The Buffalo Bulls clinched bowl eligibility on Friday, and now await their postseason fate.
The University at Buffalo is going bowling. Maybe.
With a 31-24 win over the Ohio Bearcats on Friday evening, Buffalo earned bowl eligibility — their first under head coach Lance Leipold. Their fate is now in the hands of the NCAA, which will decide whether or not to extend their 2017 campaign.
Leipold, 53, is in his third season as director of the school’s football program. Prior to joining the staff, he maneuvered Wisconsin-Whitewater, a DIII club, to a record-setting 109-6 record — which included 6 national title wins.
Success hasn’t come easy for the former quarterback, whose teams went a combined 7-17 in his first two seasons in Western New York. But things suddenly changed in 2017, when quarterbacks Drew Anderson and Tyree Jackson led the squad to a 6-6 record, good for fourth in the Mid-American Conference.
Jackson was the first quarterback in UB history to throw for over 300 yards in three straight games. During a four-week stretch of missed action — Jackson hurt his knee against Florida Atlantic — replacement QB Drew Anderson tossed 10 touchdowns and threw for 1,039 yards (including a 7 TD, 597 YD performance against Western Michigan in Week 6).
Despite playing with multiple quarterbacks, JuCo transfer Anthony Johnson has been one of the best wide receivers in the nation this season. He’s tops in the country in catches of 20+ yards, and ranks third in yards per game. On Friday, he set the UB single-season touchdown reception record with 14 in 12 games.
It is a bit of a homer pick. But he’s No. 3 in nation in yards/game (despite 3 different QBs). Of the top 30, he has 2nd most TDs (12). He’s No. 1 in nation in 20-plus catches. And he’s not in an Air-Raid Offense. And he’s legit size-speed. https://t.co/E45x89hx7X
— Mark Gaughan (@gggaughan) November 21, 2017
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, linebacker Khalil Hodge set the Bulls’ FBS-era record for tackles in a season, eclipsing even NFL star Khalil Mack’s 2013 mark. The future draft prospect is only a junior, but it’s no guarantee that he’ll return next season.
On Friday afternoon, Hodge proved his worth. With a late fourth-quarter interception, he sealed what is likely one of the biggest wins in program history.
It couldn’t have happened without the team’s leaders. Anthony Johnson tallied 155 yards — for a phenomenal clip of 25.8 YPC — and two touchdowns. Tyree Jackson went 19-for-30 with two TDs. Emmanuel Reed rushed for 63 yards and a score. And Ishmael Hargrove, an unheralded receiver-turned-linebacker in his senior season, had the game’s most important sack.
How do you spell Bowl Eligible….Buffalo Bulls!!! pic.twitter.com/GmDteZyRLv
— Rob Ianello (@CoachRobIanello) November 24, 2017
Buffalo got off to a 24-7 start at the end of the first. Jackson and Johnson hooked up for a pair of 30+ yard touchdowns, and Chuck Harris, last week’s MAC East Defensive Player of the Week, recovered a fumble for a score.
Bearcats running back A.J. Ouellette was knocked out of the game after just two attempts.
With the win, UB finishes the regular season at 6-6, good for a .500 record. Will that be enough to sneak into a bowl game?
In recent years, an increase in new bowl games has meant that even schools that finished with sub-.500 records can make the playoffs. In 2016-17, 25% of postseason teams didn’t post a winning mark. That should be encouraging news for the Bulls.
More encouraging, of course, would be news of an invite. For now, though, all they can do is hope.