2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (2024)

Welcome back to Rock M Nation’s annual opponent preview series of the upcoming season. Each week we will break down one opponent from the schedule in chronological order. Given that rosters are ever fluid - and this is done by a hobbyist rather than a pro - there could be some errors in history and current roster makeup. All mistakes are done on purpose and with ill intent because I don’t like you or your team.

Catch up on previous 2024 opponent previews!

Murray State

Ah, Buffalo New York. Located on the extreme western end of New York state, right at the head of the Niagara River tributary point into Lake Erie, the 2nd-largest city in the state of New York (and the 78th-largest city in the US) is primarily known for being cold as balls. Of course, others know that the buffalo wing originated in the city that is displayed in its name and that Buffalo is home to the oldest urban parks system in the country.

They’re also known for being snakebit in professional football and awful at college football.

You see, despite being chosen as the terminus of the Eerie Canal - and thus being the primary inland port between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean - the main thing that I knew Buffalo for in the 90s was 1.) the elite running back Thurman Thomas and 2.) losing four straight Super Bowls (watch the Four Falls of Buffalo, it’s fantastic). And despite being the world’s largest grain port of the early 1800s and the second-largest railroad hub of the 1900s, their college football team’s claim to fame is that their “Bulls” mascot is way too close to the NFL’s “Bills” mascot...and being downright awful for most of its existence.

How bad was it? Glad you asked! Buffalo’s greatest stretch of football competence came under the coaching guidance of Dick Offenhamer, who went 58-37-5 from 1955 to 1965, earning (and declining) a Tangerine Bowl invitation in 1958*.

2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (1)

That was their last bowl invitation until 2008.

Offenhamer moved on after the ‘65 season and Buffalo was so bad in the following five years that they shut the football program down in 1970 (the students also voted to stop funding the program, and all athletics were sponsored by student fees at that time). Buffalo decided to field a team again in 1977 in what was Division III at the time and the team had their ups and down until 1993. At that point UB administrators had a renewed goal of getting their football program back into (then) Division I-A, so they leaped into Division I-AA and managed a good 8-3 season in 1996 before returning to D-I in 1999.

That 8-3 ‘96 campaign would be the last season where Buffalo finished over .500 for 12 years.

The Bulls transition to D-I was a bumpy one, featuring two head coaches from 1999-2005, who combined to win 10 games in seven years, including an 0-11 campaign in 1999.

Which gets us to the “modern era”:

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At the conclusion of the ‘05 season, Buffalo hired Turner Gill - a former Heisman candidate quarterback at Nebraska - to help get their program turned around. Gill went 5-7 in Year Two and, remarkably, tied for first place in the East Division of the MAC. In 2008 Gill deployed a team with four future NFL players and a fortuitous turnover margin to an 8-6 record, the Bulls’ first season over .500 in a dozen years and first bowl invitation in 50 years. Even with a slight downgrade in record to 5-7 in 2009, Gill was hired away by kansas and replaced with former Cincinnati Bearcats offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn.

Quinn’s tenure was unremarkable but important, as his firing led to the hiring of one of the best underdog program builders in the world, Lance Leipold. Go look at that chart above and watch 2015-2020; a slight dip in Year Two as he washed old guys out and put his guys in, a leap in Year Three, a huge jump in Year Four, culminating in the first time this millennium when Buffalo was actually in the positive numbers of SP+ ranking with a 5.3. Leipold’s 37-33 record over six seasons remains one of the best in program history, and his one loss campaign in 2020 is the best win percentage of any Buffalo head coach.

Of course, he went to kansas (who loves to poach Buffalo coaches) which led to the unremarkable and quick tenure of Maurice Linguist. He managed to play in - and win! - a bowl game, but the quality of the Bulls was dropping every year and he took the first ticket out...which just so happened to be a DC position at Alabama.

So now we’re at the Pete Lembo era. Lembo has had success in the G5 before but it’s a brand-new environment for G5 teams and Buffalo is getting a forced hard reset via transfer portal and graduation.

Whatever Lembo manages to do just remember: Buffalo is a hard freaking job.

*Why did Buffalo decline one of their few precious bowl invitations? Well, check the year - 1958. The Bulls starting running back, Willie Evans, and backup defensive end, Mike Wilson, were both black. And the Orlando Elks Lodge - the bowl sponsor - thought that the color of their skin was the worst thing on the planet and told Buffalo that they couldn’t play those two guys in their precious postseason exhibition game. The school, team, and Coach Offenhamer gave the Orlando Elks Lodge all the middle fingers they could muster and stayed home for bowl season.

Let’s look at what Buffalo did last year:

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Buffalo had an unlucky loss to Fordham, a lucky overtime win against Akron, and two dominating wins against two of the rare programs worse than Buffalo in the SP+ rankings. Like most of the MAC, the Bulls’ defense was competent but consistently let down by it’s inconsistent offense...which lost, essentially, every player worth a damn to the portal.

