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UB football schedule breakdown: Kent State game is key

The key game on the University at Buffalo football schedule is the Mid-American Conference opener at Kent State on Sept. 30.

A win against the team picked for last in the MAC East will put UB on a path to an improved season. A loss will force the Bulls to scramble to get to four or five wins.

West Division power Toledo is the MAC favorite but is not on the Bulls' schedule for a fourth straight year.

MINNESOTA vs. UB: Aug. 31 at TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.

Coach: P.J. Fleck (first year)

2016 Record: 9-4

Expectations: Minnesota was picked fifth out of seven in the Big 10 West but should get to a bowl.

Players to watch: The Gophers' strength is up the middle on defense, led by DT Steven Richardson. RB Rodney Smith ranked fourth in the Big 10 in rushing (1,158 yards) last year.

Did You Know? Fleck used the mantra "Row the Boat" at Western Michigan. In exchange for the right to use "Row the Boat" at UM, Fleck will make a yearly endowment of $10,000 to WMU.

Last time vs. UB: The Gophers won the only meeting, 41-17, in 2002.

Outlook: It's the kind of non-elite, Power 5 game UB should play. The Gophers should dominate.

ARMY vs. UB: Sept. 9 at Michie Stadium, West Point.

Coach: Jeff Monken (fourth year)

2016 Record: 8-5

Expectations: Army had its best season in 20 years last year. The Black Knights return 16 starters and should be slightly improved.

Players to Watch: Army's triple-option offense runs on 87 percent of its plays. Four starting offensive linemen and the top five rushers all are back, including FB Andy Davidson, QB Ahmad Bradshaw and RB Darnell Woolfolk.

Did You Know? Army's option offense had 31 fumbles, third most in the nation. It lost 14.

Last time vs. UB: The Bulls upset Army last year, 23-20, in overtime.

Outlook: UB stole one from Army last year. It will be much tougher on the road.

COLGATE vs. UB: Sept. 16 at UB Stadium.

Coach: Dan Hunt (fourth year)

2016 Record: 5-5.

Expectations: Colgate was picked for third in the seven-team Patriot League, behind Lehigh and Fordham. The Raiders aren't as good as lower-division Albany, which upset UB last year.

Players to Watch: Patriot League defensive player of the year, edge rusher Pat Afriyie. The Raiders figure to have growing pains early with 13 starters gone and inexperience at QB.

Did you know? Colgate, three hours from Buffalo, has no players from Section VI. But defensive coordinator Paul Shaffner coached Buffalo State from 2004-08.

Last time vs. UB: Colgate won, 38-15, in 2003.

Outlook: UB should build some confidence with a win.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC vs. UB: Sept. 23 at UB Stadium.

Coach: Lane Kiffin (first year).

2016 Record: 3-9.

Expectations: The rebuilding Owls made a giant splash by hiring Kiffin, former head coach at Tennessee, Southern Cal and the Oakland Raiders.

Players to Watch: Kiffin has added a bunch of transfers eligible this year with checkered pasts: including QB De'Andre Johnson (Florida State), WR DeAndre McNeal (Texas), DT Jeremiah Teleni (Pitt), DE Tim Bonner (Louisville) and LB Kain Daub (Florida State).

Did you know? Kiffin's offensive coordinator is Kendal Briles, who coached with his dad, Art, at Baylor before the latter was ousted in a sexual assault controversy last year.

Last time vs. UB: The Bulls won at FAU in 2015, 33-14.

Outlook: Hard to predict, but it should be entertaining.

KENT STATE vs. UB: Sept. 30 at Dix Stadium, Kent, Ohio.

Coach: Paul Haynes (fifth year).

2016 Record: 3-9.

Expectations: The Golden Flashes, 12-35 under Haynes, are picked for last in the East.

Players to Watch: Nick Holley returns as the option QB. He rushed for 224 yards and four TDs vs. UB last year. The Kent defense is solid (fifth in the MAC). But Kent has ranked last in passing the past two years.

Did you know? A Kent freshman lineman, Tyler Heintz, died in June after collapsing during a conditioning workout.

Last time vs. UB: The Bulls' defense was miserable in a 44-20 loss.

Outlook: Arguably the key game on the schedule for both teams.

WESTERN MICHIGAN vs. UB: Oct. 7 at UB Stadium.

Coach: Tim Lester (first year)

2016 Record: 13-1

Expectations: Picked for second in the MAC West.

Players to Watch: The Broncos have two of the top three RBs in the MAC in Jarvion Franklin (1,353 yards) and Jamauri Bogan (923). They run behind the No. 1 O-line in the MAC.

