SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Buffalo Bulls

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Jim Hofher (3rd year, 4-19)
2002 record: 1-11
MAC finish: 7th (East)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 98.3 ypg
(14th in MAC, 109th in nation)
Pass: 177.8 ypg (10th, 89th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 206.8 ypg (13th, 105th)
Pass: 227.6 ypg (10th, 75th)
Projected Starters
Offense (5 returning starters in bold)
SE  85  Matt Knueven  Jr. 
FL  Tim Dance  So. 
LT   74   Zack Love   So.  
LG  75  Alex Alvarez  Sr. 
65  Eric Weber  Jr. 
RG   79   Erik Zeppuhar   Jr.  
RT   63   Jeff Mills   Sr.  
TE  40  Tom Shaughnessy  Sr. 
QB   7   Randall Secky   Jr.  
TB   21   Aaron Leeper   So.  
FB  30  Ramon Guzman  So. 
Defense (9)
DE   37   Phil Jacques   So.  
DT   62   Rob Schroeder   So.  
DT  96  Rashad Clark  Sr. 
DE   52   Demetrius Austrum   Sr.  
OLB   46   Bryan Cummings   So.  
ILB   4   Lamar Wilcher   Sr.  
OLB   44   Rodney Morris   Jr.  
CB  10  Angel Baines  So. 
CB   6   Gemara Williams   So.  
SS   29   J.J. Gibson   Jr.  
FS   2   Mark Graham   Sr.  
Special Teams
Dallas Pelz  Sr. 
Dallas Pelz  Sr. 
KR  Tim Dance  So. 
PR  Tim Dance  So. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  at Rutgers 
Sept. 6  at Iowa 
Sept. 13  Colgate 
Sept. 20  Connecticut 
Sept. 27  Akron 
Oct. 4  at UCF 
Oct. 11  at Miami (OH) 
Oct. 18  Marshall 
Oct. 25  Ohio 
Nov. 1  at Toledo 
Nov. 8  Northern Illinois 
Nov. 22  at Kent State 
Buffalo hopes to move on from its recent past as quickly as possible. The Bulls enter the 2003 season toting along six consecutive losing records, the last of which was a 1-11 mark born largely from an inferior offense and defense. The Bulls welcome back 14 starters, although after suffering through such a difficult season, no one's position is considered a lock.

"Every position has to be considered open," said Buffalo coach Jim Hofher. "Are there some guys with advantages on our team? I would think so. But is there some guy who is untouchable? It can't be. When you're 1-11? All the positions are wide open."

Undoubtedly, there is much room for improvement. The Bulls spent last season near the bottom of the national rankings in several key statistical categories. They finished 116th out of the 117 Division I-A teams in total offense and 103rd in total defense.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Only five teams averaged fewer points than the Bulls' 17.8 per contest a year ago.

First-year offensive coordinator Rob Best, who comes over from Division I-AA power Appalachian State, does have some experience to work with. Quarterback Randall Secky is a returning starter but could be pressed by sophomores P.J. Piskorik and Mike Radon. Piskorik returns after missing all of last season to concentrate on academics.

Even Aaron Leeper's job isn't safe. The sophomore tailback took home Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year honors last season but will be pushed by sophomore Dave Dawson, the Bulls' second-leading rusher, and redshirt freshmen Chris McDuffie, Steven King and Jared Patterson. Hofher says he won't hesitate to play them all in the season opener.

The news isn't so good at receiver, where the Bulls lost Andre Forde and tight end Chad Bartoszek, who were responsible for 99 receptions and 1,098 yards.

The strength of the Bulls' offense this year will be an offensive line that returns everyone from 2002. Senior tackle Jeff Mills and junior guard Erik Zeppuhar have started the last 23 games, while junior Eric Weber started 11 games in 2001 before a knee injury sidelined him for all of last season.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Buffalo allowed 34 points or more eight times. During one benevolent five-game stretch, the Bulls were outscored 221-87. They do return nine starters, but there are major questions at cornerback. Sophomore Gemara Williams, who started six games at strong safety last season, moved back to corner in the spring.

The front seven could be greatly improved for one major reason -- virtually everybody is back. The Bulls started three freshmen on the line -- tackles Rob Schroeder and Bill Meholif and end Phil Jacques -- last season, but the anchor is junior end Anthony Andriano, who led the unit in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Expect senior Dallas Pelz, who was up and down all last season, and sophomore Mike Baker to compete through fall camp for the placekicking duties. The new punter will be junior college transfer Dominic Milano, who averaged 41.6 yards per kick.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Buffalo will tackle the most ambitious schedule in school history. The Bulls face the co-Big Ten champion in Iowa, a current Big East member in Rutgers and a future one in Connecticut. They're also playing the top two teams in the MAC's West Division from a year ago in Toledo and Northern Illinois.

This is still a young team, but it's a team that is a year older. Somehow that has to translate into better preparation and better performance. The running game should be much improved with Leeper and a young group of quality tailbacks, but unless Secky gains some consistency and a playmaking receiver emerges, the offense will struggle once again. Defensively, the front seven returns, but there's a lack of depth at linebacker and the answers at cornerback could come from a pair of walk-ons. While another one-win season would be surprising -- and place Hofher firmly on the hot seat -- this team is still a year away from climbing out of the MAC East cellar.

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