Tyree Jackson grounded as Buffalo set to play for MAC title

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              FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2017, file photo, Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson (3) looks to pass during an NCAA college football game against Minnesota in Minneapolis. Jackson credits his older sister for never allowing the University at Buffalo quarterback to ever get too far ahead of himself.  (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs, FIle)
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AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) — Tyree Jackson credits his older sister for never allowing the University at Buffalo quarterback to ever get too far ahead of himself.

For all the numbers he’s put up in helping the Bulls win a school-record 10 games and reach only their second Mid-American Conference championship game, and amid talk of whether the junior should declare for the NFL draft this spring, Jackson need only to refer to 23-year-old McKenzie Jackson for keeping him grounded.

“There’s no room for any of that,” Jackson said, when asked if he ever gets overconfident.

“I mean, my sister won six national championships for competitive cheerleading at Davenport University,” he added. “So any time she’ll just send a picture of all her rings in our family group chat to kind of bring me down.”

Tyree Jackson is still searching for his first ring. The closest he came was during his senior year at high school in Muskegon, Michigan, when Mona Shores lost the 2014 Division II state championship to Warren DeLaSalle, 44-8 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Ford Field, just so happens to be where Jackson and the East Division champion Bulls (10-2, 7-1 MAC) will face West champion Northern Illinois (7-5, 6-2) on Friday night.

“I try not to remember the score. But I remember that it was a good experience,” Jackson said of the outcome four years ago. “And I always wanted to get back there and kind of get another shot at it.”

Jackson has done his part in helping the Bulls get there, while also assuring the school of just its fourth bowl invitation.

The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Jackson is enjoying a breakout year overseeing a dual-threat offense that’s scored 423 points already, 1 short of matching the single-season record set over 14 games in 2008. Jackson’s 25 touchdowns passing are tied for second on the single-season school list, and he’s also scored seven touchdowns rushing.

His performance has already generated buzz among NFL draft followers, some of whom already rank him as the No. 5 quarterback prospect should he skip his senior season.

Jackson dismisses the talk by saying he’s focused solely on whoever’s next on Buffalo’s schedule.

“Got to keep going. We need more,” he said, when reminded no one had ever quarterbacked a Buffalo team that had won 10 games in one year.

And to think, Jackson only wound up committing to Buffalo because the Bulls were the first and only school to offer him a scholarship before his senior high school season.

Though he’d attract more interest later, Jackson chose Buffalo out of loyalty, and stuck with his decision after Jeff Quinn was fired after the 2014 season and replaced by current coach Lance Leipold.

“My first impression of him was he was a winner,” Jackson said about Leipold, who went 109-6 over his eight previous seasons at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. “I could tell he had that winning demeanor and that he was going to change the culture at Buffalo.”

Leipold, a former college quarterback, immediately saw the potential in Jackson. Aside from Jackson’s physical attributes, Leipold noted what he called the quarterback’s “infectious personality” as being something players would rally around.

After redshirting in 2015, Jackson took his lumps in going 2-7 as a starter the following year. He made tremendous strides last year in going 5-3, but missed four games with a knee injury.

This season, he’s topped 300 yards passing three times, and completed 187 of 337 attempts for 2,605 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

“He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet,” Leipold said.

Buffalo’s offense features two top receiving threats in senior Anthony Johnson (45 catches for 820 yards and nine TDs) and junior K.J. Osborn (46 catches for 769 yards and six TDs), and freshman running back tandem of Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks, who have combined for 1,669 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns.

The Bulls face a Northern Illinois opponent which features a defense leading the MAC in fewest points and yards allowed, and a unit led by Sutton Smith, who ranks fourth in the nation with 13 sacks.

“Just do what we’ve been doing,” Jackson said of the Bulls’ approach. “We can’t really change anything just because it’s the championship game.”

Much of Jackson’s motivation comes from the sting of Buffalo’s 2-10 season two years ago.

“It’s tough. Those were some long nights that year,” Jackson said. “It’s awesome to see where we’re at now.”