The Buffalo Bulls should have won the MAC Championship, but they let a 29-10 lead slip away and were edged out by Northern Illinois. Troy had a chance to play in the Sun Belt title game if they beat Appalachian State in the season finale. They lost 21-10 on the road, and the Mountaineers went on to win the Sun Belt title game. Both of these teams are coming off recent disappointments. Which team gets back on track? Buffalo is favored by 2.5 across the board here, and the posted total is set at 54.
Lance Leipold has done a great job rebuilding this Buffalo Bulls program. Is it really a surprise he’s had so much success though? Leipold was the coach at Wisconsin-Whitewater before coming to Buffalo. Wisconsin-Whitewater won the NCAA Division III Championship in five of the last six seasons he coached at the school. In his career overall at Whitewater, Leipold went 109-6. The man can coach.
Tyree Jackson was easily the best quarterback in the MAC this year, and he will be on an NFL roster next year. Jackson did throw 11 interceptions this year, but he threw 27 touchdowns and racked up 2,859 yards through the air. Anthony Johnson is the star wide receiver for the Bulls. Johnson was hampered by an injury in the middle of the year, and even missed a couple games. When he is on the field and healthy, this is a different offense. The offensive line deserves a ton of credit for Buffalo. They only allowed 12 sacks this year, which was eighth best in the country. That helped Buffalo finish +22 in sack margin this year. That was fifth best in the nation. Consistency issues did hold back Buffalo’s offense in some key games this year. They have the potential to be explosive.
A large part of the jump from 6-6 last year to the MAC title game this year was thanks to the defense. Last year, Buffalo allowed 5.5 yards per play. This year, they allowed 5.04 yards per play, which was 31st in the country. Buffalo’s secondary was tremendous. Buffalo ranked 21st in the nation in opponent QBR allowed this season.
The Troy Trojans have made a name for themselves by winning huge games on the road. Last year, they took down LSU in Baton Rouge. This year, they won in Lincoln over the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Neal Brown has turned Troy into a Sun Belt power once again.
Troy lost their star quarterback from last year and that was a big hit. Things got much more complicated when Kaleb Barker went down with a season-ending injury halfway through the season. Barker had ten touchdowns and only two interceptions and an impressive 73% completion percentage in his time under center. Sawyer Smith has taken over at quarterback. Smith has completed 61.1% of his passes. He has thrown ten touchdowns and six interceptions. Smith has been more turnover prone than Barker, and he isn’t the scrambler that Barker was either. Troy’s offense ranks 56th in the nation in yards per play. They ran up some really impressive numbers against the bottom-feeders in the Sun Belt, but they have struggled offensively against the top teams they have played.
Troy’s defense is very strong again this year. Vic Koenning is one of the most underrated defensive coordinators in the country. In the two years before Koenning showed up Troy allowed 6.4 and 6.7 yards per play. They haven’t allowed more than 5.2 yards per play in any of the four seasons he has been on the job. Troy’s defense is aggressive under Koenning and I love that. They don’t sit back and hope you won’t beat them. Troy will come after you. The Trojans have been great at getting tackles for a loss every year under Koenning. They had 96 tackles for a loss this year, which is tied for tenth in the country.
Who holds the coaching advantage here? I grade the head coaches even here. I do think Troy has an advantage with Koenning at the defensive coordinator spot. In all, both teams are well-coached.
Buffalo is 0-2 all-time in bowl games. The Bulls are coming off a deflating loss in the MAC title game, but they should want to win this game. I’m going under the assumption that Buffalo’s star offensive players will play here, but that is something to monitor. Troy has won a bowl game the last two years. In fact, they won the Dollar General Bowl two years ago over the Ohio Bobcats.
This game will be played in Mobile, which is a clear advantage for Troy. It’s a three-hour drive from Troy to Mobile. Buffalo isn’t used to traveling a long way with all the MAC schools being very close together. I would give Troy at least three points for a home field advantage here.
College Football Free Pick: Under 54
The side here is a tough call. I’d want to take Troy, but I don’t know how much I can trust their offense. Troy has been a great under team since Barker went down with an injury. None of Troy’s games have finished higher than 56 points during that span. Three of the six finished with 38 points total or fewer. Buffalo hasn’t faced many defenses of the caliber of this Troy defense. The Trojans offense lacks big play ability. Both offenses play at a slower pace than an average team. I expect to see this one stay under the posted total.