Gophers vs. Bulls
6 p.m. Thursday
TCF Bank Stadium
TV: Big Ten Network
Scouting report: Buffalo Bulls
For their opener, the Gophers have a Mid-American Conference opponent in Buffalo, which has been a Football Bowl Subdivision team (formerly Division I-A) since 1999 after being a Division III team (1977-92) and a Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) from 1993-98.
The Bulls have mainly toiled in anonymity, with nine FBS seasons of two or fewer victories and only two winning campaigns. Buffalo’s best season was 2008 when, coached by former Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill, it won the MAC East and upset Ball State for the conference title. The Bulls finished 8-6 after losing to Connecticut in the International Bowl in Toronto.
Buffalo is coming off a 2-10 season that included a 1-7 MAC mark, a last-place finish in the East Division and a 38-0 loss to Western Michigan, then coached by the Gophers’ P.J. Fleck. But the Bulls bring back hope in the form of eight returning starters on defense and six on offense.
Who to watch
Tyree Jackson, QB
A sophomore from North Shores, Mich., the 6-7, 245-pound Jackson was a recruiting target of P.J. Fleck when the first-year Gophers coach was at Western Michigan. “He can run, he can throw, he can do it all,’’ Fleck said.
Jackson passed for 1,772 yards and nine touchdowns with nine interceptions in 10 games (nine starts) last year. He also was Buffalo’s second-leading rusher with 472 yards and five TDs.
He eager for the challenge of Thursday’s game, but isn’t putting the Gophers on a pedestal.
“It’s exciting for us playing a Big Ten team, but we really don’t think like that,’’ Jackson said. “We just think we’re another team playing in Division I football.’’
• Player note: Bulls reserve offensive tackle Kayode Awosika, a redshirt freshman, is a former Maple Grove standout from Plymouth.
From the coach
Leipold (pronounced LYE-pold) took over the Bulls in 2015 after a dominant stay at Wisconsin-Whitewater, where his teams went 109-6 and won six Division III titles in eight years. His coaching staff includes five others with upper Midwest ties, including former Gophers quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski.
The Bulls offense will try to improve on its 16.5 points per game last season.
“We have to be more consistent than we were last year — establishing the running game and generating more explosive plays,’’ Leipold said. “We think we’re more athletic than we’ve been in the last couple years on the outside, and we feel we have as much or increased speed in the backfield.’’