaps a newbie like James Coleman or Gary Hosey, I'm pretty confident that Buffalo's running backs will be just about as solid as they were last year. And if they get more help from the offensive line than Oliver did in 2013, that's even better.
|Mason Schreck||TE||6'5, 229||So.||2 stars (5.2)||39||17||147||43.6%||9.7%||46.9%||3.8||-108||3.8||15.9|
|Devin Campbell||RB||5'11, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||26||19||200||73.1%||6.5%||47.8%||7.7||-16||7.7||21.6|
|Boise Ross||WR||6'0, 173||So.||2 stars (5.4)||23||13||156||56.5%||5.7%||66.7%||6.8||-12||9.0||16.9|
|Matt Weiser||TE||6'5, 241||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||15||13||154||86.7%||3.7%||50.0%||10.3||17||7.5||16.7|
|Devon Hughes||WR||6'0, 188||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||7||91||50.0%||3.5%||66.7%||6.5||-6||6.7||9.8|
|Anthone Taylor||RB||5'10, 209||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||10||7||45||70.0%||2.5%||50.0%||4.5||-36||4.7||4.9|
|John Dunmore||WR||6'0, 178||Sr.||NR||10||3||30||30.0%||2.5%||55.6%||3.0||-27||3.3||3.2|
|Ron Willoughby||WR||6'4, 196||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||5||3||83||60.0%||1.2%||100.0%||16.6||45||5.3||9.0|
|Cordero Dixon||WR||5'11, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||3||1||6||33.3%||0.7%||100.0%||2.0||-12||1.7||0.6|
|Malcolm Robinson||WR||6'1, 199||So.||2 stars (5.3)||3||1||8||33.3%||0.7%||N/A||2.7||-10||0.0||0.9|
|Marcus McGill||WR||6'1, 227||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jamarl Eiland||WR||5'10, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
5. Now, about that receiving corps...
The offensive line was pretty poor in all run-blocking categories in 2013 but does return six players with starting experience (100 career starts), including three-year starting guard Andre Davis and two-year starting center Trevor Sales. There is hope for the run game in general. But that only really matters if the passing game is able to avoid becoming a total liability.
In overtaking the mobile but mistake-prone Alex Zordich for the starting job last fall, quarterback Joe Licata brought a bit of stability to the Buffalo quarterback position. Then a three-star sophomore, Licata still left a bit to be desired from an efficiency standpoint, but he threw far fewer interceptions, and he was solid in play-action.
In 2014, the bar gets raised for Licata. He will be without a high-efficiency dump-off threat in Oliver and No. 2 receiver Fred Lee, sure, but the biggest loss is Neutz, Buffalo's best (only?) big-play weapon. In four years, Neutz caught 195 passes for 3,094 yards and 31 scores. Despite Licata's sub-60 percent completion rate, which suggests a lot of shots downfield, Neutz was the only Bull regular to average greater than 12.0 yards per catch, and he blew that number away: 16.8 per catch in 2013, 15.9 for his career. Buffalo was big-play challenged in 2013 with Neutz; what happens without him?
From a recruiting standpoint, there appears to be a little bit of hope here. Senior Devon Hughes is a former three-star signee, as is redshirt freshman Jamari Elland, and sophomore Boise Ross was a high-two. Still, Hughes has caught 48 passes in three years, and Ross averaged 6.8 yards per target as a freshman. Will opponents have any reason to fear this offense from a big-play perspective?
