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Bahamas Bowl: Charlotte, Buffalo kick off bowl season today

College football roundup

Sam Roberts/Charlotte Sports Info file photo …
Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds leads the 49ers into this afternoon’s Bahamas Bowl, the first in the school’s brief football history. Reynolds played high school football at Davie County. Charlotte and Buffalo kick off at 2 p.m., on ESPN.

By John Wawrow

AP Sports Writer

AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) — Jaret Patterson’s eye-popping production might not be the most notable aspect involving Buffalo’s sophomore running back.

Sure, his 31 career touchdowns rushing are already just four short of breaking the school record held by former NFLer James Starks. It’s equally impressive how Patterson has combined for 490 yards and 11 touchdowns (one receiving) in his past two games alone.

What might be more difficult to fathom is the lack of attention schools paid Patterson coming out of high school in Maryland because, at 5-foot-9, he was considered too small for the FBS ranks. Recruiters were more focused on Patterson’s twin brother James, a linebacker, and not overly interested in the two being a package deal.

“At times, the recruiting process for me was very frustrating,” Patterson recalled last week as Buffalo (7-5) prepared to face Charlotte (7-5) in the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl on Friday.

“I was just working hard and not really getting the offers I deserved,” added Patterson, who had 2,045 yards rushing and 23 TDs his senior high school season. “I feel like every athlete wants to go big, get that dream offer. But for me, I needed one opportunity to prove myself that I could play at this level.”

No one’s questioning Patterson’s size any longer.

Last year’s Mid-American Conference freshman of the year enters the bowl season ranking fifth in the nation with a single-season school record of 1,626 yards rushing.

Patterson set several more single-season records with 17 touchdowns and 1,851 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returns). And he set a single-game school record with 298 yards rushing and tied another with six TDs in Buffalo’s regular-season-ending 49-7 win over Bowling Green.

“Not only does he have these numbers, his big numbers are Games 11 and 12,” coach Lance Leipold said, “It’s been great. And I’d love to see him finish this really strong.”

Patterson shares the backfield with Kevin Marks, who has 1,049 yards rushing and eight scores, and part of a run-oriented attack that’s helped the Bulls overcome low preseason expectations. Buffalo earned its second consecutive bowl berth for the first time in program history, and fourth overall.

This was supposed to be a down year for Buffalo following a tumultuous offseason in which last year’s 10-win team lost three key offensive weapons.

Starting quarterback Tyree Jackson declared for the NFL draft rather than return for his senior season. He went undrafted, was cut by the Buffalo Bills in August, and was a ninth-round pick in the XFL draft in October.

Buffalo also lost its top two receiving threats in Anthony Johnson (graduation) and K.J. Osborn (transferred), who combined to score 18 of the Bulls 28 touchdowns receiving.

This season, Buffalo has overcome the loss of starting quarterback Matt Meyers, who has been sidelined since sustaining an upper body injury five games in. He was replaced by sophomore Kyle Vantrease, who has gone 5-2.

“We just showed them,” Patterson said, referring to those who had written off the Bulls this year. “Another winning season. Now hopefully we get this first bowl win in program history.”

He’s become accustomed to proving doubters wrong, using his recruiting experience as fuel.

“It motivated me tremendously. It still motivates me when we go against Power Five schools,” said Patterson, who had a team-best 71 yards rushing in a 45-13 loss at Penn State  in September. “I’ve still got a chip on my shoulder each and every day.”

Patterson was already familiar with Buffalo through high school assistant coach and former Bulls linebacker Justin Winters.

Winters not only talked up Buffalo, but introduced Patterson to another former Buffalo player, undersized running back Branden Oliver, who eventually played three NFL seasons with the Chargers.

It also helped Buffalo was so interested in landing both Pattersons, Leipold didn’t mind James Patterson’s decision to wait until January to enroll in order to be on the same timeline as Jaret.

“If not, we may not have gotten either one, and that would’ve been unfortunate,” Leipold said.

Jaret credited his brother, who could have elected to go ahead without him.

“I can never repay my brother for what he did. That’s priceless,” Jaret Patterson said. “That’s my best friend. And I love him.”

•••

CHARLOTTE, BUFFALO BOTH SEEKING 1ST BOWL WIN

Bahamas Bowl: Buffalo (7-5) vs. Charlotte (7-5), at Nassau, Bahamas, Dec. 20, 2 p.m. EST.

Line: Buffalo by 6.5.

Series record: First meeting.

•••

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Someone is getting the first bowl win in school history. This is Charlotte’s first trip to a postseason game, coming in the school’s seventh season of football and fifth at the FBS level. Buffalo has been in three previous bowl games, losing them all by 10 points or more including a 42-32 defeat by Troy in last season’s Dollar General Bowl.

•••

KEY MATCHUP

Charlotte’s defensive line vs. Buffalo’s offensive line. This is the classic something-has-to-give matchup. The Bulls have given up eight sacks all season — second fewest in the country behind Air Force’s four — while Charlotte has put an opposing quarterback on the ground 36 times this season.

•••

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Buffalo: RB Jaret Patterson has rewritten Buffalo’s record book this year, with school records for rushing yards in a game (298) and a season (1,626), touchdowns in a season (17) and touchdowns in a game (six, tying a mark set in 1942).

Charlotte: RB Benny LeMay has 14 career 100-yard games, has piled up 1,037 rushing yards this season and is up to 3,827 all-purpose yards for his career.

•••

FACTS & FIGURES

Buffalo is fourth in the country in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 34:12 per game. Only Wisconsin (35:26), Utah (34:33) and Kansas State (34:16) have kept the ball more. … The Bulls also are among the nation’s best-ranked teams in first downs allowed (second behind only Clemson), rushing defense (fourth), rushing offense (ninth) and total defense (seventh). … Charlotte was 2-5 on the season and trailed North Texas 35-21 in the fourth quarter of their game on Oct. 26, rallied to win 39-38 on a touchdown pass by Chris Reynolds (who narrowly avoided a sack) with 18 seconds left and haven’t lost since. … Charlotte offensive lineman Cam Clark will play in his final college game — his school-record 49th for the 49ers. … Buffalo’s five bowl games have come in three different countries. The Bulls have played three in the U.S., one in Canada and now one in the Bahamas. … This is the sixth Bahamas Bowl, and the winning team has scored at least 35 points in four of the first five editions of the game.

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/APTop25CollegeFootballPoll and https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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