Buffalo Bulls: contenders or pretenders?
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 18, 2012 @ 9:06am
What’s the only thing cooler than watching the University at Buffalo Bulls on ESPNU Wednesday night? Actually being at UB Stadium, clad in blue and white, screaming at the top of your lungs and maybe, if you’re lucky, having your own cameo on national television.
The UB Bulls open their Mid-American Conference slate at 7 p.m. Wednesday against the Kent State Golden Flashes. As ESPNU does with all of its featured teams during the year, the worldwide leader’s graphics team concocted an awesome looking logo—see header photo.
It’s the first time that UB has faced Kent State since the sloppy 9-6 victory over the Flashes in the final tilt of the 2009 season. Both teams are virtually unrecognizable compared to that November, when the Bulls trotted out a battery of coach Turner Gill, quarterback Zach Maynard and running back Brandon Thermilus.
Wednesday’s clash will provide a barometer for just how good the Bulls are, as a valiant effort against Georgia (45-23 loss) and a thumping of Morgan State (56-34 win) had Jeff Quinn’s club facing a superior opponent and a vastly inferior opponent. With Kent State a closer match, Bulls fans can judge if the offense truly is a juggernaut and if the run defense is as porous as it looked against the FCS Bears.
According to David Carducci’s live-blog of the Kentucky vs. Kent State contest, a non-conference tilt that the Golden Flashes lost 47-14, Kent State struggled mightily in handling the Wildcats’ up-tempo offense. There’s no reason for Quinn to scale back the pace of the attack, and quarterback Alex Zordich is familiar enough with Buffalo’s offensive scheme that pushing the tempo shouldn’t cause too much miscommunication.
Despite the small sample size, UB’s offense—led by an improved Zordich, superb back Branden Oliver and sure-handed Alex Neutz—ranks first in the MAC in scoring offense, second in rushing offense, fourth in total offense and first in passing efficiency. At the same time, however, the MAC’s Akron Zips—one of the worst teams in the country last season—demolished Morgan State 66-6 last weekend, topping the Bulls’ output by 12 points while conceding 28 fewer.
The conclusion, then, is that we don’t know just how good the Bulls are yet. According the VegasInsider.com, Buffalo is a 3.5 point favorite, but since three points are usually awarded for the home advantage, the game’s expected to essentially be a toss up.
Both parts of Kent State’s vaunted running back tandem—battering-ram Trayion Durham and speedy Dri Archer—are nursing mild injuries but are fully expected to play. Unnerving for Buffalo? Carducci penned: “In fact, Durham may be coming off of his best week of practice this season.” The sophomore is a 6’0, 250 pound behemoth, and the still-smallish UB defensive front will have its hands full. Senior wide receiver Tyson Goode, Kent State’s top returning receiver from last year, is also questionable with a hamstring injury—he has yet to suit up this season.
Players to watch for Kent State include unorthodox defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix, a 6’0, 245 pound disruptor who’s widely considered the best defensive player in the MAC. Freshman wide receiver Josh Boyle has stepped in during Goode’s absence to total a team-leading nine catches for 159 yards and a score.
Can UB’s offense continue to excel? Will the defense be more stout after 10 days to prepare for Kent State’s thunder-and-lightning attack? We’ll see tomorrow.