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One of the greatest-ever D3 coaches improved Buffalo in Year 0. Now for Year 1.

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Lance Leipold lost more in his first year at Buffalo than he did in eight at UW-Whitewater. But these things take time.

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1. Year 0 in the books

Lance Leipold could have remained at Wisconsin-Whitewater for the rest of his career, and nobody would have thought too hard about it. The engineer of six NCAA Division III championships and 109 wins in eight years was already a coaching legend of sorts, and he had only just turned 50. But bless him for getting curious.

Leipold headed 650 miles east to ply his trade at the FBS level, taking the reins of a program that had lost more games in 2014 than he had in eight seasons. (And the only reason Buffalo had lost only that many was because of two FCS opponents, a cancellation, and a late surge.)

This was by far my favorite hire of the 2014-15 coaching carousel.

Now, almost everything is different. Leipold just signed his first recruiting class with scholarship players. He does have six years of experience as a Big Ten assistant, but the last was 2003. This feels like a spectacular hire, but it could fail for any number of reasons. Still, if you have a chance to hire a guy with a 95 percent all-time win percentage, you should feel good about taking that chance.

From a pure curiosity standpoint, I love that former NDSU coach Craig Bohl and Lance Leipold are coaching in the FBS ranks now. I love that mid-major teams were able to attract impressive winners.

Like Bohl, Leipold was used to immaculate defenses, and like Bohl, he inherited some limited personnel. The Bulls ranked 124th in Def. S&P+ the year before his arrival, and while they did have a few productive players in 2014, those guys were all gone. Former head coach Jeff Quinn did leave him some experience on offense, but it was experience from a unit that ranked 108th in Off. S&P+.

This was a tailor-made Year 0 situation. So frequently when a coach takes on a new job, it takes him a year to get the pieces in place. He is teaching his style of football, moving guys around on the two-deep, and perhaps playing quite a few youngsters. The go-to examples of great coaches needing a year are obvious -- Lou Holtz went 0-11 his first season at South Carolina, George O'Leary went winless in his first year at UCF, etc. -- but it happens frequently.

With a relatively weak schedule featuring six teams that ranked 96th or worse in S&P+, you could, as I did, talk yourself into Buffalo threatening bowl eligibility. Still, any significant improvement was going to have to wait a little while.

Through this prism, what we saw was encouraging. The Bulls improved from 122nd to 96th in overall S&P+, and only a losing record in one-possession games prevented them from bowling. This wasn't a GOOD team, but you could see the ground work being laid even as Leipold adopted a pretty conservative style. The offense was far more based in efficiency than its 2014 counterpart, and while the defense was bend-don't-break to the core, it played great redzone defense, a prerequisite for that style.

Buffalo wasn't a great team in 2015, and thanks to pretty significant turnover on offense, it might only be able to improve so much in 2016. But the Bulls grew in their first year under Leipold, and he got the lay of the FBS land. So far, so good for UB.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 98 | Final S&P+ Rk: 96
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Albany N/A 51-14 W 68% 100% +30.7
12-Sep at Penn State 47 14-27 L 16% 4% +14.7 +8.0
19-Sep at Florida Atlantic 96 33-15 W 22% 19% +25.5 +18.0
26-Sep Nevada 97 21-24 L 27% 24% -0.3 -4.0
3-Oct Bowling Green 25 22-28 L 32% 12% +5.5 +2.5
17-Oct at Central Michigan 67 14-51 L 3% 0% -30.6 -30.0
24-Oct Ohio 69 41-17 W 78% 96% +33.5 +27.0
29-Oct at Miami-OH 113 29-24 W 66% 97% -5.4 -2.5
5-Nov at Kent State 109 18-17 W 71% 99% -1.3 -1.5
11-Nov Northern Illinois 66 30-41 L 25% 17% -5.7 -4.0
21-Nov at Akron 84 21-42 L 18% 5% -16.5 -17.0
27-Nov Massachusetts 100 26-31 L 30% 38% -11.9 -11.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 25.0 92 32.2 91
Points Per Game 26.7 82 27.6 72

2. A late-season peek

Buffalo's season unfolded in three-week spurts. For the first three games of the season, results suggested that Leipold wouldn't need much time to get rolling. Buffalo handled Albany as it should, stayed close with Penn State, then went down to Boca Raton and beat FAU by 18. The win over FAU was misleading -- the Bulls were outgained by 200 yards (0.9 per play) but were plus-4 in turnovers and had three return scores -- but was exciting nonetheless.

