The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 115: Buffalo Bulls
Coach: Jeff Quinn (5-19, third season)
2011 record: 3-9 (2-6 in Mid-American Conference, sixth in East Division)
Look back: A lack of inexperience at key positions hampered the Bulls in 2011. Buffalo lost four of its first five games with the only victory coming at the hands of FCS opponent Stony Brook. The team rallied for a 38-37 win over Ohio in Week 6 of the season only to lose the next four games. A 51-10 win over Akron on Nov. 19 was the final win for the team.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Defensive starters lost/returning: 3/8
Key losses: QB Chazz Anderson, WR Marcus Rivers, WR Ed Young, LB Fred Branch
Top returnees: RB Branden Oliver, WR Alex Neutz, DL Steven Means, LB Khalil Mack, DB Najja Johnson
Strengths: Running back Branden Oliver was one of the highlights to an otherwise dismal 2011 campaign. As a freshman, Oliver was second overall in the MAC with 1,395 yards and 13 touchdowns drawing comparison to former Bulls great, James Starks. The good news for Oliver and the Bulls is that the offensive line returns four starters including Graham Whinery, who makes the move from center to guard this season. On the defensive side of the ball, Buffalo loses leading tackler Fred Branch but Khalili Mack could pick up the slack. Mack was an All-American honorable mention and has a nose for finding the ball. The secondary is still relatively young but full of talent including Najja Johnson, who recorded 16 passes defended last season.
Weaknesses: Right off the bat, Jeff Quinn and the coaching staff will need to find a replacement for quarterback Chazz Anderson. Anderson threw for 2,454 yards and 11 touchdowns while adding 309 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Jerry Davis and Alex Zordich could be the key to the QB position. With the graduations of Marcus Rivers, Terrell Jackson and Ed Young, wide receiver could be a concern for the Bulls in 2012. Alex Neutz was second on the team last year with 43 catches for 641 yards and four touchdowns. He will be the key target for whomever takes over behind center.
Outlook: Buffalo showed some marked improvement from 2010 to 2011 however for one reason or another, the team hasn’t been able to put it all together. Finding a starting quarterback could be key for this team’s success. Buffalo opens the season on the road against SEC power Georgia before back-to-back home games. A three game road trip against UConn, Ohio and Northern Illinois, followed by a home game against Pitt could make or break this team’s season.
Sept. 1 at Georgia
Sept. 8 Morgan State
Sept. 19 or 20 Kent State
Sept. 29 at Connecticut
Oct. 6 at Ohio
Oct. 13 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 20 Pittsburgh
Oct. 27 Toledo
Nov. 3 Miami of Ohio
Nov. 10 Western Michigan
Nov. 17 at UMass
Nov 23 at Bowling Green