Everyone knew the early schedule for the Buffaloes was going to be brutal with 4 ranked teams (including three in the top 10) in the first six weeks. But no one expected WT to emerge with a 1-5 record and out of the playoff race midway through the season. At that point, no one expected the Buffs to turn around their season winning their last 5 regular season games outscoring their opponents by a 224-116 margin. While the team did not qualify for the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 2004, they were chosen to represent the LSC in the inaugural Kanza Bowl, where they defeated MIAA represenative Nebraska-Omaha 31-25.
The biggest difference in the team in the first half of the season and the latter half was the offense. Over the first six games, the offense averaged 21 points and 376 yards. Those numbers improved to 42.5 points and 493 yards. There were several factors contributing to the struggles early on. A new starting quarterback and several new receivers played a role, but the biggest factor was a preseason injury to running back Keithon Flemming that sidelined him over that period. He returned to average 80 yards per game rushing and 54 yards receiving, scoring an impressive 16 TDs in just 6 games.
For the season, WT was an uncharacteristic 4th in the LSC in scoring (31.8 pts per game) and 2nd in yards gained (434.8 per game). The defense allowed 25.6 points per game (5th) and 353.4 yards (4th).
Out with the old
To say Keithon Flemming will be missed is a gross understatement. In his three years at WT, Flemming rushed for more than 2,400 yards with 37 TDs and also caught 150 passes for another 1,300 yards and 10 TDs. Despite missing quite a bit of playing time due to injuries, he was twice named 1st LSC South, and once to the second team. Up front J'Marcus Webb (now with the Chicago Bears) was also a two time 1st LSC South selection, and Jon Ioane was a second team selection last year. The defensive line will be missing two-time LSC defensive lineman of the year Eugene Sims (now with the St. Louis Rams) and two-time 1st LSC South Broderick Marshall as well as starter Marcus Rowe. Mark Ford and Joseph Peterson started a combined 8 games at linebacker last fall, and had 53 tackles between them. James Chandler (2nd LSC South) was a perfect 42-42 on PATs and hit 14 of 21 FGs.
Taylor Harris (HM LSC South) returns for his senior season. He threw for 3,735 yards and 22 TDs last fall. He will have his top three targets from last year as well - Tyson Williams (66-847, 5 TDs), Stephen Burton (62-888, 2 TDs) and Brittan Golden (46-946, 10 TDs) Also back is leading rusher Kelvin Thompson (529 yards and 6 TDs). The line also returns several experienced players - starters Isaiah Lewis, Shaun Wesley and Michael Zoch as well as Daniel Sherwood, Hector Rodriguez (both starters in 2008) and Aaron Mullane.
Bryan Braman leads the defensive returnees. Braman (1st LSC South) had 16 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Aaron Wampler also returns on the line after racking up 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in a reserve role. Due to a number of injuries last year, there are quite a few experienced players returning at linebacker. Anthony Scott (HM LSC South) led the team with 106 tackles. Also back are Drew Graham, Shad Baichtal, Kyle Voss and Kevin McCluskey, who had a combined 147 tackles with 11.5 for loss and 3 interceptions. The secondary returns the most experience with starters Curtis Jefferson (1st LSC South), Tae Evans (1st LSC South), Jordan Smith (HM LSC South) and Caleb Randolph topping the list. The quartet combined for 288 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 11 interceptions and 23 passes broken up.
Tim Cowdrey returns as the team's punter. He averaged 36.4 yards per punt last season. Jeremy Watson was the leading return man for both punts (7.8 average) and kickoffs (24.9 average).
In with the new
Running back Tommy Hampton garnered All-American honors last season at Los Medanos after rushing for 1,708 yards and 16 TDs last year (2,400 yds and 24 TDs in two seasons). Can you ever have enough receivers in the WT offense? Junior college transfers Ray Magee (originally signed with Utah out of JC) and Myron Dillard will provide even more depth. The Buffs also brought in several transfers for the offensive line. David Grant was an NJCAA All-American at Navarro JC (Nebraska commit out of HS), Shawn Johnson (UCLA commit in 2009) was an All-Region honoree at College of the Canyons, Justin Brown (UCLA commit out of HS) played at Saddleback CC, and James Otero comes to WT from Delta State.
Defensively, the Buffaloes brought in several transfers for the defensive line. The prize recruit is Simi Kuli from El Camino College who signed with Oregon State after the 2007 season. Rivals had Kuli ranked as their #1 JC recruit, while Scout had him as their #8. Other transfers of note - Navarro's Justin Williams (Kansas State commit in December), Drew Jones from Blinn (signed with Houston out of HS), Jonathan Hatton from Tyler JC and Dishon Robertson from Hinds CC in Mississippi. Linebacker D. J. Ross from Blinn will add depth to the linebacking corps.
All Conference Candidates
QB - Taylor Harris
WRs - Tyson Williams, Stephen Burton, Brittan Golden
OL - David Grant, Hector Rodriguez
DL - Bryan Braman, Simi Kuli, Aaron Wampler, Justin Williams
LB - Anthony Scott
DB - Curtis Jefferson, Tae Evans, Jordan Smith
All American Candidates
QB - Taylor Harris
DL - Bryan Braman, Simi Kuli
DB - Curtis Jefferson, Tae Evans
9/2 - at Grand Valley - to be the best, you have to beat the best, and the Lakers have been the best team since 2001, with 4 national championships and two runner-up finishes over the last 9 seasons
10/23 - Midwestern State - the Mustangs were the last team to beat WT in 2009
11/6 - Abilene Christian - this game could decide the LSC Title, or be a playoff knock-out game
Best Case Scenario
10-1 After a very tough season opener, the Buffs schedule is much more manageable the next four weeks, allowing them to gel as a team. If they can get good production from the running game, the offense should be back to its expected spot as one of the best in the nation. The defense should be improved, with experience in the secondary, and a potentially super defensive line. The depth appears to be better than last year as well, which should help them get through the tough LSC South.
Worst Case Scenario
6-5 Just like all the other contenders, their is little margin for error. If the running game does not gel, it could be a repeat of last year, with several close games not going in WT's favor. Also, while several of the recruits look to be major contributors, it is not easy to replace to NFL draft picks or Keithon Flemming. We realize that a 6-5 record is unlikely, but we would have said the same thing last year (even more strongly).