The tables turned in each of the next two weeks, with UB losing the turnover battle and losing winnable battles against Nevada and BGSU, two eventual bowl teams. But after bottoming out against CMU, Buffalo gave an extended glimpse of what it could become.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 6 games): 28% (~top 90)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 6 games): 48% (~top 65)

Despite starting running back Anthone Taylor struggling through an injury, Buffalo rushed for 501 yards in wins over Ohio and Miami (Ohio) while holding the Bobcats and WarHawks to 5 yards per play and 41 points. And while the offense struggled against Kent State thanks in part to injuries to both starting offensive guards, the Bulls still dominated in field position and held on in a game only close because of a Kent return touchdown.

Progress slowed down the stretch, but because of strong components in this three-game span, the Bulls could say they were a better team over the second half of the season. Good and bad bounces fluctuated, but the components improved.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.16 112 IsoPPP+ 100.1 67
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 41.9% 65 Succ. Rt. + 102.4 64
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.7 66 Def. FP+ 32.0 111
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.3 83 Redzone S&P+ 103.3 60
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.9 ACTUAL 20 +1.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 71 63 64 67
RUSHING 104 79 65 87
PASSING 43 62 59 66
Standard Downs 48 51 53
Passing Downs 88 71 90
Q1 Rk 78 1st Down Rk 81
Q2 Rk 105 2nd Down Rk 90
Q3 Rk 55 3rd Down Rk 57
Q4 Rk 35

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Joe Licata 280 449 2969 16 15 62.4% 16 3.4% 6.1
Grant Rohach
(Iowa State)
6'2, 217 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8621 27 54 283 2 1 50.0% 4 6.9% 4.3
Tony Daniel 3 5 25 0 1 60.0% 0 0.0% 5.0
Chris Merchant 6'2, 210 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8083 0 1 0 0 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 0.0
Tyree Jackson 6'5, 230 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8248








Tarek Yaeggi 6'3, 180 Jr. NR NR








Dominic Johnson 6'6, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) NR








3. A pass-first offense needs a quarterback

Andy Kotelnicki was Leipold's offensive coordinator in their last two years at UWW, and he was able to find some level of early success with their version of a pass-first offense. The Bulls didn't do anything particularly unique, operating at an average pace and spreading defenses out a normal amount.

Just about the only unique aspect of UB's offense was that it threw the ball a lot on standard downs -- 48 percent of the time, compared to the national average of 40 percent. This could have to do with the fact that the Bulls were simply better at throwing than running, or it could have to do with a pass-happy philosophy.

Regardless, having Joe Licata throwing to Ron Willoughby, Marcus McGill, and tight end Matt Weiser was a more efficient option than handing to Anthone Taylor and Jordan Johnson. Johnson brought decent explsoiveness to the table (and in a 220-pound package, no less), but while Taylor and Johnson split 30 carries per game, only about 11 of those carries gained even five yards.

Licata, Willoughby, and Weiser are all gone now. So is Taylor. The Buffalo offense could take on a bit of a new identity this time around, and a lot will depend on finding a new quarterback. Returning QBs threw exactly one pass last year (that one was thrown by sophomore Chris Merchant), and this spring the battle between Merchant, redshirt freshman Tyree Jackson, and presumptive favorite Grant Rohach, a graduate transfer from Iowa State, is ongoing. Rohach completed 137 of 245 passes for 1,491 yards in Ames in 2013-14.

Merchant was a three-star signee and boasts decent size, but even if Rohach wins the job in 2016, Jackson is particularly enticing. He's the biggest of the UB quarterbacks, and as a senior in high school he threw for 2,460 yards and rushed for 969. If efficiency remains a concern in the run game, Jackson's mobility could make him a more attractive option.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Anthone Taylor RB 186 829 3 4.5 2.7 40.3% 0 0
Jordan Johnson RB 6'0, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7661 172 811 12 4.7 5.2 35.5% 2 2
Joe Licata QB 17 60 1 3.5 2.0 29.4% 2 0
Johnathan Hawkins RB 5'10, 205 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8404 15 53 0 3.5 2.9 26.7% 1 1
Gary Hosey RB 5'11, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8261
Emmanuel Reed RB 5'8, 185 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7633
Kameron Pickett RB 5'11, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8248