|Jasen Carlson||LG||26||1st All-MAC|
|Andre Davis||LG||6'4, 320||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||37|
|Trevor Sales||C||6'2, 327||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||25|
|Jake Silas||RT||6'7, 310||Sr.||NR||13|
|Dillon Guy||RG||6'4, 320||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||11|
|Robert Blodgett||RG||6'5, 307||Jr.||NR||8|
|John Kling||LT||6'7, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||6|
|Todd Therrien||LG||6'1, 291||Jr.||NR||0|
|Andrew Borruso||C||6'1, 285||So.||NR||0|
|Albert McCoy||RT||6'4, 277||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Brandon Manosalvas||OL||6'4, 307||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Andy Fidler||OL||6'6, 280||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Skylar Hartley||OL||6'2, 300||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.0%||24||Succ. Rt. +||104.7||41|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||31.6||35||Off. FP+||102.5||32|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.8||25||Redzone S&P+||100.8||56|
|Q1 Rk||97||1st Down Rk||37|
|Q2 Rk||58||2nd Down Rk||91|
|Q3 Rk||21||3rd Down Rk||94|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kristjan Sokoli||NG||6'5, 300||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||20.0||2.8%||5.0||2.5||0||1||0||0|
|Tedroy Lynch||DE||6'2, 249||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||13.5||1.9%||2.5||2.5||0||0||0||0|
|Dalton Barksdale||NG||6'3, 304||Sr.||NR||13||13.0||1.8%||2.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Crawford||DE||6'2, 229||So.||2 stars (5.3)||8||6.0||0.9%||2.0||1.0||0||0||1||0|
|Max Perisse||DE||6'4, 266||So.||2 stars (5.2)||12||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Khoury||DT||6'3, 280||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
6. Pass rush: Devastated
The bend-don't-break defense is rather common in college football, and it's not hard to understand why. If you tackle well, limit big plays, and live to fight another down, perhaps your opponent will eventually make a mistake.
There is often reward for those who refuse to bend, however. In 2013, Buffalo's defense was the exact opposite of the typical bend-don't-break offering. The Bulls tried to break you instead. Blessed with a top-10 pass rush, a strong line, and perhaps the best linebacker in college football, Buffalo gave you nothing intentionally and made a havoc play (a tackle for loss, a pass break-up, an interception, or a forced fumble) once every five snaps, eighth-most in the country. The Bulls' defensive success rates were among the best at the mid-major level, and they forced passing downs with ease.
The problem: when the Bulls broke down, they broke down. The big plays Buffalo allowed were bigger than almost anybody else's, and the result was some pretty high variance. Buffalo allowed 4.1 yards per play or fewer five times in 13 games and allowed 6.4 or greater five times, and despite all of the quality up front, the defense ranked just 71st in Def. F/+ -- certainly not bad, but not as good as it could have been.
In 2014, the defensive personality could change drastically. None of the four Buffalo players with greater than 5.5 tackles for loss return, and only two of seven Bulls with at least two sacks are back. All four starting ends (Beau Bachtelle and Colby Way) and outside linebackers (Khalil Mack and Adam Redden) are gone. Buffalo had a terrifying edge presence in 2013; that's all gone now.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Lee Skinner||ILB||6'2, 233||Sr.||NR||13||57.5||8.2%||3.5||0.5||1||0||0||0|
|Blake Bean||ILB||6'1, 232||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||10||40.5||5.8%||5.5||1.0||0||1||1||0|
|Okezie Alozie||OLB||6'0, 208||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||13||33.5||4.8%||2.5||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Jake Stockman||ILB||6'2, 237||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||31.0||4.4%||5.5||1.0||1||0||1||0|
|Jarrett Franklin||OLB||6'0, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||11||17.0||2.4%||3.0||1.5||0||1||1||0|
|Nick Gilbo||LB||6'1, 220||Jr.||NR||6||13.5||1.9%||2.0||1.0||1||0||1||0|
|Travis Pitzonka||ILB||6'1, 217||Jr.||NR||13||3.5||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Solomon Jackson||LB||6'1, 230||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Corey Henderson||LB||6'3, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Juwan Jackson||LB||6'4, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Will White||LB||6'1, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
7. Solid up the middle
Two of Buffalo's top three safeties are gone, so there is no immediate guarantee that improvement in the big-play realm will offset regression in efficiency.
Still, it has to be encouraging that the middle of the defense will still be experienced and solid. Nose guard Kristjan Sokoli returns, as do both starting inside linebackers in this 3-4 scheme (Lee Skinner, Blake Bean). Backup ILB Jake Stockman also wreaked havoc at times, with 5.5 tackles for loss among his 31.0 tackles, so it wouldn't be surprising to see one of these three lining up on the outside this time around. Throw in experienced secondary pieces like free safety Derek Brim and corner Cortney Lester, and you've at least got a chance to improve in terms of big-play prevention.
