So, here we are, UB fans, standing on the precipice of the second-biggest game in program history. Make your arguments for the International Bowl, Syracuse’s visit or the first of the Turner Gill era, but the only game touching what is essentially the MAC East Championship game is the 2008 MAC Championship match-up with Ball State.
The difference here is that precious few Bulls fans were predicting they’d upset the unbeaten Cardinals in ’08, while Buffalo is *just* a 2-point dog on Friday at home. Is that reasonable? I mean, Vegas knows its stuff and BG has last year on its side (both in the head-to-head match-up and big game experience), but dogs at home?
Jeff Quinn’s Bulls are 11-4 in their last 15 games tracing back to a three-game winning streak toward at the end of last year before losing to BG in the finale. Their home losses? Zero. Sure, this one’s not in their house but it’s in their city (and technically the Falcons beat UB at Crew Stadium in Columbus).
Let’s look at BG: Of the four teams to have beaten the Bulls in the last 12 months, the Falcons are one of them (joining Ohio State, Baylor and Toledo). Make no mistake, BG is nasty.
– The Falcons are in the nation’s Top 40 in three major offensive categories: rushing yards (29th), passing yards (36th) and points (31st).
– That’s nothing compared to their defense, who is allowing the sixth-fewest points per game in America at 14.4.
– Their red zone defense is best in the nation. Teams are scoring points on just 56 percent of opportunities, just 14 touchdowns on a mere 25 appearances.
– Their pass defense may not have turn the ball over, with just five picks, but they’ve allowed less yards per game than any team in America. Any. Team.
BG’s defensive numbers are actually better than UB’s, and the Bulls numbers are pretty remarkable themselves. The comparisons are easy to make. The teams look quite similar.
Why are the Falcons getting the Vegas love? For one thing, their losses are almost as impressive as Buffalo’s. BG also lost to Toledo (at home) but played Mississippi State to the bone at Starkville. Maybe the Bulldogs took the Falcons lightly, but a one-point road loss to an SEC team that’s only lost to teams currently ranked? Not bad at all.
Where can Buffalo get them?
Well, if BG’s defense has a weakness it’s on the ground. They’re giving up 147 yards per game and they haven’t faced Bo Oliver yet. They also haven’t faced this version of Joe Licata, who’s polished up faster than expected and shows a mix of poise and confidence that betrays his age and has star Alex Neutz and surprise of the year Fred Lee.
Lest we forget the Bulls defense is also a Monster Squad and even though the Falcons have the aforementioned big game experience, sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson does not. It’s reasonable to expect several Bulls defenders will be getting Sunday looks. Everyone knows about all-world linebacker Khalil Mack, but because of No. 46 people are overlooking defensive end Colby Way. And wily defensive coordinator Lou Tepper has done a wonderful job for yet another year, a move for which Quinn deserves a ton of credit.
This division title would be a massive one for the Bulls, who have 1.33 to their credit (they shared the MAC East crown with two teams in 2007 before claiming the crown the next year). This year marks the first season in a long time that the MAC finally looked at the Bulls before the season and gave them a decent schedule. Don’t believe me? The three suspected best teams in the MAC East — UB, BG and Ohio — all completely avoided the two suspected best teams in the West — Northern Illinois and Ball State — and vice versa. Tell me that’s a coincidence. For years we’ve watched as the Bulls had to struggle against the best teams in the conference as perceived bottom feeders. There wasn’t a year that went by that found Central Michigan as one of the cross-divisional games. It was brutal. The conference, with its mid-week games, wants to see great records against great records in prime time. It’s going to get that Friday afternoon at the Ralph.
This is a team that faced ludicrous criticism last year after winning 4 games and extending their coach going into the final year of his contract (something they had to do because recruiting in a lame duck year is stupid hard). With a big question mark at quarterback to start 2012, they lost their ace in the hole in running back Oliver who fought all kinds of injuries. Aside from a demolition at the hands of Northern Illinois, they looked ready to roll to bowl eligibility if Bo was healthy all season.
Who wins this one? Let’s face it: I’m not the right guy to be giving you a prediction. I’ve spent many of the past 8 seasons on the Buffalo radio broadcast team. I’m a proud alum of the University at Buffalo. I’ll be watching Friday with great interest and hoping the guys find a way through BG. The over/under is 51 and if I’m a line-setting guy, I’m dropping that about 10 points. First team to 22 wins.