Buffalo Bulls Ready To Replace Senior Departures
By Lana Sache
The Buffalo Bulls may have been a close second in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference in 2013, but with impact players leaving on both sides of the ball this offseason, the MAC championship seems a remote possibility for Buffalo in 2014.
The Bulls' strategy, however, seems to indicate otherwise.
Impending second-year starting quarterback Joe Licata is fully aware of who he is working with on offense for Buffalo. He also knows that three former Bills leaders won't be there this fall.
“Khalil Mack, Branden Oliver and Alex Neutz are three of the best players that ever played at our school," Licata told Football.com last week by phone, "so it’s going to be tough to replace them with what they can do on the field, but especially off the field because they are such great leaders. I think studying what they did and what they were able to do to get kids to buy into the program is important. I think I’m going to have to keep continuing to step up and become the leader they were.”
As far as Buffalo's schedule is concerned, it appears the Bulls have an easier ride than 2013. They are not traveling to any big-name schools, like they did for their 2013 opener against Ohio State. Buffalo's only road game of note outside of the MAC next season will be against Army at West Point. That will be followed by a home game against Baylor in what will arguably be Buffalo's biggest home game of the season. The Bulls will start MAC play at Bowling Green — the 2013 MAC champion.
“Getting into our MAC schedule, it looks great and I’m excited about that," Licata said. "We’ve got our teams that we really want to face off against and we’re really excited about it.”
So, who will be the players to watch for at Buffalo next season?
"Our starting center, Trevor Sales, is a great leader already,” said Licata, noting that he expects Sales and himself to be the top leaders on offense.
Wide receivers Ron Willoughby, Rudy Johnson, Devon Hughes and John Dunmore also will command attention on offense They have a lot of work to do to meet the high standards set by Fred Lee and Alex Neutz, but that's Buffalo's focus this spring. Willoughby is a sophomore receiver from Avon Lake, Ohio, who only played in two games last season. Although he only had three catches in both games, he totaled an impressive 83 total yards.
Licata knows the importance of having a good relationship with his receivers.
“This year is definitely going to be important," Licata said. "I am rooming with Ron Willoughby, who has potential to be my go-to guy next year, so that’s important.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Jake Stockman will set the tone. As a junior, Stockman totaled 43 tackles, one interception and one sack. Next season, he should be seen as one of Buffalo's top linebackers and a major leader on defense.
Fellow senior linebacker Lee Skinner was second on the team in tackles as a sophomore in 2012. Last season as a junior, Skinner was second again for the Bulls in tackles behind Mack with 79. He also had an interception against Bowling Green.
Will the Bulls have what it takes to contend in the MAC despite losing their main wide receivers, linebackers and running back? Only time will tell, but Lacata and his teammates will begin to find out in Buffalo's spring game on April 26 as they look ahead to their season opener at home against Duquesne on Aug. 30.