Thanks to the transfer portal’s ability to build a new team quickly, there are very few “Year Zero” situations in college football anymore - a scenario where a new coach’s team was so bad the prior year and has such low quality players on the roster that there’s just no reason to track what happens in the first year. I’m not saying Buffalo is a candidate for a transfer portal era “Year Zero” ... but given its lackluster portal and recruiting efforts, it’s close.

Coaching Staff

2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (4) Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Pete Lembo - 1st Year - 0-0 (0-0)

The MAC used to matter, man. It’s the conference where hall of fame coaches would get their first chance to prove their mettle as the head coach of a football team. A place where undermanned and under-resourced teams got super creative in their offensive schemes. A place that was the first to move their televised games to the middle of the week, putting up such offensive bangers that the College Football Zeitgeist (aka Spencer Hall at Every Day Should Be Saturday) dubbed these weekday MAC cataclysms as “MAC-tion”, a term that is still used, referenced, and branded today.

Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Ara Parseghian, Paul Brown, Nick Saban, Gary Pinkel, Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, Brady Hoke, Jerry Kill, Brian Kelly, Butch Jones, Dave Doeren, P.J. Fleck, Matt Campbell, and countless other coaches I know I’m forgetting got their starts with teams in the MAC before going on to excellent careers elsewhere.

And that run really stopped with Pete Lembo. Not this year, mind you, but in 2016, when Lembo abruptly abandoned his post at Ball State to take a special teams coordinator position at Maryland. Lembo’s record wasn’t bad - 33-29 isn’t good but certainly not bad - but despite winning 19 games in two years at a school that doesn’t usually do that, Lembo had zero traction on getting a job elsewhere...so he just left. This happened to Sean Lewis at Kent State, too: post crazy offensive numbers, win more games than anyone else possibly could at one of the toughest schools to win at...no job offers. Hell, Toledo’s Jason Candle has been the head coach of the Rockets for nine years, won 65 games, won three division titles and a conference championship...and no one wants him.

The MAC seems to no longer be the cradle of coaches anymore, but, instead, a crypt. Coaches take head roles there to see their careers hit a dead end and either get fired or hired on as a coordinator elsewhere. It’s a sad state for a conference that was once super fun and intriguing to follow. And Lembo, as Patient Zero of this sad infection, is returning to the conference that gave him a shot.

I have no idea how he will do. He’s had success in building up programs at the lower levels of college football and provides quirky, effective solutions to the special teams side. But his staff is kind of boring and there’s probably nothing he can do to get promoted so the drive and energy might be lacking.

But that’s a lot of prognosticating on my end for a guy who’s only been on the job for four months.

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Assistant Staff

Dave Patenaude - Offensive Coordinator: Coach Patenaude is an interesting guy, influenced mainly by his extended time coaching in the Ivy League. Patenaude’s rep was a guy who could maximize the players he had, and he’d run super interesting, triple-option-out-of-shotgun sets at Hofstra, Georgetown, and Coastal Carolina. He was paired up with Geoff Collins at Temple and then followed Collins to the doomed restructuring of the triple-option based offense at Georgia Tech. The rumors are that Collins really limited Patenaude’s offensive effectiveness while at GT (they were trying to get away from the option offense even though that was what Tech’s players did best and what Patenaude knew best), and when Patenaude’s contract wasn’t renewed he was temporarily hired at Old Dominion before stepping down with no reason given. He spent last year as an analyst at Virginia and now is giving the OC gig another shot. A lot of the creativity he showed in the late aughts/early teens when he was a “bright offensive mind” are now mostly rote in a modern college football offense; it’ll be interesting to see if he still has a creative touch or if he resorts to his old stuff that defenses are better trained to counter in 2024.

Joe Bowen - Defensive Coordinator: Joe Bowen is a young guy who has spent more seasons as a student/graduate assistant than he has as a position coach, but his stops have been at strong defensive teams. His last role was as the linebackers coach to a Miami (Ohio) squad that ranked 12th in SP+ in 2023 and featured linebacking dynamos Ty Wise and Matt Salopek (the latter, an All-American!) If he can bring a fraction of Miami’s defensive competence to a Buffalo defense that was ok but glitchy, Lembo will have a great start to his tenure.

Tyler Hanco*ck - Special Teams Coordinator

Ray Pickering - Running Backs

Caleb Haynes - Wide Receivers

Ron Whitcomb - Tight Ends

Matt Stansfield - Offensive Line

Adam Morris - Defensive Line

Holman Copeland - Cornerbacks

Brian Dougherty - Safeties

Roster Movement

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Any time you have a coaching change you’re going to have higher turnover via portal, both from a “eff the new guy, I ain’t playing for him” and a “we’re doing things different here and you’re no longer a fit” type of vibes.

Even with that caveat Buffalo got hit hard in the portal. Starting quarterback from the past three years? Gone to conference opponent Eastern Michigan. Running back #2? Off to New Mexico State. #1 tight end, best offensive lineman, and best havoc-creator at safety? All gone to P4 programs, and that’s on top of attrition via graduation.

