"Bowl or bust" succinctly summed up the task at hand for the University at Buffalo after spring football drills were completely but they may want to change it to "Six in a row, or we don't go."
The Bulls probably don't have to win the remainder of their games -- although they need to go 4-2 the rest of the way just to become bowl eligible -- but any hope for the postseason scenario was made all the more difficult by their fourth-quarter meltdown against Western Michigan on Saturday.
UB (2-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) blew a 14-point lead in the final five minutes Saturday, falling, 34-28, to Western Michigan in overtime, to suffer its third consecutive loss. The Bulls' offensive production in the second half neared 2006's dismal proportions and the inability to protect the late lead and put the Broncos away has threatened to doom a once-blossoming season. The Bulls also have major concerns with their kickoff coverage, which gave Western Michigan favorable field position during its rally.
"Disappointment," said UB coach Turner Gill, describing the mood of the locker room after the game. "I hope there's disappointment, I hope there's hurt and pain. I don't want anyone to be laughing and giggling or happy about it. We're all disappointed."
Which brings us, reluctantly, to the one question we never thought we'd ask: Is Gill going to turn this bus around? The Bulls have dropped three straight, including the last two in the final seconds. The bowl appearance that seemed realistic just one week ago has become more challenging.
A win Saturday would have given the Bulls sole possession of first place in the MAC's East Division, but now they're locked in a three-way tie for second place behind Bowling Green (3-3, 1-1) with Akron and Ohio, who are both 1-2 in league play.
The way the MAC is this season, the Bulls could easily win the rest of their games. They could lose all of them as well. Bowling Green and Miami were considered the preseason favorites in the East, yet the Falcons lost at home last week to Eastern Michigan, picked to finish fifth in the West, and the RedHawks are one of two teams in the league that hasn't won a conference game. And what do we make of Army (2-4) -- UB's next opponent Saturday at UB Stadium -- a 17-13 winner over Eastern Michigan over the weekend?
The balance of power appears to be in the West where Western Michigan (6-1, 4-0), Ball State (7-0, 3-0) and Central Michigan (4-2, 3-0) are all unbeaten in league play and the Broncos and No. 24-ranked Cardinals are already bowl eligible.
That brings us back to UB. People who thought the Bulls would be real good this year based it on the presence of one man: Gill. All their expectations, wild as they may have been, were because of what Gill and his staff had done last season. And they continue even today because the Bulls were 2-4 after six games last season and still won a share of the East title.
But their record so far is nowhere near what everybody anticipated and Gill will have to work some more late-season magic.
"We'll bounce back," he said. "We'll be resilient."
Senior defensive tackle Ronald Hilaire returned to the lineup Saturday after missing the last 2 1/2 games with a leg injury. Hilaire didn't start or record a tackle.