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Ron Willoughby WR 101 62 813 61.4% 23.3% 8.0 64.4% 54.5% 1.38
Matt Weiser TE 86 63 625 73.3% 19.8% 7.3 48.8% 50.0% 1.31
Marcus McGill WR 6'1, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8119 77 50 581 64.9% 17.7% 7.5 63.6% 50.6% 1.38
Collin Lisa WR 5'10, 180 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 44 31 325 70.5% 10.1% 7.4 61.4% 47.7% 1.38
Mason Schreck TE 6'4, 250 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7715 33 21 209 63.6% 7.6% 6.3 66.7% 39.4% 1.46
Anthone Taylor RB 25 17 101 68.0% 5.8% 4.0 64.0% 36.0% 0.98
Jacob Martinez WR 6'0, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8300 21 15 153 71.4% 4.8% 7.3 52.4% 57.1% 1.25
Malcolm Robinson WR 6'1, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 15 6 69 40.0% 3.5% 4.6 53.3% 13.3% 3.07
Brandon Smiley WR 6'1, 205 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783 15 6 42 40.0% 3.5% 2.8 60.0% 20.0% 1.05
Jordan Johnson RB 6'0, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7661 12 9 69 75.0% 2.8% 5.8 50.0% 33.3% 1.54
Kendall Patterson FB 2 1 6 50.0% 0.5% 3.0 50.0% 0.0% 0.00
Jamarl Eiland WR 5'10, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7841
Kevin Rogers TE 6'3, 240 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200
Matt Seybert TE 6'3, 225 RSFr. NR 0.7917
Tyler Mabry TE 6'2, 250 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
K.J. Osborn WR 5'11, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852
Kamathi Holsey WR 6'4, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844
Jordan Overton WR 5'10, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8147

4. Logical ball distribution

There was nothing particularly unique about Buffalo's offense in 2015, but you don't have to be unique if you're sound and logical. With Kotelnicki pulling the strings, Buffalo did a good job of distributing the ball more to the players whose production merited more touches. Taylor was slightly more efficient than Johnson via run or catch (and fumbled less) and therefore averaged more touches per game. Willoughby averaged more yards per target than McGill, who averaged more than Collin Lisa, who averaged more than Jacob Martinez, etc.

It will be interesting, then, to see who emerges as the most reliable players in 2016, with so many leaders gone. McGill appears to have decent potential and size for a No. 1 receiver, and Lisa and Martinez were both decent possession guys. But if a newcomer -- be it three-star sophomore Jamarl Eiland, JUCO transfer Kamathi Holsey, three-star freshman Jordan Overton, or any of a number of interesting redshirt freshmen -- were to emerge as a reliable option, last year's distribution suggests that they would get the touches they deserve.

Now those targets just have to emerge.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 103.2 2.93 3.59 37.2% 69.4% 19.1% 189.8 2.1% 4.6%
Rank 55 59 31 86 40 59 12 14 15
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
John Kling LT 12 23 2015 2nd All-MAC
Robert Blodgett RT 12 21
James O'Hagan C 6'2, 308 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733 12 12
Brandon Manosalvas LG 6'4, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 10 12
Dillon Guy LG 8 8
Roubbens Joseph RG 6'4, 310 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200 4 4
Andy Fidler LG 6'6, 300 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7819 2 2
Albert McCoy LT 6'3, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7100 0 0
Skylar Hartley C 6'1, 305 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7494 0 0
Trey Bowman OL 6'4, 290 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7889 0 0
Tyler O'Henly RT 6'7, 315 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Christian Gonzalez OL 6'2, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7817

Evin Ksiezarczyk OL 6'5, 305 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7783

Connor Morehart OL 6'4, 315 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7667

David Goldsby OL 6'5, 300 Jr. NR NR

Kayode Awosika OL 6'5, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7967

5. Still a strength?

Line stats were a strength for Buffalo in 2015. The Bulls protected the quick-passing Licata for as long as he needed, and while the run game was inefficient, the line appeared to do its job in short-yardage situations.

Thanks to injuries, seven players got starting experience last year, and five return. But all-conference left tackle John Kling isn't one of them, and Leipold signed two JUCO transfers in February: junior David Goldsby and sophomore Connor Morehart. In a class that was otherwise not particularly JUCO-heavy, that could mean something. The new starting quarterback will be looking at new No. 1 and No. 2 receivers and will be protected by a shuffled line. That's at least a little bit scary.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 53 IsoPPP+ 88.8 102
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.4% 85 Succ. Rt. + 83.5 124
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.3 83 Off. FP+ 26.3 119
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.0 32 Redzone S&P+ 97.8 79
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.5 ACTUAL 20.0 -1.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 81 112 124 102
RUSHING 84 110 122 93
PASSING 69 112 112 111
Standard Downs 110 120 102
Passing Downs 108 124 101
Q1 Rk 109 1st Down Rk 114
Q2 Rk 119 2nd Down Rk 65
Q3 Rk 56 3rd Down Rk 123
Q4 Rk 92

6. No strength till the redzone

The game changes when the field shrinks. For Buffalo, this was very good news. The Bulls struggled to find any overall traction on defense, which had to drive Leipold and defensive coordinator Brian Borland crazy. Borland was UWW's DC from 2012-14, and his defenses were particularly productive under Leipold.

