Jaret Patterson, Buffalo Beat Charlotte 31-9 in 2019 Bahamas Bowl

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2019

Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold talks with wide receiver Antonio Nunn (1) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Penn State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Barry Reeger/Associated Press

The Buffalo Bulls picked up their first bowl win in program history Friday with a 31-9 victory over the Charlotte 49ers in the 2019 Bahamas Bowl, the first game of college football's 2019-20 bowl season.

Buffalo fell short in its first three postseason appearances, including a 42-32 loss to the Troy Trojans in last year's Dollar General Bowl. UB bounced back from a 2-4 start this season by winning five of its last six regular-season games, and it capped the turnaround by beating the Niners.

Charlotte was playing in the program's first bowl game. Like the Bulls, the 49ers opened the campaign in lackluster form en route to a 2-5 record, but they stormed back to win five straight games to become bowl eligible. It's the team's first winning season since joining the FBS level in 2015.


Notable Game Stats

QB Kyle Vantrease (UB): 8-of-17 passing, 77 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; rushing TD

QB Chris Reynolds (UNCC): 15-of-24 passing, 203 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

RB Jaret Patterson (UB): 173 rushing yards, 2 TD

RB Benny LeMay (UNCC): 45 rushing yards

WR Antonio Nunn (UB): 53 receiving yards, 1 TD

WR Victor Tucker (UNCC): 61 receiving yards, 1 TD

DL Malcolm Koonce (UB): 5 tackles, 2 sacks

LB James Patterson (UB): 3 tackles, 1 INT

DB Marquavis Gibbs (UNCC): 9 tackles, 1 INT


Lance Leipold Could Generate Interest From Power 5 Schools

Leipold, who became the Bulls' head coach in 2015, may not be a household name, but those within the college football community are keenly aware of his accomplishments.

ESPN ranked him as the 78th-best coach in the 150-year history of college football last week, in large part because of his success at the Division III level. He led the Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, his alma mater, to a 109-6 record and six national championships in eight years beginning in 2007.

"I'm very humbled and flattered to be mentioned in that company," Leipold said of the ranking. "It is truly the work of the student-athletes, assistant coaches and staff members that I have been blessed to work with that makes something like this occur."

It took the 55-year-old former quarterback a couple of years to right the ship in Buffalo. The Bulls posted a 7-17 record over his first two seasons in charge.

Head Coach Ranking @HCRfootball

Lance Leipold and Buffalo beating Charlotte and WIll Healy today. You don't hear about Leipold much because he came from the D3 ranks and he's over age of 40. Also because Leipold isn't repped by same group that reps folks that cover the sport which also rep Healy.

Since then, UB has gone 24-15 with a pair of bowl appearances and now a postseason win. Last year marked the first 10-win season in program history.

The fact Buffalo managed to remain competitive in 2019 despite a long list of departures, led by quarterback Tyree Jackson, wide receiver Anthony Johnson and linebacker Khalil Hodge, is a testament to the foundation Leipold has built in Western New York.

Athletic directors around the country are surely taking notice too. As soon as the coaching carousel starts spinning again following bowl season, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Leipold's name pop up in the rumor mill in connection to some Power 5 jobs.

His championship pedigree from Wisconsin-Whitewater and his recent success at Buffalo suggests he'd be a strong choice to help rebuild a high-profile program.


Charlotte Program Moving in Right Direction Despite Loss

Building a football program from scratch is an uphill battle. That's the challenge Charlotte has faced since 2013, when it joined the FCS ranks before getting elevated to FBS two years later as part of Conference USA.

Since the 49ers don't have the history or tradition associated with most teams around the country, they've had to get creative in order to attract recruits and become competitive.

First-year head coach Will Healy and director of football relations Carter Crutchfield worked to create Club Lit—a dance floor inside the locker room to reward wins.

"That was one of the goals when we got here, is it's all about branding," Crutchfield told ESPN's David M. Hale. "People only know what you tell them. You're in the city of Charlotte, we have so much to sell, but we had to find an identity. Club Lit really turned into a viral thing."


Shirt: off Norm head: on Celebration: lit #ClubLIT https://t.co/MyuiedCG8D

It's unique, and it's the type of gimmick that can help swing the decision of an undecided recruit in their favor. That's crucial when you can't point to a truckload of trophies in a case outside the locker room.

The sample size is small, but Healy guided the Niners to a seven-win season after they posted no better than a 5-6 mark over its first six years and they're just two years removed from a 1-11 campaign.

Charlotte will lose a couple of key seniors in LeMay, its leading rusher, and defensive end Alex Highsmith, who entered bowl season tied for second in the country with 14 sacks.

That said, there's a lot of talent set to return for 2020, including quarterback Chris Reynolds, his top two targets in Victor Tucker and Cameron Dollar and linebacker Markees Watts.

It sets the stage for the 49ers to take another step forward next year.


What's Next?

Buffalo is set to open the 2020 campaign with a road trip to face the Big 12's Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Sept. 5.

Charlotte will also begin next season Sept. 5 by visiting the SEC's Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium.