In just one month, the University at Buffalo has turned lemons into lemonade and, perhaps, champagne.
There are plenty of eye-catching statistics that dot the Bulls' astonishing surge, but the turning point of the season occurred when coach Turner Gill took his teaching methods from the classroom to the practice field.
Following a humbling 35-point loss at Ball State on Sept. 29, the Bulls fell to 1-4 and ranked 98th in the nation in total offense and 94th in scoring offense. Something had to change.
"I have to coach better," Gill said at the time.
Gill and his staff shifted some personnel, but the biggest key was spending more time coaching during walk-throughs instead of the meeting rooms.
"We went out earlier to go through every single play," Gill said. "Every block, every route we walked through that. We got extra time."
That subtle change has the Bulls (4-5, 4-1 Mid-American Conference) on the verge of the East Division title. A win Saturday at Miami (Ohio) and a Bowling Green loss to Akron on Friday night would clinch a share of the divisional title.
"We've got a tough challenge ahead of us," said Miami coach Shane Montgomery, whose team is 4-5, 3-1. "They're the team to beat right now -- we realize we're playing the No. 1 team in the East."
And grimaces at UB have been replaced by grins as the Bulls have won three of their last four games. The defense has allowed an average of only five second-half points over the last four games, including shutting out Akron in the second half of last week's 26-10 victory. They have allowed three or fewer second-half points in three of the last four games.
The Bulls' success rate in the red zone has been significant. UB is 27 of 30 inside the 20 (90 percent) and has scored 19 touchdowns (63 percent). Last season, the Bulls scored touchdowns just 56 percent of the time when they reached the red zone.
Individually, the biggest change came from sophomore tailback James Starks. The Niagara Falls High grad rushed for 197 yards, five touchdowns and averaged 2.5 yards a carry through the first five games but over the last four he's rushed for 567 yards and nine TDs, while increasing his per carry average to 4.0.
"We tell the kids all the time that if they follow our plan, things are going to work out," Gill said. "I told them certain things are going to happen and we'll be successful."
It started with a change in their routine. At the beginning of practice Gill pitted the first team offense and defense in certain situations like red zone, overtime periods and two-minute drills.
"That gives our players a better chance to focus in practice," he said.
Junior wideout Ernest Jackson, who has a touchdown reception in each of the last three games, said the additional time in walk-throughs helped the team.
"You remember your plays when you walk through them," said Jackson, who has 34 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns this season. "The linemen know where they're going, the running backs know who they're blocking so it really did help out a lot."
Senior punter Ben Woods has been named one of the 10 finalists for the 2007 Ray Guy Award, the Greater Augusta (Ga.) Sports Council announced Thursday. Woods has set the school record for career punts with 265 and yardage with 10,193. He also is the nation's active leader in punts and punting yards, and has 18 punts downed inside the 20 on the season and 55 in his career.
Each of the punters on the list was evaluated on overall statistics and contribution to the team. Particular emphasis was placed on the following categories: net average, percentage of total punts inside the 20-yard line, average return yardage and percentage not returned.