Luckily, the defense did eventually stiffen. The Bulls allowed only 4 points per scoring opportunity, 32nd in the country. The Bulls were good in short-yardage situations, too. This allowed them to figure out some stops despite pretty awful down-to-down stats.

Considering how unsuccessful this unit was in 2014, and considering how inexpeirence it was last fall, this isn't surprising. The question is how much the Bulls can expect to improve now that experience is no longer an issue. UB returns last year's top six linemen and six of seven defensive backs. There is turnover at linebacker (three of last year's top four are gone), but the return of 2014 starter Jarrett Franklin from injury means the Bulls still return two starters in a roundabout way.

Continuity can be very useful, especially in the back of the defense. Buffalo has far more of it this year than it did last year, and we'll see what that means. Maybe the Bulls can actually begin to stiffen before their 30 yard line or so.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 90.5 2.95 3.10 41.1% 60.8% 17.7% 79.5 4.6% 4.8%
Rank 104 78 53 97 33 95 98 80 109
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Brandon Crawford DE 6'2, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7785 12 26.5 3.8% 4.5 2.0 0 2 1 1
Chris Ford DT 6'2, 307 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444 12 22.0 3.2% 3.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Max Perisse NT 6'4, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 20.0 2.9% 2.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Demone Harris DE 6'4, 275 Jr. NR NR 12 17.0 2.4% 4.5 1.5 1 2 1 0
Justin Brandon DT 6'0, 287 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 12 11.0 1.6% 1.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Charles Harris DE 6'3, 250 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7100 11 10.5 1.5% 3.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Solomon Jackson DE
12 10.5 1.5% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Gusty Schwartzmeier DT 6'4, 280 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7383 11 7.0 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Randy Anyanwu DE 6'2, 245 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7778 11 4.5 0.6% 1.5 1.5 0 0 1 0
Jake Khoury NT 6'2, 280 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7719 6 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Duke Hwang DT 6'0, 285 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 5 1.5 0.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Corey Henderson DE 6'4, 270 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8133
Myles Nicholas DE 6'2, 250 So. NR 0.7533








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nick Gilbo LB 12 90.0 13.0% 12.0 3.5 1 3 1 0
Brandon Berry LB 6'0, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8119 12 82.5 11.9% 11.5 1.0 1 2 1 0
Okezie Alozie LB 12 65.5 9.4% 10.5 5.0 2 7 2 0
Jarrett Franklin
(2014)
LB 6'0, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 11 39.0 6.7% 5.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Travis Pitzonka LB 12 11.0 1.6% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 1
Ishmael Hargrove LB 6'2, 215 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7200 10 9.5 1.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Stancil LB 5'11, 208 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 12 7.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Kyril Threats LB 11 7.0 1.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Will White LB 5'11, 215 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8295 2 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Caleb Wilson LB 6'2, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7644
Khalil Hodge LB 6'2, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726








7. A high bar at linebacker

While UB didn't have any steady contributor on the line, a lot of different guys saw action, and nine linemen return after recording at least one tackle for loss. This includes five sophomores. Simple year-to-year growth and another year of development under this staff could make the line demonstrably better. Short-yardage success aside, there's almost nowhere to go but up.

The linebacking corps was the only productive unit for Borland and Buffalo, but it was quite productive. UB's per-unit havoc rates were pretty instructive: The Bulls ranked 84th on the defensive line, 71st at defensive back ... and 14th at linebacker. Without the LBs, there was no disruption.

The Bulls must replace the 22.5 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, and 13 passes defensed that Nick Gilbo and Okezie Alozie provided. Still, they get Brandon Berry back for another year, and Jarrett Franklin's junior season should be productive.

