2022 G5 Preview: Buffalo Has Been Granted A Year Zero
Or maybe even a year negative-one
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Usually, recent history offers a path forward for these team previews. There’s coaching or player continuity to lean on as an indicator moving forward. It’s a good way to gauge whether a team is set for a jump up or a dip down, and an easy metric for tracking general quality.
Unless a bad team is getting significantly older, it’s likely to stay bad, and vice versa. It’s not the end-all-be-all, but the Sports Reference pages for these teams and three years of depth charts can say a whole lot about where a program is at before watching a second of film.
In Buffalo’s case, that recent history can go directly in the garbage can when trying to define expectations for Maurice Linguist’s second season in town. It does not matter, will not predict success or failure, and has no real connection to the roster that Linguist is going to be fielding this season.
The MAC title run in 2020 and the 4-8 season in 2021 are about as important to this preview as the 1968 season under Doc Urich (that team went 7-3).
That happens when a program loses just about its entire core of talent in the span of two offseasons. Since last offseason, Buffalo has seen at least 40 players enter the transfer portal per 247Sports.
Only three of the 20 declares in 2021 decided to return to Buffalo, and just one of them, quarterback Matt Myers, didn’t then move on this offseason, as halfback Kevin Marks (NFL) and safety Cory Gross (transfer) did. Only four of the 20 this offseason have been locked in at new homes, but halfback Mike Washington and lineman Gabriel Wallace are the only ones who have decided to return this offseason.
That’s nearly half of the roster. Add in draft declarations and graduation, and Buffalo has turned over more than half of its roster in about one year, in a year that saw quite a few of its conference mates return nearly an entire senior class because of COVID exceptions.
And that’s the issue for Linguist and his staff to sort through. He easily earned a year zero in 2021 and may honestly be headed for a year-negative one spot designation with this season working as a year zero, depending on how things break between now and August in the portal. He has to rebuild a program nearly from scratch.
So, to project Buffalo this season, we have to look at the ingredients he’s using. Who is coming back that can be built around, and what did Linguist grab at the college football grocery store to plug into his roster?
Because of the sheer number of departures, it’s easiest to break this down by position.
QB: Three-year starter Kyle Vantrease is headed to Georgia Southern and backup Trevor Bycznski is in the portal, leaving Myers and Rutgers transfer Cole Snyder to compete for the starting job. At this point, Myers should be considered the favorite. He took over for an injured Vantrease in November and started the final four games of the season for Buffalo, giving him a small advantage over the career backup from Rutgers.
However, a commitment to either player at this point feels like a lot to ask. Myers wasn’t exactly impressive in those four games, throwing 97 passes and completing just 53 (54.6 percent) in the final quarter of the season for 665 yards and three touchdowns to five interceptions. He showed off some decent running ability against Ball State (16 carries, 78 yards), but he also threw four interceptions.
Snyder, meanwhile, hasn’t done a whole lot of anything before his arrival at Buffalo. He saw more time in 2021 than in any season before, he managed only 130 yards and a score on 18-of-28 passing in six games off the bench for the Scarlet Knights. He has a little bit higher of a floor with a bit more comfort in the short passing game, but Myers is quite a bit more intriguing as an athlete.
RB: Starter Dylan McDuffie is in the portal and looks like a candidate to join either Leipold in Lawrence or former Buffalo halfbacks coach Mike Daniels at Georgia Tech, though he has yet to announce his new school at this point. No. 2 rusher Marks is off to the NFL, leaving Ron Cook Jr., the No. 3, option, as the projected starter here.
That’s not the worst fate. A rising fourth-year player, Cook showed off good wiggle on 88 carries, picking up 440 yards and three scores. He’s quick enough to handle special teams returner duties too, and Buffalo hasn’t missed on a tailback in quite some time – though that Daniels departure is troubling. Rising sophomore Washington is slated to return too after an expedition into the portal, which he ended on Jan. 18.
He’s a bit bigger than Cook and runs a whole lot like Marks, which is a big positive for UB, especially if he’s able to take a step forward. Barring a portal pull, those two will lead the way, with Tajay Ahmed in the No. 3 role.
WR/TE: Leading receiver Quian Williams’ plans moving forward seem to be something of an open question. He was a graduate transfer from Eastern Michigan in 2021 and would serve as a huge boost for the Buffalo passing game if he can return, but it doesn’t look as though there’s been deliberation on this quite yet. His Twitter timeline is filled with retweets of former Bulls announcing their new programs, which is… not a great sign.
A native of Ontario, No. 2 wideout Dominic Johnson is less of a question. He was a redshirt fifth-year senior in 2021 and passed up a CFL draft selection a year ago to play for Buffalo. He’s likely headed there next.