But hey, that’s all good as long as you portalled in some comparable talent to plug the holes, right? Right?????

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Woo, buddy. A quarterback with two starts to his name, a P4 wide receiver with one catch in 2023, an Ivy League receiver, and ‘Bama’s backup walk-on kicker. They did add a ton of defensive linemen who either had limited or no experience last year, in an effort to get them young and develop them in the program. But it’s a ton of unproven dudes and Ivy Leaguers that are looked to buoy and boost Lembo’s first Buffalo program. That’s a big ask.

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And Lembo’s salvaged first recruiting class doesn’t seem to offer many instant impact additions, either. They do add two JUCO offensive linemen to plug in the glaring holes on the line but a low 3-star running back and safety are the jewels of the 110th-ranked class in the nation and 11th-ranked (out of 12) class of the MAC. Obviously, any of these guys could pop in Year One (and should have plenty of options to do so) but, when you recruit like a MAC team, most of your additions are going to be guys who are good several years down the road.

Oh, they did get a guy from the NFL Academy in London, England. That’s rad.

Offense

What can you say about the 125th-best offense in the country last year? Especially one that loses most of its contributors that only managed to be the 9th-worst offense for 2023?

The Bulls were decently good at getting touchdowns once they got in the red zone...but don’t ask how often they got in the red zone please! Also, the offensive line was middle of the pack in pass protection and not missing their blocks. That’s something!

But when your starting quarterback, top two running backs, top six receiving targets, and two starting offensive linemen are gone, it doesn’t really matter what you did last year.

Bad news: almost everyone is gone! Good news: they sucked, and it almost certainly could not get worse!

Quarterback

2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (9) Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (10)

Missouri fans have seen C.J. Ogbonna before, back when he closed out SEMO’s visit to Mizzou in 2021. He spent another year there before transferring to Buffalo last year. C.J. was purely a backup option last year as the recently departed Cole Snyder took the majority of the snaps. But because the majority of the quarterbacks on the roster are younger than third years and/or haven’t been taken snaps with an FBS team, it seems like C.J. is going to be the first option to take the helm in ‘24...with a whole 21 passes thrown last year.

Running Backs

2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (11) Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Buffalo’s running game was its relative strength, ranking 77th in the country. But the top two running backs are either graduated or transferred away - as is the third leading rusher in quarterback Cole Snyder - leaving the third string back, Jacqez Barksdale, as the most experienced guy, with 52 rushes and 248 yards last year.

And they add no portal backs and only one 3-star via high school. Yikes.

Receivers

2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (13) Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (14)

Buffalo’s passing offense ranked 121st in the country and then they lost their top six receiving targets: four receivers and two running backs. Again, either you view that as somehow the last step to rock bottom OR a whole lot of nothing since they stunk so bad anyway. Regardless, Lembo addressed the issue by bringing in a experienced Ivy League wide receiver and a young backup receiver from Boston College. They also added four tall receivers from the high school ranks as potential options to fill out the depth chart as well.

Offensive Line

2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (15) Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (16)

The Bulls return their starters at right tackle and guard and the backups at left guard and center. The two JUCO offensive linemen will be looked to step in immediately while the three tackles brought up from high school will probably not be ready to see the field, even with a hard reset and depth needed.

Defense

Buffalo’s defense was legitimately solid through 2023 and was the one unit that was able to keep the Bulls in games. They were good at stopping efficiency plays and did a pretty good job of keeping offenses out of the end zone when they were in scoring position. They even ranked 27th against the run! The problem, then, was that their pass defense was an 88th-ranked albatross and they were the absolute worst at giving up explosive plays on the ground.

It really is an odd pairing: a bad passing defense gave up very little big plays while a stout run defense gave up all the big plays possible. Red zone defense was good, scoring defense was good, 3rd-down defense was good...it was just those pesky big plays.

Buffalo will be looking to four new faces to replace their departed top three defensive linemen and a starting safety, while the linebackers will be looking to replace one starter with some existing backups.

The big thing the Bulls need is some havoc: they weren’t the best at generating it last year and their only good havoc creators graduated.

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So what does it all mean?

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Buffalo is going to be bad in 2024. I don’t think there’s any way they can get around that. The good news is that they play in the MAC and almost all of their opposition is similarly bad.

Even projected MAC contenders Northern Illinois and Toledo are still roughly a touchdown worse than the average college football team while most of the opponents rank near the 120 range of SP+, which just so happens to be super close to where Buffalo is projected.

Missouri should beat the absolute piss out of this team. That’s not really Eli Drinkwitz’s MO though - despite all the bravado and high-level recruiting, Drinkwitz teams usually score 30ish points and then stop, even against overwhelmed competition.

But, regardless of score, this one shouldn’t be close. And Mizzou should cruise to a relatively stress-free victory.

If not...well, we’ll cross that bridge if we get there.

2024 Missouri Football Opponent Previews: Buffalo Bulls (2024)
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