One game does not make a season but it certainly can set the course for a season. A victory over visiting Kent State tonight puts UB on target for all it hopes to accomplish this year. A loss and its stated goals of winning the MAC or becoming bowl eligible begin to sound hollow.
There's no overstating the importance of this game to UB's master plan. The Bulls will face, based on last season's results and this year's projections, the most difficult crossover schedule of any Mid-American Conference team. Chances are remote they'll run the table in their three match-ups against the West Division. So they can't afford any missteps against the East and a loss at 7 tonight at UB Stadium as 3½-point favorites would qualify as such.
"For us to take this 'W,' it would be very, very important for us for our goal," said senior defensive end Steven Means.
"No particular game's more important than the next but this one will certainly pave the way," said UB coach Jeff Quinn. "I've said that to our football team. This one will pave the way for the season. This one will definitely provide us some more insight into where we're at at this point."
Insight has been hard to come by. Both teams have had 10 days to prepare for their league opener, which UB is hyping as the Sea of Blue on ESPNU. The Bulls started the season with a 45-23 loss at Georgia and rebounded to beat FCS opponent Morgan State, 56-34, on Sept. 8. Kent State began with a 41-21 rout of FCS Towson and also traveled to SEC country, losing, 47-21, at Kentucky. That ride on the seesaw - one up, one down - makes it difficult to gauge how the Bulls and the Golden Flashes compare to their peers.
UB hits the field tonight with its offense in a sprint. Never mind the 56 the Bulls put up on Morgan State (Akron just tagged the Bears for 66). More impressive were the 23 points and 111 Bo Oliver rushing yards they put up on Georgia, now No. 5 in the nation.
Oliver ranks third in the country in per-game rushing at 174.5 yards after putting up a UB-record 238 against Morgan State. Wideout Alex Neutz leads the nation at 2.5 touchdown receptions per game. Quarterback Alex Zordich has taken charge of the offense, completing 30 of 45 for 385 yards and five TDs while rushing for another 93 yards. Kent State's defensive mission calls for subduing one of those threats.
"Obviously you'd like to make the team one-dimensional," said Kent State coach Darrell Hazell. "Our defense is always talking about stopping the run first."
Quinn knows where Hazell is coming from. When Georgia ran for 227 on the Bulls the consensus was, "Well, it was Georgia." But when Morgan State went for 201, now there was cause for alarm.
Kent State favors the run to the pass and comes at teams with a moose and a mouse. The bulk of the carries have gone to Trayion Durham, a 6-foot, 250-pound sophomore averaging 3.9 yards a carry. The big plays have come from 5-8, 165-pound junior Dri Archer, who shifts between the slot and the backfield. He has a 47-yard run, a 32-yard reception and a 98-yard kickoff return. Like KSU, UB has spent the last 10 days honing its rush defense.
"We know that they have a good combination with Durham but the guy that's got the speed," Quinn said. ""He really shows up on film."
UB had a similar schedule last year, with a conference game bracketed by non-conference tilts. They approached last year's MAC opener at Ball State as their springboard, battled from 21-7 down to lead 25-21, then yielded a 75-yard drive capped by a touchdown with 29 seconds left.
"You look back on what happened last year early in the season when we had a chance to go on the road and take control of one of the top spots in the league at Ball State, and we let that one slip through out fingers," Quinn said. "That's why I wanted the mindset for our kids to understand how to finish."?UB vs. Kent State
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Radio: 1230 AM
Line: UB (-3 and 1/2)