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Ranking the Buffalo Bulls 2015 Opponents

As the Buffalo Bulls prepare to open their 2015 season, Lance Leopold's first as head coach of the program, we rank each of the 12 opponents they'll face.

2015 is a year of both transition and continuation for Buffalo Bulls football.

A new coaching staff led by head coach Lance Leipold has been tasked with turning around a program that has had just one winning season in the last six. He brings an enormous track record of success at Division III level. In his eight seasons at Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2007-2014, he compiled a 109-6 record while leading the Warhawks to five undefeated seasons and six national titles. Clearly, his resume exudes success and that has UB fans excited about the team’s prospects in the MAC going forward.

Quarterback Joe Licata returns for his senior season and has already established himself alongside Drew Willy as one of the top signal callers in program history. Despite the 5-6 record last year, Licata threw for 29 touchdowns which was 13th best nationally and shattered Willy’s previous school record of 25. He also was one of the country’s most efficient passers, ranking 16th overall with a 150.7 pass efficiency rating.

With the season opener less than a week away, which teams on UB’s 2015 schedule really stand out? There is a certain Big Ten blueblood expected to give the Bulls quite the challenge when they face off early on in the year. You also have a few teams traveling to UB Stadium who’ve been among the MAC’s most dominant programs in recent years. Those will certainly be measuring stick games early on in the Leipold era.

Note: all times ET

Ranking the Buffalo Bulls 2015 Opponents

12. Albany – September 5th, 3:30 PM (ESPN3)

This is the customary FCS cupcake/”make everyone feel good about themselves with a guaranteed win” kind of home opener. Nevertheless, UB has had trouble with these teams the past two seasons. Last year, the Bulls trailed Duquesne 28-24 in the fourth quarter before two Licata touchdown passes preserved a 38-28 win. In 2013, they needed five overtimes to put away Stony Brook 26-23 in a game that was tied 10-10 at the end of regulation.

The Great Danes football program was coached by Bob Ford from its inception as a varsity sport in 1973 until 2013 when he retired. In that time, he has overseen the team’s transition from Division III to I-AA (now FCS) which occurred in 1999. Two seasons ago, Albany moved from the Northeast Conference to the Colonial Athletic Association. Ironically enough, current coach Greg Gattuso, now in his second year after taking over for Ford, was once the head man at previously mentioned Duquesne.

11. at Miami (OH) – October 29th, 7:30 PM (CBS Sports Network)

Since UB joined the MAC in 1999, they have just five wins against the Redhawks though they have won the last three. The opportunity is there to make it four in a row in Oxford against a Miami program that has fallen on hard times recently. After winning the conference title in 2010, the program known for being the “cradle of coaches” has won just ten of 38 games, including a winless campaign in 2013 that precipitated the coaching change which led to current head coach Chuck Martin (formerly offensive coordinator at Notre Dame) taking over.

10. Massachusetts – November 27th, Time/TV TBA

UMass’ courtship with the Mid-American Conference will ultimately be a short-lived one. After joining in 2012, it was announced in March 2014 that the program will be leaving the MAC after this season to become an Independent for the time being. The Bulls have certainly enjoyed their three meetings with the Minuteman as fellow MAC East foes, outscoring them 101-43 en route to winning all three. In fact, UMass is the only current MAC school that Buffalo has an above .500 record all-time record against.

9. at Florida Atlantic – September 19th, noon (American Sports Network)

This will be the inaugural meeting between the two schools and UB’s first game in the state of Florida since a 27-8 loss to Tampa on November 12th, 1966. Eight years earlier the Bulls had a chance to play in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando after an 8-1 season in 1958. However, the team took a courageous stand against racism and declined the bid when they were told their two black players, Willie Evans and Mike Wilson, would not be allowed to play in the game.

FAU’s program was started by legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger in 2001. They’ve been to two bowl games since including the 2008 Motor City Bowl where they beat Central Michigan 24-21. Until the game against UB, CMU is the only MAC team the Owls have ever faced.

8. at Central Michigan – October 17th, Time/TV TBA

Speaking of the Chippewas, here they are. This is one of two crossover games against MAC West opponents for the Bulls (the other being Northern Illinois). CMU has completely dominated this series, winning six of seven including the only time the two teams played in Mount Pleasant. UB had a chance to win that game, trailing 27-25 and in position for an end of game field goal. However, the kick would hit the upright and the Chips would survive.

Similar to UB, Central made a coaching change in the offseason although theirs was unexpected. Fifth-year head coach Dan Enos announced in January he was leaving the program to take the offensive coordinator job at Arkansas. John Bonamego takes over in his first head coaching job of any kind after spending over a decade and a half as a special teams coach in the NFL.

The match-up will feature stellar quarterback play with Licata and CMU’s Cooper Rush expected to compete for quarterback of the year in the MAC.

