Assesing the University at Buffalo Bulls Football Team
For the defending Mid-American conference football champs, the expectations are very high. A repeat is not out of the realm of possibility by any means, even with the loss of quarterback Drew Willy.
The offense will return star running back James Starks, wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, and tight end Jesse Rack. With that being said, here is the offensive preview for the University at Buffalo Bulls.
While Drew Willy (pictured) leaves a huge void on paper for the Bulls, yet do not discount what Zach Maynard can do behind center.
He is a very versatile back who is not afraid to take off on his feet.
After a solid Spring, Maynard was officially named starter, and still gives the Bulls' players and fans alike a sense of excitement and anticipation leading up to the Sep. 5 game at UTEP.
Maynard should find success early thanks in large part to receivers Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin.
Expect somewhere around the 2800-3500 passing yard mark. He will also have James Starks and/or Brandon Thermilus flanking him in the back field.
Led in the back field by Doak Walker Watch List member James Starks, Bulls are expected to make a lot of noise on the ground this season.
Starks, who Mel Kiper Jr. has predicted as a possible second round selection in the 2010 draft, will look to build on his '09 season in which he gained 1,333 yards.
With the under-experience at QB, expect to see Starks to gain somewhere around 1,500 yards this year if not more.
Also with over 300 receiving yards out of the back field, you can expect Starks' all-purpose yards to be up over 2,000.
The Bulls return power back Brandon Thermilus to the mix as well. Thermilus gained 454 yards mainly as a third down back.
You can expect to see much of the same this season, and maybe in a larger role depending on how Maynard progresses as Thermilus would give Starks more of a rest to keep him for the long haul.
Thermilus had over 100 receiving yards as well, so you can expect to see between 500-600 rushing yards and around 800 all-purpose yards.
Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends
The Bulls return two of their top three leading wide receivers, including Biletnikoff Watch List member Naaman Roosevelt.
The Bulls should be able to make a relatively smooth transition from Drew Willy to Zach Maynard at QB.
Roosevelt, who is quite possibly the most underrated wide out in all of college football, should continue to build on this past season's success and be able to improve his draft stock.
With 1,400 receiving yards last season and another 100 in the return game, Roosevelt should be able to boost both numbers. You should expect to see him get somewhere around 1,500-1,600 receiving yards.
His use on the kick game will ultimately depend on different situations, so expect to see him there sparingly.
The Bulls also return Brett Hamlin who had 459 yards receiving last season. Expect to see Hamlin's numbers spike this season as he steps into the No. 2 spot.
You should see somewhere between 700-1000 yards receiving from Hamlin this year as teams will pay a lot closer attention to Roosevelt.
At tight end this year look for Jesse Rack to have a very good year receiving as well as blocking. Look for 250-300 receiving yards this year out of Rack.
Also look for Ed Young to contribute in the pass game as well this year.
Because it is such an overlooked position, the offensive line is always the most difficult to judge and evaluate.
The Bulls will be anchored on the line by senior Andrew West and junior Peter Bittner.
The O-line will look to allow Zach Maynard the necessary time to find targets Roosevelt, Rack, and Hamlin, as well as open up holes for Starks and Thermilus.
Look for the line to allow the backs to rush for over 2,000 yards, and let Maynard throw for over 3,000 yards
Now, the attention will turn to the defensive side starting with the tackles. Anel Montanez and Dane Robinson will anchor the middle of the defensive line this season for the Bulls.
Expect both to get around 20-25 tackles each and 3-5 sacks as well.
As for the ends, look for Matt Hornbuckle and Bruno Lapointe to seal off the edges this year for the Bulls.
Expect both ends to have 30 tackles and 2-4 sacks each.
The line overall looks to be the Bulls' one real weakness on paper, but as recent years have shown in college football, those are the areas that opposing teams need to watch the most.
The linebacker core for the Bulls looks to be one of the strong points of the defense this season. They are led by junior Justin Winters.
Winters led the Bulls in tackles last season with 125, and was second in sacks with 2.0. Also returning is junior Raphael Akobundu, who was fifth in tackles with 71.
As for the third LB, look for Scott Pettigrew to fill that slot. He was eighth in tackles with 42.
Look for each linebacker to bump their tackle stats up by at least 5-10, with Pettigrew getting a possible increase of 20.
Expect a raise of about five sacks for Winters and 2-3 for Akobundu and Pettigrew.
If the linebackers step up, look to see much of the same looks on the fans of their opponents, as was the case with Ball State's fans (pictured) at last seasons MAC Championship game.
Arguably the best core in the MAC, the Bulls boast a very strong set of defensive backs led by senior Mike Newton and including juniors Davonte Shannon and Domonic Cook.
Shannon, who could be considered one of the biggest steals of college football with the Bulls scooping him up, was second on the team in tackles last season with 121 while playing safety.
Shannon will look to boost that number up a little bit this season and add on to his one interception.
Look for Shannon to play like someone else currently residing in the western PA area: Troy Polamalu. Shannon always plays with that tenacious attitude.
Newton was third in tackles and Cook was fourth with 112 and 76 tackles respectively. Look for each to surpass the 100 tackle mark this season and each to chip in 1-2 sacks apiece.
Cook, who led the team in interceptions last season with three, should stay right on track with that and maybe reach five or so, while Newton should get two or three as well.
The key to a repeat lifting of the MAC Championship is the special teams.
Place kicker AJ Pricipe will look to improve on his last year's mark of 12-17 on field goals, and 48-52 on extra points.
Australian punter Peter Fardon will look to continue placing opponents inside the 20 as he did so 23 times last season.
As for the return game, this is where Mario Henry should shine this year.
This senior running back was basically lost on the depth chart in that spot with James Starks and Brandon Thermilus excelling so well, so he found his niche returning kicks and punts.
Keep a close eye on this part of the game for the Bulls as many NCAA games can be very dependent on special teams.
Coach Turner Gill
Last, but not least by any means is head coach Turner Gill. Arguably the best non BCS coach in all the NCAA, Gill will look to raise the Bulls to new heights this season.
Look for Gill to lead the Bulls to their first bowl game victory this season, as well as the MAC East Crown for a third straight season.
Also, he is locked in to UB after signing a contract extension, so while the rumors will swirl in Amherst, NY as well as throughout the country, do not expect to see Gill on the move any time soon.
While many will consider the bulls eye on them as defending champs, the Bulls will still consider themselves the underdog in most games.
If opponents are not careful, it could very well become the football version of the "Running of the Bulls."