8. Mack's legacy
Despite the attrition in star power, Quinn didn't panic and attempt to bring in a ton of JUCO transfers. His recruiting class was based entirely in the prep ranks, which could obviously pay off in the long-term. And he might not even have to wait too long to get a key contribution from the 2014 class.
Act I: Player A becomes transcendent star for school.
Act II: New recruits sign on to become the Next Player A.
Act III: School becomes [Player A's Position] U.
This is the way it works in our head, even if things rarely ever play out this way. But as Khalil Mack prepares for his selection near the top of the first round at the NFL Draft in another couple of months, his former team signed three highly touted linebackers to become the Next Mack.
It probably isn't a coincidence that all three three-star signees in Buffalo's recruiting class are projected linebackers. With an aggressive scheme and playing time available (and, with three seniors among the top four returnees, there will be even more playing time coming open soon), the trio of Corey Henderson, Juwan Jackson, and Will White might not have to wait long to make an impact and expand Mack's legacy.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Derek Brim||FS||6'0, 199||Sr.||NR||13||46.5||6.6%||0.5||0||0||4||2||0|
|Cortney Lester||CB||6'0, 182||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||13||29.5||4.2%||0.5||0||3||6||0||1|
|Marqus Baker||CB||5'10, 181||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||13||13.0||1.8%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Witney Sherry||FS||6'0, 188||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||11||12.5||1.8%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Brandon Berry||DB||6'0, 205||So.||2 stars (5.4)||13||11.0||1.6%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Houston Glass||DB||6'0, 188||So.||2 stars (5.3)||11||8.5||1.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dwellie Striggles||CB||5'10, 185||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||6.5||0.9%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Terrance Wilson||CB||5'10, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Ryan Williamson||S||6'0, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Tyler Grassman||6'1, 195||Jr.||71||40.0||3||17||26||60.6%|
|Tyler Grassman||6'1, 195||Jr.||61||54.9||10||6||16.4%|
|Patrick Clarke||6'2, 193||Sr.||9||59.3||4||0||44.4%|
|Patrick Clarke||6'2, 193||Sr.||45-48||8-10||80.0%||5-10||50.0%|
|Devin Campbell||KR||5'11, 205||Jr.||28||23.9||1|
|Boise Ross||KR||6'0, 173||So.||8||23.6||0|
|Devin Campbell||PR||5'11, 205||Jr.||5||4.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||63|
|Field Goal Efficiency||55|
|Punt Return Efficiency||70|
|Kick Return Efficiency||12|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||33|
9. Field position strength
Big plays were certainly a problem at times, but more often than not Buffalo leveraged opponents into passing downs and finished drives off with punts (often of the three-and-out variety) or turnovers. When you throw in a strong kick return man in Devin Campbell and a not-awful punter in Tyler Grassman, you've got a recipe for a pretty strong field position game.
Obviously the defense has quite a bit of work to do to replicate last year's success rates, but with Campbell and Grassman returning, along with a decent place-kicker in Patrick Clarke, the special teams unit should once again hold up its end of the bargain.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|4-Oct||at Bowling Green||60|
|11-Oct||at Eastern Michigan||122|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-14.2% (100)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||121|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||15 / 6.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (7, 5)|
10. A solid future
Buffalo is playing the long game here. Quinn lost a ton of star power and a lot of assistants, but the moves he made in response was far from panicked. He is building around four-year talent, he is witnessing the revamping and upgrade of Buffalo's athletic facilities, and he is taking his time. This is admirable, but in a business not known for its patience, it will be interesting to see what happens if Buffalo's record drops back below .500 for a couple of years.
Of course, even if Buffalo drops out of the top-100, the Bulls will have a decent shot at .500. They'll need to go 7-5 to reach a bowl thanks to two FCS opponents, but seven of eight MAC opponents are projected 102nd or worse, and a 4-0 home record in conference play isn't out of the question. Win your two FCS games and win any single game on the road, and that's a bowl despite all of the turnover. I'm leaning more toward five or six wins for this inexperienced squad, but if that is accompanied by growth in the front seven and at receiver, that won't be the end of the world.