Friday in the Bahamas when the Buffalo Bulls (7-5) take on the Charlotte 49ers (7-5) will be a match-up between two teams that have gotten things rolling at the right time. The Bulls come into the bowl game winning five of their last six, while the 49ers have won five straight. Much like the Bulls, the 49ers lost to a pair of teams that finished ahead of them in conference (FAU and WKU), but Charlotte pretty much took care of business against the middle and bottom tiers of the conference. The 49ers best win of the season came against Marshall, who finished the regular season 8-4.
The 49ers are playing in their first bowl game in school history after just beginning to field a football team in 2013, and making the jump to FBS in 2015.
The offense is the calling card of this Charlotte team, and they rank 25th in the nation on a yards per play basis (6.4). That mark is the second best that the Bulls have faced this year behind only Liberty at 6.6 yards per play. The Bulls have been playing significantly better since the Liberty match-up but they will have to do better than the 7.3 yards per play that they ceded to the Flames in the early season 35-17 loss.
QB Chris Reynolds is the do-it-all man for the 49ers, throwing for 2366 yards on the season to go with 757 yards on the ground. Reynolds has thrown for 21 TDs, and rushed for 9 TDs while throwing 10 interceptions to date. The 49ers have 14 players that have caught a pass so far this season (including Reynolds), but they have two primary receiving threats in Victor Tucker, and Cameron Dollar. Tucker has 848 yards on 49 catches and 6 TDs, while Dollar has posted 37/551/2 on the season. Another threat in the receiving game is third leading receiver Tyler Ringwood (20/331/5), who is from Buffalo, and attended Bishop Timon. Last but not least is perhaps the 49ers best offensive weapon, star RB Benny Lemay. Lemay has 19 catches for 242 yards and 4 TDs in just 10 games this season to go with 1027 yards and 9 TDs on the ground.
The Charlotte defense has been the weak point of this team in 2019, ranking 105th in the country, allowing 6.2 yards per play, and they’ve been even worse against the run, ranking 110th at 5.0 yards per carry. While the 49ers struggle defensively, they don’t lack individual star power. DE Alex Highsmith was named a third team All-American this week and is #2 in NCAA in tackles for a loss (21.5) and sacks (15). Highsmith isn’t the only threat to QB Kyle Vantrease, DE Markees Watts also has 9.5 sacks on the season. The pair of defensive ends have forced a combined 5 fumbles on the season. Other defensive standouts include S Marquavis Gibbs, who leads the team in tackles (94), and DB Marquill Osborne who leads the team in interceptions (3), and passes defended (7).
Somebody will be leaving this game with their first bowl win in program history, and Bulls fans hope that the 4th time is the charm. The 49er offense is well rounded, and while the defense has struggled they have the individual playmakers that can win you a game. As 6.5 point favorites, the Bulls should be able to win this one if they can play their brand of football characterized by tough defense, pounding the ball on the ground, and limiting turnovers.