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Road goes through Oxford UB-Miami result affects MAC East race

The University at Buffalo has never passed this way before. The Bulls have never experienced the unbridled exhilaration of a championship and only know the ache of failure.

But here they are, in Ben Roethlisberger's old neighborhood, on the doorstep of the Mid-American Conference East Division championship, a ritual usually reserved for the likes of Miami (Ohio), Ohio University and Akron. From here, Turner Gill and the Bulls nearly can touch the title and create their own memories and history.

"This is why you play college football," said sophomore defensive tackle Dane Robinson. "You want to win your conference championship, you want to go to a bowl game."

A win today at Miami (4-5, 3-1) and the Bulls are a step closer to living out what was once believed to be an unattainable dream. Bowling Green put a slight detour in their path by defeating Akron, 44-20, on Friday. Should the Bulls (4-5, 4-1) win today, they can claim the East Division outright with a victory over Bowling Green on Nov. 17 in UB Stadium. Kickoff for today's game against Miami is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Yager Stadium.

"We hold our destiny, everything is in our control," Robinson said. "This game is no different than Akron, no different than Toledo, no different than Ohio. Only, the magnitude has gotten greater each game."

To understand how good the present must feel to UB football, consider the past.

The Bulls have one winning season in the last 20. The only coach who left town with a winning record since 1960 is Doc Urich. But UB's recent stuffing of Ohio, Toledo and Akron suggests a power shift in the MAC.

"It's definitely different around here," said junior wideout Ernest Jackson. "We usually don't hear [talk of a championship] around here. It's a great thing to hear now so we're enjoying it."

It almost seems fitting that UB's path to the MAC elite leads through Miami. No one has tossed around the Bulls, especially at home, quite like the RedHawks.

In their last four visits to Oxford -- dating back to 1999 -- the Bulls have been outscored, 187-30. The trip in 2005 was particularly gruesome when Miami administered a 54-13 beat down.

A few days later, UB Athletics Director Warde Manuel decided to fire coach Jim Hofher with two games remaining in the season. Manuel needed the extra time, he said, to find another coach and that led him to Gill, who has guided the Bulls to their most wins since becoming a Division I-A program in 1999.

"The University at Buffalo football program has an opportunity to do some things special over the next three ball games," Gill said. "We're positive about that."

And UB doesn't seem bothered by its rag-doll way of life at Miami.

"They have nothing to be ashamed of," Gill said. "The past is the past."

So focused are the Bulls that rumors of Gill's departure to either Nebraska or SMU -- hot-button topics throughout college football -- haven't been mentioned on the team.

"I haven't said a word," Gill said. "They have listened to what I've told them from Day One. You don't let outside distractions interfere with what you're trying to get done. Period."

And what UB is attempting to do is create history. The time has come to face its legacy.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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