That leaves Jamari Gassett and Tyler Stephens as pretty much the only experienced pass-catchers returning for 2020. The former is a 5-10 rising sophomore slot receiver with 20 receptions and 270 yards to his name, the latter is a tight end in an offense that didn’t use tight ends in the passing game. Everything is going very well.
Arizona State wideout Geordan Porter is coming in, and out of sheer necessity, will probably lead the team in every receiving category. He has 14 receptions for 250 yards in three years before 2022. Justin Marshall from Louisville is another option, heading over after four years of playing time without a real breakthrough for the Cardinals. Let’s hope that Cook and Washington are ready to go.
OL: Who knows! Four offensive linemen hit the portal at the end of the season, and Wallace is the only one that decided to return to UB. Holy Cross’ John Brekke will factor into the starting lineup in some way, but on an entirely unsettled roster, the offensive line is just about impossible to project at this point. It will be bad. There’s your projection. It’s all bad. The whole team.
DL: Three more transfers here from one-time starting defensive end Eric Black, little-used tackle Nick Hunter and defensive end Chris King, who didn’t play for the Bulls in 2021. Thankfully, Buffalo does have some returning production here, namely from all-MAC second-team tackle Daymond Williams, a former JUCO standout back for his senior season in 2022. He’s a blast to watch as an interior pass rusher and will set the tone up front for a team that will need all the pass-rushing it can get with a bunch of inexperience at linebacker.
Hybrid linebacker/defensive end Max Michel leads the fight off the edge and should be primed for another jump in productivity in 2022 after filling out a full-time starting role for the first time in 2021. He’s not big enough to help out much in stopping the run, but whoever Linguist selects as Joe Cauthen’s replacement at defensive coordinator should be able to use his speed as a strength. He’s a whole lot better in coverage than your typical defensive end.
Opposite Michel, C.J. Bazile looks to be up next, though Taylor Riggins could very well have another year of eligibility, in which case he will remain in the starting end spot. Neither player is exceptional, but the latter is a much quicker pass rusher, and the former is a bigger body against the run. Both will be issues for Buffalo, and both could see plenty of time if Riggins does return. Pass rushing specialist Kyler Laing will play a large role too, likely rotating with Michel, who could even be in for a move to linebacker because of depth issues there.
It’s a similar situation at the other tackle spot, where Texas A&M transfer Josh Rogers has the spot if he decides to return, but rising junior George Wolo will slot right in if Rogers departs. Rogers is a handful but he’s not very refined, while Wolo is pretty much the exact opposite. Next to Williams, Rogers is a better fit.
LB: The biggest loss is easily all-American caliber LB James Patterson, the brother of former tailback Jaret. He easily led the Buffalo defense in tackles with 114 and was one of maybe three good pieces on it, along with, presumably, two other guys who are leaving.
TFL machine and all-MAC Kadofi Wright has completed his career with the Bulls as well, while do-it-all senior Tim Terry is headed to Akron.
That leaves former walk-on Shaun Dolac to carry the flag into 2022 at linebacker, next to whoever Buffalo can find either in the portal or from a pretty good batch of young and unproven linebackers within the roster. Caleb Tate earned the most playing time of that bunch, but needs to take a pretty big jump from “very minor contributor” to “starting linebacker, replacing Patterson, Terry or Wright.” A move here from Michel would make this a little easier on everybody, especially if Buffalo trusts Laing.
CB: Florida transfer Elijah Blades is the big name from the portal, along with Notre Dame’s Caleb Offord. Both are former three-star prospects and do offer plenty of talent, though they’re without much experience. They’ll need to fin in for Ja’Marcus Ingram at the least, as he’s headed to the NFL after finding a lot of success at his third and final school in college football (he started at Utah State, transferred to Texas Tech, and finished with the Bulls).
Nickel Aapri Washington is back for one more year, which is a big boost, as would be the return of Isaiah King on the outside, though there’s little indication of his plans. He does have another year if he wants it. If not, Buffalo will need to rely on those transfers, because just about every young cornerback is in the portal. Mark Davis, Quillen Howze, and Larry Robbins are all gone.
Wankeith Akin Jr. is a potential returner but as far as I can tell, did not play in 2021, despite being listed on the two-deep. Logic Hudgens is here too but played only four games in 2021 before suffering an injury.
S: We have a returning starter! Safety Marcus Fuqua is set to return for his fourth season in town, and might be part of a… pretty good group? Gross is transferring, as is E.J. Brown, but Jahmin Muse is coming in from Boston College, and it looks like both Dylan Powell and Jalen McNair are returning.