2009 Buffalo Bulls Football Preview
2008 Record: (8-6, 5-3)
2008 Bowl: International Bowl vs. Connecticut (L 20-38)
Coach: Turner Gill (15-23 at Buffalo, 15-23 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Danny Barrett
Defensive Coordinator: Fred Reed
Other Key Returnees: LB Raphael Akobundu, G Peter Bittner, CB Kendric Hawkins, WR Brett Hamlin, S Mike Newton, LB Scott Pettigrew, TE Jesse Rack, DT Dane Robinson, S Davonte Shannon, RB Brandon Thermilus, CB Josh Thomas, OT Andrew West
Key Losses: WR Ernest Jackson, C Chris Lauzze, G Jeff Niedermier, OT Ray Norell, DE Andrae Smith, DE Mike Thompson, QB Drew Willy
As long as Coach Turner Gill is on the sidelines, Buffalo will be hanging around the top of the Mid-American Conference. The Bulls won the conference last year by handing Ball State their first loss of the season in the conference championship game. The bowl game did not go too well, but winning the conference is an amazing accomplishment considering where this program was a mere two years ago.
Buffalo did not move the ball particularly well, nor did the defense stop anybody that much. What the Bulls did do was keep their turnovers down and create a ton of their own. The turnovers should keep coming with the return of the back seven. Linebacker Justin Winters is a tackling machine and Raphael Akobundu and Scott Pettigrew are young linebackers who had solid campaigns. They should only be better with a year of experience. Yet, the real strength is in the secondary. Safety Mike Newton is an experienced senior and strong safety Davonte Shannon is probably the best player on the team and is ready to become a MAC superstar. Domonic Cook, Kendric Hawkins and Josh Thomas are now all upperclassmen and ready to become dominating corners. The problem is the lack of pressure by the front four. The team only generated one sack per contest in 2008 and that number could be worse with three starters gone.
Drew Willy was the heart and soul of Buffalo. The quarterback threw for 3,304 yards and 25 touchdowns and was only intercepted six times. Zach Maynard will bring a running attack to the quarterback position, but can he be the leader that Willy was? With Naaman Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin returning, Maynard will have targets. Roosevelt caught 104 passes for 1,402 yards and 13 touchdowns. He will certainly give Maynard a viable option, but it remains to be seen if Maynard can consistently get him the ball. Making matters worse, three starters are gone off of the offensive line and guard Peter Bittner and tackle Andrew West have to quickly become leaders. The line did give quite a few sacks last year, but that should be less of an issue due to the mobility of Maynard.
The Bottom Line for the Bulls:
What the offensive line did extremely well in 2008 was pave the way for James Starks. The 6-2 running back tallied 1,333 yards on the ground and made 16 romps to the end zone. Brandon Thermilus added 454 yards and seven touchdowns and those two are both back. Even if Maynard struggles with the passing attack, the ground game should be enough to carry the Bulls to another MAC title game.
By Joel Welser
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