There will be no more what ifs. No more trying to imagine the scenarios and possibilities that could lead to a trip to Detroit or Toronto or some other postseason setting. No more single-elimination frame of mind.
That's because the University at Buffalo's Mid-American Conference championship and postseason hopes were eliminated, leaving the Bulls to spend the final week of the season wondering what might have been.
The Bulls needed a victory Saturday at UB Stadium to keep their MAC title dreams alive, but instead dropped their second straight game, a 31-17 loss to Bowling Green that guaranteed their 11th consecutive losing season.
The Bulls dropped to 4-7 (4-3 in the MAC) and now all that remains is a face-saving game next week at Kent State. By the time that game rolls around, UB will have found some way to channel its energies toward some nonfigurative objectives, but for now the tangible reality is that their championship aspirations are shattered.
Miami (Ohio) will represent the East Division against West Division winner Central Michigan in the MAC Championship Game on Dec. 1 in Detroit.
"It was sad, it was a sour feeling," said linebacker Kareem Byrom, one of 17 seniors who played their final game at UB Stadium. "Obviously, we wanted to go out with a win but we didn't execute enough, it's a very sour feeling."
Said sophomore tailback James Starks, who rushed for a game-high 137 yards and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark: "We wanted to try and get to a bowl game, we had goals and it's sad to see (the seniors) leave like this."
Sadder still presumably because the Bulls weren't close to having their title visions remain afloat for another week. They led only briefly -- 10-7 after a 5-yard touchdown run by Starks -- and only showed glimpses of the team that matured into potential champions over the last five weeks.
Bowling Green reeled off 24 consecutive points, including touchdown passes from quarterback Tyler Sheehan covering 83 and 44 yards to Freddie Barnes and Chris Wright.
Still, junior quarterback Drew Willy led a charge that pulled his team together for a late run. Down by two touchdowns, Willy hooked up with Naaman Roosevelt for a 35-yard gain to the Bowling Green 44 and was aided by a pass interference call that moved the Bulls to the 29. Six plays later, Buffalo reached the 1-yard line on third down but Willy slipped and fell on the 4 forcing fourth down. Coach Turner Gill called a time-out to talk strategy. Go for the field goal or try for the touchdown to pull within seven points?
"I was not considering the field goal at all," he said. "It never even crossed my mind. . . . I was going for it no matter what."
But the plan backfired. UB ran a slant for Roosevelt and Bowling Green linebacker Glen Stanley read the play beautifully, stopping Roosevelt cold at the 3.
"We knew what was coming," Stanley said.
Gill said the Bulls needed seven points, not three.
"I felt it was important for us at that particular time in the ball game to score a touchdown versus a field goal," he said.
Still, that alone hardly was why the Bulls lost. For one thing, there was the matter of Sheehan, the 6-foot-3 sophomore from Cincinnati who drilled UB for 248 yards on 20-of-29 passing and two touchdowns. There also was the matter of Barnes who finished with 113 yards receiving and 10 receptions and Wright who had four catches for 81 yards.
So after all that, instead of playing the what-if game, the Bulls are left with if onlys. If only they had managed to convert that fourth-and-goal. If only they had managed to score on Miami (Ohio) on their final possession two weeks ago. If only they had beaten a very beatable Syracuse University team. If only they hadn't turned the ball over five times against Baylor. If only running back Mario Henry hadn't hurt his knee early in the season.
Of course, nothing can be changed now. The program took huge steps forward this season. All that can be done is to plod onward.
"We've come a long way," Gill said, "we still have a long way to go."
Bowling Green 31, UB 17