On the surface, it seems odd that Nevada would schedule such a far road game, but the Pack have their fair share of history at UB. Jim Hofher, the associate head coach and wide receivers coach at Nevada, was the head coach at Buffalo from 2001-2005. While at Buffalo, Hofher gave Brian Polian his first full-time coaching position. A decade later, the two of them are together again, with the roles now reversed. As they prepare to face their old team, let's take a look at some of the players they will have their attention on.
QB Joe Licata, Sr.
Offensively, the Bulls are led by their senior quarterback Joe Licata. Licata has been the starter for Buffalo since taking over the job at the end of his redshirt freshman year. He is the face of the program, and holds nearly every UB passing record. Last season, Licata threw for 2,600 yards and 29 TDs, all while having a game cancelled due weather at the end of the season. His experience allows Buffalo head coach Lance Leipold to get creative in play calling, which could cause problems for the young Wolf Pack secondary.
RB Anthone Taylor, Sr.
While Joe Licata poses a lethal threat from the air, Taylor is just as potent from the ground. Last season he was faced with replacing Branden Oliver, and he didn't disappoint. He ran for 1,400 yards and 12 TDs, and again doing so with the game against Kent State being cancelled. Taylor is an absolute workhouse of a running back, as he had 30 carries five times last season, and ran for over 200 yards multiple times. Despite such a high volume of touches, Taylor managed to maintain 5.0 YPC.
DL Brandon Crawford, Jr.
Despite playing next to Khalil Mack his freshman year, Crawford's play still managed to stand out during the 2013 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Crawford faded during his sophomore campaign, mainly because Lou Tepper didn't know how to run his defense without Khalil Mack. But this season, with a new defensive coordinator, Crawford has a chance to be a breakout star on a young defense.
Strengths: The Buffalo offense is very reliant on its run game and skill position depth. As mentioned above, Taylor is a force in the backfield, and backup RB Jordan Johnson is an above-average runner. At the receiver positions, Buffalo is stacked, as they return Ron Willoughby, their leading receiver from a season ago, along with Jacob Martinez, Marcus McGill and UAB transfer Collin Lisa. Tight ends Mason Screck and Matt Weiser create matchup problems with their size and can be dangerous in the red zone.
Weakness: The Bulls lost three starters from the offensive line last season, which will force some unproven players into starting roles this season. If the line struggles to mesh early in the season, Buffalo's offense could struggle despite such strength at the skill positions. The Wolf Pack's front seven will need to take advantage of the Buffalo line and get to Licata in order to slow the Bulls' high flying attack.
Strengths: The new scheme. Last season, the Buffalo defense struggled heavily because of the defensive scheme. Players were put in spots where they could not succeed. The lack of a pass rush made the cornerbacks cover for long periods of time without any safety help, which led to big completions down the field. With a new scheme being implemented, the Bulls should see improvement throughout.
Weakness: While the new scheme will help the defense, the team could struggle to transition into the new defense. The pass rush will need to get to the quarterback and force turnovers otherwise the Bulls could be in for a long season. However, the defense is very young, and they can improve as the season goes on.
On paper, this game is a toss up. Nevada's strengths match up with Buffalo's weaknesses and vice versa. Buffalo is projecting around 6-6 to 8-4, while I have Nevada between 5-7 and 7-5. It will depend on who is playing well and injuries. Nevada will likely be coming off two straight losses against Texas A&M and Arizona. Combine that with the fact that Buffalo's mascot is Victor E. Bull, and this game becomes a must-win for Nevada. For now, I give the slight advantage to Nevada, 21-20.
Thanks to John McWhinnie at Bull Run for all his help getting to know the Buffalo Bulls.