JUCO linebacker Khalil Hodge appears to be manning the third starting spot this fall. If he's one-half as good as the last Buffalo linebacker named Khalil, all will be well.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ryan Williamson FS 6'0, 182 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844 12 65.5 9.4% 0 0 2 1 0 1
Marqus Baker CB 12 61.0 8.8% 2.5 0 0 12 0 0
Boise Ross CB 6'0, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 12 41.0 5.9% 0 0 2 18 1 0
Andrews Dadeboe SS 6'1, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7900 10 30.5 4.4% 0 0 2 3 0 0
Cameron Lewis CB 5'9, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8033 12 27.0 3.9% 0 0 1 5 0 0
Brandon Stanback SS 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833 9 16.0 2.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Brandon Williams CB 5'10, 175 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7600 12 10.5 1.5% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Diamond Williams S
12 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Houston Glass S
10 2.5 0.4% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Jordan Collier S 5'11, 205 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 10 2.0 0.3% 1 0 0 0 0 0
William Rembert FS 6'0, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Zach Nicholas S 6'0, 194 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583
Jeremiah Dadeboe CB 5'11, 192 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8400
Cameron Skipworth CB 5'9, 180 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7433
Tim Roberts S 6'2, 195 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7593
O.J. O'Neal S 6'2, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) NR
Tyrone Hill DB 6'2, 192 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8281
Roy Baker CB 6'2, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859

8. Active on the edges

I guess it's not completely fair to say that there was no disruption without the linebackers. While Buffalo's safeties were tasked mostly with making touchdown-saving tackles (combined tackles for loss from all defensive backs: 3.5), corners Marqus Baker and Boise Ross did get their hands on quite a few passes. Combined, they picked off two and broke up 30. Sticky pass defense was one of the major reasons why opponents struggled to turn scoring opportunities into points -- while only 30 percent of opponents' passes were thrown inside Buffalo's 40, 46 percent of UB's interceptions came from this sample of passes.

Baker is gone, which puts pressure on sophomores Cameron Lewis and Brandon Williams to step up. But the return of Ross, along with basically every safety, is encouraging. Lewis defensed six passes in limited opportunities, and if he's able to pull off a decent Baker impression, this secondary will, at the very least, be as productive as last year's. And if redshirt freshman Jeremiah Dadeboe or one of two JUCOs can make an early impression, that's even better.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Grassman 65 41.0 6 21 19 61.5%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Tyler Grassman 67 59.2 25 1 37.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Adam Mitcheson 6'1, 190 So. 31-36 10-13 76.9% 3-6 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Devin Campbell KR 12 13.2 0
Jordan Johnson KR 6'0, 220 Sr. 8 21.4 0
Collin Lisa PR 5'10, 180 Jr. 8 3.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 118
Field Goal Efficiency 98
Punt Return Success Rate 58
Kick Return Success Rate 125
Punt Success Rate 67
Kickoff Success Rate 111

9. Few strengths in special teams

Collin Lisa wasn't explosive at punt returner, but between small returns and fair catches, he was decent at preventing successful punts. Meanwhile, Adam Mitcheson hinted at a solid, strong leg by making three of six 40-plus field goals as a freshman.

That's the closest I can come to talking about special teams strengths. Mitcheson also missed five PATs, and in Tyler Grassman, UB loses both a decent punter and mediocre kickoffs guy. Ongoing efficiency issues could make for field position struggles if special teams doesn't come through, and it's hard to assume special teams will come through.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
2-Sep Albany NR 22.1 90%
17-Sep at Nevada 91 -10.5 27%
24-Sep Army 124 7.7 67%
1-Oct at Boston College 50 -19.4 13%
8-Oct Kent State 104 0.8 52%
15-Oct Ball State 101 0.3 51%
22-Oct at Northern Illinois 79 -14.5 20%
27-Oct Akron 97 -1.3 47%
3-Nov at Ohio 95 -9.6 29%
12-Nov Miami (Ohio) 107 3.1 57%
19-Nov at Western Michigan 65 -17.2 16%
25-Nov at Bowling Green 60 -18.1 15%
Projected wins: 4.8
Five-Year F/+ Rk -24.2% (104)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 114 / 114
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 0 / 2.6
2015 TO Luck/Game -1.2
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 46% (18%, 73%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 5.1 (-0.1)

10. A chance for a fast start

I don't see Buffalo bottoming out like Wyoming did in Bohl's second year, but it's hard to see reason for improvement. UB will be replacing the primary reasons for its pass efficiency, plus one-half of its two-headed running game and an all-conference left tackle. And on defense, where experience is significant, talent is unknown outside of maybe linebacker and cornerback.

Buffalo improved from 122nd to 96th in S&P+ in Leipold's first year, and projections suggest this season might be one of either slight regression or water-treading.

That said, the schedule could help. Even with a pessimistic S&P+ projection of 109th, the Bulls are still given a 47 percent chance of winning in six games, and four of those come in the first half of the year. If Buffalo is able to exceed that projection -- and since a lot of this projection deals with recruiting and production from the Quinn era, that wouldn't be the biggest surprise -- then something like a 4-2 or so isn't out of the question. And while the conference road slate is pretty brutal (the season ends with trips to WMU and BGSU), there will be opportunities for a fifth and sixth win.