Here’s capsule look at the 12 teams on UB’s 2014 schedule:
Duquesne: Venturing outside the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) Northeast Conference for a first-ever match-up with an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) opponent. Returns nine starters on defense and seven on offense from team that went 7-4 and shared the NEC crown. Went 75-9 and won 11 of 14 tiles in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference before joining the NEC in 2008.
Army: The Cadets have brought in Jeff Monken, a former UB assistant, from Georgia Southern with hopes of restoring credibility after going 8-28 over the last three seasons. Monken coached WRs and TEs at UB from 1992 to 1994 and had great success at Georgia Southern, reaching the national semifinals each of three seasons in FCS. This is Army’s season opener.
Baylor: The good news: The 10th-ranked Bears return only five offensive starters from the team that singed UB, 70-13, last season while rolling up 781 offensive yards. The bad news: The incumbents include All-America QB Bryce Petty (13-16-328-2 vs. Bulls) and WR Antwan Goodley (4-124-1). Baylor has ranked in the top two nationally in yards per game each of last three seasons.
Norfolk State: The FCS Spartans were 3-9 last season and 7-16 over the last two but have a special player in 6-foot-7, 260-pound linebacker Lynden Trail. He’s the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus first-team FCS All-American. He also caught three passes last season, all good for short touchdowns. MAC reference point: Lost by 44-10 at Ohio in ’12.
Miami: Chuck Martin takes over after four seasons at Notre Dame, the last two as offensive coordinator/QB coach. He’s accompanied by fifth-year senior QB Andrew Hendrix, who went 25-58-360-1 in his time with the Irish. This can be nothing but good for the RedHawks, who averaged less than 10 ppg last year and have lost their last 16 games.
Bowling Green: Coach and Lew-Port grad Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest after Falcons won the MAC impressively in 2013. His replacement is Dino Babers, whose Jimmy Garoppolo-led offense lit it up at Eastern Illinois last season. Matt Johnson returns as Falcons QB after throwing for 3,400 yards and 25 TDs a year ago.
Eastern Michigan: This will make three straight conference games against a team under new direction. The Eagles brought in Chris Creighton after consecutive 2-10, 1-7 campaigns. Creighton is Drake University’s all-time leader in winning percentage (.667) and is the first active head coach hired at EMU since 1983.
Central Michigan: Dangerous team that overcame a slew of injuries to win five of last seven in a 6-6 season. WR Titus Davis goes 6-2, 190 and might be the most explosive receiver in the MAC. He went 61-1,109-8 last year – an 18.2 yards-per-catch average. Picked to finish fourth in West in preseason poll but can be better than that.
Ohio U.: Can Bobcats make it six straight years with a bowl appearance? The onus will be on the defense as Ohio returns eight starters on that side of the ball compared with just three on offense. Junior Derius Vick takes over at QB behind massive offensive line. UB shredded Bobcats 30-3 last season but last won at Peden Stadium in 2008.
Akron: Is it all ready to come together for former Auburn coach Terry Bowden? Zips won final three in a 5-7 season, including a conquest of bowl-eligible Toledo in the finale. Return eight starters on offense, including QB Kyle Pohl, who has back his top three receivers from a year ago. The big question is whether the defense, which lost eight starters, can hold up its end.
Kent State: MAC’s defensive coordinators slept better over offseason knowing they no longer have to game plan for elusive RB Dri Archer (Steelers). Their relief underscores Kent’s challenge. Golden Flashes will have to improve on last year’s offensive production (20 ppg) to improve on 3-5 MAC record and prove wrong a projected fifth-place finish in East.
UMass: Minutemen, 2-22 in two seasons at the FBS level, changed coaches after last season and are bolting the MAC for parts unknown after the 2015 season. Otherwise they are the essence of stability. Mark Whipple returns for an encore after coaching UMass to I-AA national title in 1998 and guiding program through 2003. He’ll have his work cut out for him.
– Bob DiCesare