TOLEDO, Ohio — From the University at Buffalo standpoint it’s a game that could mean nothing and a game that could mean everything. For Toledo, it’s win or fall out of realistic title contention in the Mid-American Conference West.
To know what UB has at stake in the Glass Bowl tonight, it’s best to keep an eye on the down-the-road scoreboard. The Bulls could clinch a tie for the MAC East title if they defeat Toledo and Bowling Green falls at home to Ohio in another 7:30 start. If that scenario unfolds UB needs to win just one of its last two games (at Miami, home to Bowling Green) to capture the division outright and advance to the conference title game Dec. 6 in Detroit.
If Bowling Green wins tonight the divisional race likely will go down to a winner-take-all UB-BG game on Black Friday in The Ralph no matter what the Bulls do here. UB (7-2, 5-0 conference) plays at winless Miami next Tuesday. Bowling Green (6-3, 4-1) visits 2-9 Eastern Michigan on Saturday, Nov. 23. So long as BG is within a game of the Bulls the season finale qualifies as the division title because it’s also the first head-to-head tiebreaker.
Should UB win the East it is guaranteed a postseason bowl berth. If the Bulls lose tonight and fail to win the East their postseason fate becomes scattershot. The MAC has three secured bowl tie-ins this season. The division winners receive bids and the other likely would be bestowed upon the loser of Wednesday’s Northern Illinois-Ball State game (NIU is 9-0, Ball State 8-1).
If the MAC finagles a fourth bowl invite it appears the choice would be between Toledo and the East Division runner-up. A Rockets win tonight would give them a sweep of BG and UB and presumably deal Toledo higher standing in the bowl pecking order. But that’s also uncertain.
UB’s approaching tonight’s game as if it’s a season unto itself. That seven-game win streak it’s built, the school’s longest within a season since 1897? Meaningless other than the confidence it has instilled. The vagaries of the divisional race and the bowl scenarios? Not worth pondering until, at best, much later tonight.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” head coach Jeff Quinn said. “We haven’t achieved the goals we set forth.”
“We’ve won seven in a row but nothing’s more important than the eighth this week,” quarterback Joe Licata said. “We’ve got a real tough test in Toledo. They’ve got a lot of great players. They’ve got a lot of speed defensively and offensively obviously in a guy you guys know in Dave Fluellen. He’s a great player. So we’ve got our hands full this week.”
Fluellen, a Lockport grad, is to Toledo what Bo Oliver is to the Bulls — a solid workhorse back and a backfield receiving threat. The question is whether he’s cleared to play after an injury suffered Oct. 26 against Bowling Green. If not, the burden remains with freshman Kareem Hunt. He’s produced three straight 100-yard games.
UB’s offense has lived in a shadow of a defense that’s statistically among the best in the nation, particularly over the last seven games, when opponents have totaled seven touchdowns in regulation time. But the Bulls are also averaging 35 points during their run. Licata has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game this season. Oliver has run for at least 128 yards in every MAC game. Alex Neutz has touchdown receptions in every game but one and is averaging 16.4 yards a catch. Those are a whole lot of yesterdays, so to speak.
“You’ve got to realize you’re never as good as people say you are and you’re never as bad as people say you are,” Licata said. “You’re always somewhere in between. We’ve been trying to stay humble and hungry this entire season and I think we’ve done a good job of that.”
UB will be without back-up running back James Potts, who has a shoulder injury. Running back Devin Campbell returned to practice Sunday and is probable.