Open for the taking

Bulls are worse than last year, but so is the MAC


This year’s Buffalo football team has a better chance at a Mid-American Conference championship than last year’s team.

Yes, last year’s team had No. 5 overall pick Khalil Mack, program all-time rushing and all-time receiving touchdown leader in Branden Oliver and Alex Neutz, respectively, and held MAC teams to 15 points a game.

Yes, this year’s team lacks star power and any semblance of a defense. But the 2014 Bulls have a better shot than 2013’s team because of one factor.

No one else in the MAC is any good either.

Three MAC East teams are winless in 14 combined games. Bowling Green’s once dominating defense now allows 43.6 points a game. There’s no longer a Chandler Harnish or Jordan Lynch looming out in the MAC West for Northern Illinois.

Buffalo is not a good team, but it won’t have to defeat a good team to win the MAC this year.

The Bulls were 6-1 in conference and had won eight of their past nine games heading into the season finale last season. Then they ran into Bowling Green.

The Falcons held Buffalo – who was currently on a eight-game streak of scoring at least 30 points – to just seven points. The Bulls would have faced Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman trophy voting – in the MAC Championship game had they defeated Bowling Green.

Lynch has graduated and the Falcons don’t look like they’ll be holding an opponent to seven points anytime soon. The MAC is a conference of mediocre teams who score and allow a lot of points.

And Buffalo fits this formula perfectly.

The Bulls have scored at least 35 points in four of their fives games. They’ve also allowed at least 27 points in four of five games.

Junior quarterback Joe Licata is having the best year of this career, and he has even more weapons than last season.

Graduated wide receivers Alex Neutz and Fred Lee had nearly 50 percent of the team’s receptions last season. This season, five different players have recorded at least 140-receiving yard games and Licata’s had a different leading receiver in four of the team’s first five games.

Miami Ohio took away wide receivers Ron Willoughby and Devon Hughes last week, so Licata went to freshman wide receiver Jacob Martinez eight times for 94 yards and a touchdown. Martinez’s career stat line entering the game was five catches for 48 yards.

The offense is more balanced than last year and might even be better off. Buffalo relied on its defense last year, now the ‘D’ is far worse, but so is just about every MAC team’s defense.

The defense doesn’t have to dominate the way it did with Mack. It just has to limit the big plays. Teams are going to put up a lot of points in this conference; the ‘D’ just has to make sure it gives the offense a chance to outscore the other.

If the Bulls are able to go on the road Saturday and defeat Bowling Green – the reigning MAC champions and a team that has defeated them handily the past three seasons – they’ll become the favorites in the MAC East.

The Bulls don’t have excuses to not at least be competitive in the MAC this season. Buffalo may have downgraded but so has the competition around them.

This is a winnable conference – even for Buffalo.