Did you know? Lester has big shoes to fill. He was offensive coordinator at Syracuse in 2014-15, then was a Purdue aide.

Last time vs. UB: WMU whipped UB, 38-0, last November.

Outlook: WMU, reaping the benefits of P.J. Fleck's great recruiting, will be a rugged foe on Homecoming day.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS vs. UB: Oct. 14 at UB Stadium.

Coach: Rod Carey (fifth year)

2016 Record: 5-7

Expectations:  The Huskies' streak of six straight MAC title game appearances was snapped last year. They're picked for third in the MAC West.

Players to watch: NIU lost three starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries last year. The O-line and RB Jordan Huff are superb. Shawun Lurry leads the best DB unit in the MAC.

Did you know? Despite the QB woes, NIU outgained MAC foes by 55 yards a game.

Last time: The Huskies destroyed the Bulls last year, 44-7.

Outlook: UB needs to put up a good fight at home. Last year's margin was unacceptable.

MIAMI OHIO vs. UB: Oct. 21 at Yager Stadium, Oxford, Ohio.

Coach: Chuck Martin (fourth year)

2016 Record: 6-7.

Expectations: Miami is on the rise after starting last season 0-6 then winning six straight. The RedHawks are picked second in the MAC East.

Players to watch: Junior QB Gus Ragland went 6-1 as a starter with 17 TDs and one INT and 64 percent completions.

Did you know? Miami has had just three winning seasons since Ben Roethlisberger left in 2004.

Last time vs. UB: Miami took a 20-0 lead in a 35-24 win last year.

Outlook: Miami looks a year or two ahead of UB on the program development curve.

AKRON vs. UB: Oct. 28 at InfoCision Stadium, Akron, Ohio.

Coach: Terry Bowden (sixth year)

2016 Record: 5-7

Expectations: The Zips are picked third in the MAC East. They return 15 starters, a good D-line and their QB.

Players to watch: Senior RB Warren Ball, a transfer from Ohio State, missed most of last season with an ankle injury. He's healthy. The Zips have not had a 1,000-yard rusher in Bowden's tenure.

Did you know? UB has company in the weak-sister MAC East. Akron has one winning season in the last 11.

Last time vs. UB: The Bulls rolled, 41-20, last year.

Outlook: Winnable but Akron is more experienced than UB.

MAC football scheduling: Here's why UB and others play on Tuesdays & Wednesdays

BOWLING GREEN vs. UB: Nov. 7 (Tuesday) at UB Stadium.

Coach: Mike Jinks (second year)

2016 Record: 4-8

Expectations: The Falcons, who transitioned under a new coach last season, are picked fourth in the MAC East.

Players to watch: BG still has skill-position talent, led by all-MAC WR Scott Miller and WR Datrin Guyton Jr. (an Oregon State transfer). Senior OT Ryan Hunter (Canisius High) has 26 starts.

Did you know? The Falcons were minus-16 in turnover ratio last year. That's bound to improve.

Last time vs. UB: BG made a goal-line stand at the end to win, 27-19.

Outlook: You'd like to think UB's offense can hang with BG.

BALL STATE vs. UB: Nov. 16 (Thursday) at Scheumann Stadium, Muncie, Ind.

Coach: Mike Neu (second year)

2016 Record: 4-8

Expectations: The Cardinals are picked for last in the MAC West.

Players to watch: Junior QB Riley Neal is 6-6 and passed for 231 yards a game last year. RB James Gilbert ran for 1,353 yards overall. Just four starters return on defense.

Did you know? Ball State is 9-1 vs. UB with the only loss in the 2008 MAC title game.

Last time vs. UB: Gilbert ran for 264 yards in a 31-21 win at UB last year.

Outlook: All four of UB's MAC road games (Kent, Miami, Akron, Ball State) are winnable.

OHIO vs. UB: Nov. 24 (Friday) at UB Stadium

Coach: Frank Solich (13th year)

2016 Record: 8-6

Expectations: Ohio has had seven winning years in the last eight and is picked to win the MAC East.

Players to watch: Ohio sent three defenders to NFL camps but still has a stud front seven. LB Quinton Polling is hell on wheels. Eight starters return on offense, including RB A.J. Ouellette.

Did you know? Ohio hasn't won the MAC title since 1968. This may be the year.

Last time vs. UB: Ohio's 34-10 decision gave the home team seven straight wins in the series.

Outlook: It's a good way for UB to measure itself heading into 2018.

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