7. at Kent State – November 5th, 7:30 PM (CBS Sports Network)

UB was supposed to host the Golden Flashes on November 19th of last year. The Bulls were 4-6 at the time knowing they needed to sweep the rest of the 2014 slate to have any hope of being selected for a bowl. Then the worst blizzard in Buffalo-area history hit the area (and that’s saying something!), forcing the game’s cancellation and dashing UB’s bowl hopes.

The relative proximity of Buffalo and Kent, OH (about a three-hour drive) means these two schools have a history that dates back to UB’s pre-MAC days. They first played each other in 1937 (won by UB 13-0) and faced off six more times before the Bulls joined the conference. Ohio is the only current FBS member that UB has played more often than Kent State as the 2015 contest is the 21st all-time meeting.

6. Ohio – October 24th, Time/TV TBA

Latching onto that theme, when Buffalo hosts Ohio in late October it will be the 22nd clash between the two schools. The home team has won the last five match-ups so it’s advantage Buffalo there. However, the Bobcats return practically every starter on offense from last year’s 6-6 campaign.

Frank Solich has really built a juggernaut in Athens. He took over a moribund program in 2005 that had just four winning seasons since 1980 and hadn’t won the MAC or appeared in a bowl since 1968. Ten years into his tenure and the results are quite different. The school has made three championship game appearances and been to three bowls.

The Bobcats could be a dark horse to upend Bowling Green and give Solich his fourth MAC East Title.

5. at Akron – November 21st, Time/TV TBA 

Since the Akron program joined FBS (formerly Division I-A) in 1987, they’ve had just six winning seasons. The last one occurred in 2005 when they somehow won the MAC by shocking a heavily favored Northern Illinois team in the title game. Despite that dearth of success they’ve won nine of 14 against UB including five of six at home. Incidentally, the Bulls only win in Akron came in the final game played at the famed Rubber Bowl, a 43-40 quadruple overtime win during UB’s MAC title year of 2008.

This could be another surprise team in the MAC. Head coach Terry Bowden has the program heading in the right direction. Just a season removed from consecutive 1-11 campaigns, they went 5-7 last year but lost two games in-conference by just a field goal.

4. Nevada – September 26th, Time/TV TBA

These two teams have met just once in 2004 when the Wolfpack came out triumphant in Reno 38-13. 11 years later, they make the return trip to Buffalo in the finale to both teams non-conference schedules. Nevada will be coming off a rough stretch heading into this game, having played Arizona and Texas A&M the previous two weeks.

The school has produced two fairly prolific dual-threat quarterbacks in recent years. You may have heard of one of them. After all, Colin Kaepernick would later get drafted by the San Francisco 49ers and lead the team to Super Bowl XLVII. His successor Cody Fajardo accounted for 3,544 all-purpose yards and 31 total touchdowns in 2014 but has since graduated.

Redshirt freshman Hunter Fralick, himself a dual-threat weapon behind center, is expected to start when the Wolfpack come to town.

3. Bowling Green – October 3rd, 3:30 PM, TV TBA

It doesn’t get much tougher for Leipold to have to face the defending MAC East champions in his first conference game. His counterpart on the opposing sideline Dino Babers rode his “Falcon Fast” up-tempo philosophy on offense to full effect in his first season with BGSU. He did so with James Knapke at quarterback who was originally the backup but filled in admirably when starter Matt Johnson suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the 2014 opener against Western Kentucky.

These two teams return a combined nine starters on defense. Between the quarterbacks and and the returning players in the backfield such as Anthone Taylor for UB and Travis Greene for BGSU, prepare for a shootout.

2. Northern Illinois – November 11th, 8 PM (ESPN2 or ESPNU)

UB has not fared well against the Huskies, and that’s being kind. The school has yet to get a win in the series since they joined the conference and their lone victory all-time came way back in 1968 (20-7). They came close in 2011, the last time NIU came to Buffalo. Trailing 31-24, the Bulls scored a touchdown with 14 seconds left and a chance to force overtime with the extra point only to miss it.

Northern Illinois has been the class of this conference for a while now. They’ve appeared in five straight MAC title games, having won three including last year in emphatic fashion, routing Bowling Green 51-17. Quarterback Drew Hare returns and like his predecessor Jordan Lynch, is a dual-threat playmaker. He didn’t make many passing mistakes last year either, throwing for 18 touchdowns compared with just two interceptions.

1. Penn State – September 12th, noon (ESPN2 or ESPNU)

The past few seasons have seen some fairly high-profile football schools appear on the UB schedule. In 2012, they faced Georgia between the hedges and had the Bulldogs on the ropes in the first half before UGA eventually pulled away 45-23. A year later, the Bulls entered the famed Horseshoe in Columbus in a game that could aptly be described as linebacker Khalil Mack’s coming out party despite Ohio State prevailing 40-20.

2015 is no different. In week two, UB travels to State College, PA to take on Penn State at another college football cathedral in 106,572 seat Beaver Stadium. It should be another showcase of exceptional quarterback play. Junior Christian Hackenberg is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014 and get himself back into the good graces of NFL scouts after his freshman campaign for the Nittany Lions had people anointing him a future first overall pick.

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