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2005 MAC Football Pigskin Preview
The starting QB will not be known until just before the season opener against UCONN. Four players are in the running with JUCO Tony Paoli initially leading the way. Paoli tossed for 2,600 yards and 23 TDs in his two years at Palomar JC in San Diego. Chris Moore is a big kid at 6-5 215, started two games last season for UB. Stewart Sampsel has a big arm and played in 2003 but did not see action in 2004. Datwan Hemingway is a tremendous athlete who has shown limited passing skills to date. Whomever wins the job will need to do much better at running the offense than last season. Buffalo finished the season ranked 113th in passing yards. Poor quarterback play is killed this program since their move up to IA in the late 1990s.
The Bulls return 92% of their rushing offense with a unit that is one of the strengths of the entire program. Steven King is a bigger back at 6-0 210. He rushed for 445 yards last season and 7 TDs. Chris McDuffie is a slashing at 5-10 200 pounds – he rushed for over 400 yards last season. The coaching staff is high on Jared Patterson who has a nose for the end zone. Joe Cerminara and true freshman Ika Nduka add depth. Dave Dawson, a scat-back specialist with tremendous speed, has been moved to receiver. Aaron Leeper, the MAC freshman of the year in 2002, has moved to cornerback. UB utilizes a fullback in certain situations. Dimitri Facaros is a mighty might at 5-7 225. Phillip Warren and Ekeh Ibekweh are each 6-foot 270-pound bull dozers.
Due to poor quarterback play; it’s difficult to gauge the talent of the receiving unit. Often these players were not put into a position to make a big play after a pass. Terrance Breaux is the type of player that would be receiving all conference recognition if he was a school like Toledo, Miami or BG. Breaux averaged 14-yards per grab last season and hauled in an 86-yard catch and run against Central Michigan in 2004, a school record. Dave Dawson moves from running back to receiver and brings speed and big-play ability to the perimeter. Brian Watson has TE size at 6-5 232, creating mismatches against smaller DBs. The coaching staff has big expectations for JUCO transfer Evan Wallace. Bryan Kisabeth and Jeff Green add depth. There are very good TE prospects in Chad Upshaw, Trevor Scott, John White and Greg Vrantsis. Upshaw has all-conference skills if utilized properly.
It took a few years but UB has a legitimate Division IA offensive line. Last season they gave up just 19 QB sacks and paved the way for the team to rush for nearly 150 yards per game and 17 TDs. When you consider how feeble the passing attack (121-yards per game) was in 2004 and that defenses stacked up against the run, that figure is not bad. Veteran Zack Love is massive at 6-4 324-pounds and should be an all-conference performer this season. Mike Schifano, Jamey Richard, Leroy Auguste and Gerry Weissinger, a transfer from DT, form an offensive front that is experienced and formable as they average 6-5 304 per man. There is quality depth with Tim Schmidt (6-5, 299), Jon Burgio (6-9, 344), Jon Geddes (6-5, 331) & Luke Johnson (6-7, 298).
Never has a Buffalo team had as much experience and talent along the defensive line as this year’s UB squad possesses. Phil Jacques has 35 career starts and has become a very good pass rusher. Aaron Sanders is the other DE and finished among the top-10 in the MAC in three different categories (fumble recoveries, QB sacks and tackles for loss). Anthony Adriano adds quality depth and looks to be fully recovered from foot ailments that kept him out of play last season while James Judges and Andrae Smith will see playing time. There are five quality defensive tackles in Kirk Berry, Bill Meholif, Rob Schroeder, Marck Abraham and Ron Hilaire. JUCO transfer Labinor Hakanjin may figure into the mix. On paper this unit looks to be one of the leagues best defensive fronts this season in terms of size, depth and athleticism.
This is a very blue-collar group with Bryan Cummings (6-3, 225), Jeff Bublavi (5-10, 204) and Rich Sanders (5-11, 263) leading the way. A bunch of sophomores add depth with Ollice Ervin, LaRon Haymore, and Todd Robertson. Often playing with just two LBs in their 4-2-5 rotation, these LBs are not flashy but very productive. Cummings had 75 tackles last season, with Bublavi and Sanders each adding 62 apiece.
UB was third in the MAC in pass defense last season but did lose JJ Gibson to graduation, the teams leading tackler. Coach Hofher believes that this year’s DB unit is deeper, faster and more athletic than ever before. Gemarea Williams broke up 10 passes last season is one CB while Aaron Leeper, a former MAC freshman of the year award winner when he was a RB, is the other CB. James Vann has become a very productive player at one safety position while Kareen Byrom is the other safety. Jesse Imes is a specimen at 6-foot 193, looks to play the "whip" position, a hybrid safety/OLB position. Ramon Guzman, Steohen Thomas, Gerald Jackson and Luke McEachern add good depth.
There wasn’t very much ‘special’ about UB’s special teams units last season. Mike Baker struggles as the PK going 5-13 in FGs. He is being challenged by Gerry McGroarty, who had a 64-yard FG in high school two years ago. Ben Woods did average 41-yards per punt as a freshmen last year. UB averaged only 6-yards per punt return in 2004, the second lowest output in the league.
Coach Jim Hofher is one of the good guys in the coaching ranks, finally has a team that not only looks like a D-IA team, but should play like one too. UB has a very good group of linemen on both sides of the ball, some productive LBs and DBs, and good depth at RB. Once again it will come down the QB position, where Buffalo has not been able to find a playmaker to become "the guy" in a long time. Once the quarterback situation is solved, special teams will need to come together and the receiving corps must step up. Defensively the Bulls should be in most games. Offensively they must average more than the 17-points per game they produced last season. Given the talent along the line and at RB, they should be somewhere in the low-20s this fall. With a schedule that features three straight Big East games, followed by eight straight MAC games, the time is now for Buffalo to be a player in the MAC. With 20 seniors and 16 starters returning, winning four or five games is very realistic. Having their first winning season since moving to IA in 1999 is a stretch goal, but for once, an attainable one.
Mark it down!
Buffalo will beat one of their three Big East opponents. Opening up at UCONN after they graduated such a talented class and record setting QB is one opportunity, but UB’s best chance to taste victory over the Big East is against Rutgers at home on September 17th. The road trip to Syracuse is the least likely of the three. With so many seniors this season and good depth at most positions, the Bulls are not the pushover they once were.
@ Connecticut (TH) - LOSS
@ Syracuse - LOSS
vs. Rutgers - WIN
@ Western Michigan - LOSS
vs. Akron - WIN
vs. Bowling Green - LOSS
@ Toledo - LOSS
vs. Ohio - WIN
@ Miami - LOSS
@ Kent State - LOSS
vs. Eastern Michigan - WIN
4-7 Overall, 3-5 MAC