Before the Season
Over the past three seasons Buffalo had been trending upwards under Coach Jeff Quinn but still had little respect in the MAC.
Quinn's first season at UB was an utter disaster as the team won just two games: the season opener against FCS Rhode Island and a lucky conference opener against Bowling Green when a short Falcons field goal went wide right in the waning seconds. That was followed by 3 wins in 2011, and then UB went 3-1 in their last four games of 2012 to finish the season 4-8.
The Bulls had a lot of star talent coming into the season but questions still surround the team and Buffalo was picked to finish 4th in the Mid-American Conference's Eastern division.
San Diego was turned around by Brady Hoke in 2009 and 2010. Hoke left for Michigan but he handed Rocky Long a solid program and Long ran with it. Long had retired from the University of New Mexico in 2008. In his first season he took the 8-5 Aztecs to the New Orleans Bowl, then last season San Diego won the MWC with a 7–1 conference Mark.
This year though they were seen as having lost too much talent to compete for their division and were picked second in the West Division.
A Rough Start to the Season
Buffalo walked away from their opening season loss at Ohio State with a handful of nice highlights and hope for the future. Despite losing by 20 UB was far more competitive than most fans expected; the Bulls closed to two scores several times before a turnover deep in the Ohio red zone turned into a long Buckeye drive to put the game away.
San Diego, meanwhile, made the mistake of underestimating Eastern Illinois. One of the Best FCS teams in the nation would take Northern Illinois to the brink later in the season, but in their opener they pounded San Diego State. The Panthers racked up 533 yards and forced five San Diego turnovers.
Buffalo went from a respectable loss at Ohio State to getting completely drubbed at the hands of Baylor. UB took an early lead on Baylor and kept the game interesting for about 10 minutes but crumbled under the weight and speed of the Bears offensive attack. At the time it was a humiliating showing which in hindsight was not quite as bad. Baylor continued to beat up on teams all year and won the Big 12 in convincing fashion despite losing several offensive weapons to injury in the final weeks.
San Diego went to Columbus where the Buckeyes were sick of hearing how Buffalo kept it close. Ohio State took out their frustrations on San Diego in a 42-7 thumping of the Aztecs. This time San Diego surrendered 445 yards and turned the ball over four times.
Despite a Week Three win, for many UB fans the first victory may have been the emotional low point of the season. Buffalo hosted FCS program and fellow New York State school Stony Brook. In their home opener UB drew about 25,000 fans and the atmosphere was electric, until the game started.
In a snoozer UB led 10-3 late in the 4th when the Bulls defense gave up an 80 yard drive, sending the game to overtime. It took five overtimes and a missed Stony Brook field goal to finally put the Seawolves away but for Buffalo it was beginning to shape up to be a very bad season.
San Diego took on Oregon State and were in a position to turn their season around. With 5:18 left Wes Feer booted a 30 Yard Field Goal to give SDSU a 30-21 lead over the Beavers. Oregon State put together a nice drive culminating in a 10 yard touchdown pass to pull within 2.
Then on the next San Diego drive Beaver cornerback Steven Nelson produced a 16 yard pick 6 to send San Diego to a 34-30 loss and a an 0-3 record.
Finding Themselves and Redemption
After week three both teams went 7-2.
Buffalo routed UConn and established the identity which would be the hallmark of their season. UB became a team that would use a dynamic defense and a clean mistake minimizing offense to turn the field position in their favor as Branden Oliver and the Buffalo line wore down the opposing defense.
It led to a lot of close first half contests which became second half blowouts as the punishing Oliver finally broke the opponents front seven.
San Diego starting winning with a slightly different identity. Junior QB Quinn Kaehler took over after the EIU debacle and used Ohio State and Oregon State as a tune up for the rest of his season.
His style is a lot like Buffalo's Joe Licata; he smart decision maker who manages his offense well. Like Licata Kaehler is not a running threat or a guy with a cannon for an arm. The backup became the starter early and threw for almost 2,800 yards in 11 games because he was able to use some great weapons in the receiving game.
After his first two weeks Kaehler had thrown three touch downs and three interceptions, while after that he thew 14 scores and just six picks. The only games that saw him throw more interceptions than touchdowns was the season finale against UNLV and the heart breaking loss to Fresno.
Close but not close enough:
Both teams had a chance for a season defining win, and both lost the opportunity.
For Buffalo it was the season finale against Bowling Green. UB had a chance to win the MAC East in front of a home crowd of 26,000 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills. UB took a 7-3 lead into the half, looking to replay their season long script of playing it tight for 30 and then exploding in the second half.
Bowling Green had other ideas. They also had the tools on defense to make the second half play out their way. The Falcons completely sold out on the run and blitzed on what seemed like each and every passing down. The Bulls line broke under the pressure and drive after drive ended with three or seven plays. A few big Falcon strikes and it was over.
San Diego State had #17 Fresno State dead to rights midway through the season. After falling behind two scores in the second half San Diego roared back and tied the game. With a late drive the put themselves into position to win as time expired but they had a 37-yard field-goal attempt blocked as time expired in regulation.
They went on to lose the game in overtime despite Fresno starting 1st and 25 at their own 40 because of a personal foul call. That loss cost San Diego their division and a shot at the Conference Championship.
So here we are, heading for Boise with the #2 team from the Mid American Conference "East Division" and the #2 team from the Mountain West "West Division". Make no mistake, a win here would be no small potatoes for either program.