DETROIT - There are big expectations for University at Buffalo football in 2018. The Mid-American Conference media poll only reinforced that.
UB was picked to finish second in the MAC East Division, trailing only Ohio, and is one of three teams in the six-team division to receive a first-place vote. Ohio is the heavy favorite to win the division, receiving 21 of the 24 first-place votes. UB earned one vote, while Miami (Ohio) earned two.
"I think there's really no expectation that's bigger than ours," linebacker Khalil Hodge said Tuesday at MAC Media Day in Ford Field. "The media poll doesn't mean too much to us. It definitely doesn't scare us."
"I'm happy for our players," coach Lance Leipold said. "The hard work from our players and our staff has put us in a position where we're being mentioned in these conversations. It's a lot different than things were a year ago at this time."
UB, entering its fourth season under Leipold, is coming off a 6-6 season and a third-place finish in the MAC East. The roster features seven players on major award watch lists, including Hodge, wide receiver Anthony Johnson and quarterback Tyree Jackson.
"Our goal is to win the MAC," Hodge said. "That's how our team is looking at this season. We definitely don't feel like underdogs or anything like that."
Here is the complete media poll:
- Ohio (21 first place votes) 140
- UB (1) 112
- Miami (2) 95
- Akron 74
- Bowling Green 58
- Kent State 25
- Northern Illinois (15) 133
- Toledo (7) 125
- Western Michigan (1) 87
- Eastern Michigan 67
- Central Michigan (1) 58
- Ball State 34
Independence Community College, the feature program in season three of Netflix's "Last Chance U," lost twice while being followed for the show last season. Coincidentally, Anthony Johnson went to both schools that bested the Pirates, Iowa Western Community College and Butler Community College, before transferring to UB before the 2016 season.
"They impressed me," Johnson said of his former schools. "I have some friends on there from back home at Iowa Western. We normally always beat Independence."
Netflix opted to move the focus this year from perennial power East Mississippi Community College (former home of St. Joe's graduate and current Denver Bronco Chad Kelly) to Independence, a small school in Kansas that is just entering the national spotlight. Johnson, who played one year each at Iowa Western and Butler, said he can relate to the documented struggles the players face as they aim to get to the FBS level.
"JUCO was really a struggle," Johnson said. "You really have to show up every day. You can't really miss anything or you get sent home. You have to be focused there on your classes. There's a certain GPA you need to have or you can't go DI."
Leipold said running back Theo Anderson will be limited when camp starts next week. He said he should know more about Anderson's status for the start of the season by mid-August. Anderson ran for 419 yards and two touchdowns on 97 attempts last season.
Players report next Thursday, while the season kicks off at home on Sept. 1 against Delaware State.