The University at Buffalo is floating along tied for first place in the Mid-American Conference's East Division, but the Bulls are wary that the bubble can burst at any time.
Though it is a long way from clearing the woods, UB has some control over how it finishes the season in terms of the division race and any potential bowl games. The Bulls are 2-3 overall, and 1-1 in the conference, including a win over Temple, which defeated Miami (Ohio) last weekend, 28-10. With a win over Western Michigan (5-1, 3-0) on Saturday afternoon at UB Stadium and a Bowling Green win over Akron, the Bulls would be in sole possession of first place in the East Division.
Akron is tied with UB at 1-1 with losses to No. 25 Ball State and an overtime victory over Kent State last weekend. UB plays at Akron on Nov. 13. While the Bulls had a bye last weekend, they took note that East Division favorites Bowling Green and Miami suffered home losses.
"There's a lot of good teams in the MAC so you never know what's going to happen every week," senior right guard Jeff Neidermier said. "It was interesting to see those teams go down but it could be any of us. It's a battle in our conference every week so you never know what's going to happen."
Since the MAC split into divisions in 1997 there been only five division champions with more than one loss in league play: Toledo (1998), Western Michigan (1999), Akron (2005), Northern Illinois (2005) and Miami (2007). It's likely to happen in the East Division again this year because each of the seven teams has at least one loss.
This year all conference games count toward the division standings whereas last season only games against division opponents mattered. Last season's 49-14 loss at Ball State could almost be considered a nonleague game because the Cardinals play in the West Division.
But an East Division title remains iffy for the Bulls, a team that has won back-to-back games only twice since becoming a Division I-A program in 1999. Last season, the Bulls beat Ohio and Toledo at home but before then, the last time they turned the trick was in 2001 with wins over Ohio and Army in Jim Hofher's first season.
The Bulls are getting the effort, though, and younger players -- especially at linebacker -- are starting to have an impact. They have avoided many serious injuries, but the most significant loss occurred Tuesday when coach Turner Gill announced that junior right tackle Jordan Jerrold will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing knee surgery on Wednesday. Jerrold had yet to play this season, but started all 12 games a year ago.
For UB to have any chance of winning the East Division, the Bulls must navigate through a schedule that includes road games at Ohio, Akron and Bowling Green. They haven't beaten either of those opponents on the road, but Gill feels good about his team's prospects.
"We're 2-0 at home and tied for first in the MAC East at 1-1," he said. "So we're in great position to accomplish our goals. We have seven more left on the schedule and we have an opportunity to play more after that."
Gill cautioned about the Bulls putting too much emphasis on what one game could mean and concerning themselves with other teams.
"If we do what we need to do, it's a moot point," he said. "It's about us, it's not about this team or that team, we've got to get better."
So far, the team is listening to Gill's message.
"We are concentrating on what we do," sophomore cornerback Josh Thomas said. "We keep our focus on the next team we play. We don't really focus on what the next team is doing because that's when we lose focus."