Coach: Jim Hofher (5th season, 7–39) 2004 record: 2-9 MAC finish: 2-6 (t-5th East) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 67th (148.1 ypg) Passing: 113th (121.5 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 87th (188.5 ypg) Passing: 59th (213.6 ypg)
at Western Michigan
at Miami (OH)
at Kent State
Depth Chart: Offense
6 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
9 returning starters in red
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The return of 28 juniors and seniors gives Buffalo reason for optimism. Nine starters are back on a defense that was one of the most improved units in the country last season. The Bulls also have experience at running back and on the offensive line.
In his fifth season, Jim Hofher is working with an entire roster of his recruits. He has experience across the board, and after some adjustments over the last three seasons, a workable system is in place on both sides of the ball.
Does all this mean Buffalo is ready to take a step north of .500? Not quite. Key questions remain at quarterback and the receiving corps. If they aren't answered, it could be another long season at Buffalo. A repeat of last year's miserable 2-9 record could mean the Bulls might be in the market for their third coach since 2000.
Buffalo's offense took a significant step backward in '04. There were times when even mediocre play at quarterback could have resulted in a Bulls victory. And the offseason wasn't kind.
P.J. Piskorik, who started five games last season, became an academic casualty and will not return. Sophomores Datwan Hemingway and Chris Moore have experience, but Hemingway missed the spring because of academics and Moore because of shoulder surgery. As a result, junior college transfer Tony Paoli will get a chance to start and hopefully perk up a passing game that produced only five touchdown passes.
Running back is a strength, with leading rusher Steven King and fellow juniors Chris McDuffie and Jared Patterson all returning. They shared the position in 2004, along with senior Dave Dawson, who has moved to wide receiver. The Bulls would like one to emerge as the primary back.
There's a good reason why Dawson was moved to wide receiver: the Bulls desperately need help. This wasn't the best group to begin with -- though most of that can be traced to the quarterback woes -- and the leading returner is Terrance Breaux with just 23 receptions.
Three starters are back on the offensive line -- tackles Zack Love and Leroy Auguste and guard Mike Schifano -- but tackles Luke Johnson and Jon Burgio will push for time.
Hofher shifted to the innovative 4-2-5 scheme last season to best suit his team's personnel. Nine starters return from this aggressive group, including defensive end Aaron Sanders, who finished with 6.5 sacks, and rangy linebacker Bryan Cummings, who had nine tackles for a loss.
Sophomore cornerback James Evans missed the spring because of academics, but he is the Bulls best player in the secondary. Also returning is cornerback Aaron Leeper, the former tailback who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Leeper's return could mean Gemara Williams shifts to his natural position of free safety.
Sophomore punter Ben Woods nearly broke the single-season school record by averaging 41.2 yards per punt. Senior Michael Baker made five consecutive field goals to start the season then missed his next eight. Baker will be pushed by redshirt freshman Gerry McGroarty.
The Bulls need to find a quarterback. A combined 1,336 yards, five touchdowns and 15 interceptions from four quarterbacks is not a sign of efficiency behind center.
Defensively, everything points to another march upward for defensive coordinator Tom Jones and his unit. It didn't take long for the players to embrace Jones' attacking style, and now they're a year wiser.
Hofher agreed to a one-year contract extension in the offseason, which takes him through the '06 season. If the Bulls experience another two-win season, however, he may not get an opportunity to fulfill that extension.