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BULLS RUNNING ON FAITH ENTERING MAC SLATE

A poor short-term memory isn't always a character flaw.

Sometimes, it's a redeeming quality.

Forgetfulness certainly will help the University at Buffalo football program, which has won fewer games the past two years than some third-world nations have won Olympic gold medals in the past two days.

As far as the Bulls are concerned, their season hasn't started yet, regardless of their 0-3 record.

UB claims its 2000 campaign doesn't begin until Saturday at 7 p.m., when Bowling Green visits UB Stadium to kick off the Mid-American Conference schedule.

Bowling Green also is 0-3, with losses to Michigan (42-7), Pittsburgh (34-16) and Temple (31-14).

The Falcons are 21-point favorites to beat the Bulls. The teams have never played before.

"I'm looking at it as opening day, no question about it," UB coach Craig Cirbus said. "I'm fired up, brand new season. This is what we worked for all summer long. We want to win conference championships.

"Today, going into the fourth game of the season, we are tied for the lead in the Mid-American Conference. That's how I look at life right now, and that's what I've been telling our football team. 'Let's go out and maintain our lead in the MAC East (Division).' "

Cirbus' objective likely seems outlandish to most, considering UB has been outscored 146-28 this season and is riding an 18-game losing streak. The skid is the second longest in the country, but a loss to Bowling Green would tie UB with idle Ball State for the longest.

But the Bulls say they already have forgotten about last week's dramatic 24-21 loss to Connecticut as well as the previous 17 defeats, many of which were lopsided.

"We feel we can be the champs of the MAC, but we have to take it one game at a time," junior cornerback Javunt Pratt said. "That's our overall goal. We can do it, we just have to believe we can do it.

"You can see the difference between having doubts, like against Syracuse and Rutgers, and having complete faith, like against UConn."

Pratt got a piece of two punts on UConn's last two drives to help give UB a chance at a comeback Saturday. But there were other key moments that lead the Bulls to believe they're on the verge of turning the corner.

UConn returned the opening kickoff to its own 40 and methodically drove deep into UB territory, mostly on the ground between the tackles. The Huskies eventually had a first down on the Bulls' 2.

But the Bulls stuffed the Huskies on three straight running plays and forced a field goal.

"I thought it was a huge series down there, especially in terms of what the team has gone through," Cirbus said. "Just to functionally say 'We had a goal-line stand and stopped them,' that's one thing. But to do that with the character of this team and what they've fought through this season and last season, that says so much about the fight this team has. This team has character.

"I can see that they discounted the past, that they focused on that game. That is really encouraging to me to see there's no give-up in this group."

After Saturday's loss, which ended when Scott Keller's 58-yard field goal attempt fell short, the Bulls were emotional. It was evident some had been crying. They had gotten so close to triumph, so close to recording their first Division I-A victory, so close to snapping that embarrassing streak.

But the Bulls seem to have regrouped, and are looking forward to -- as they insist -- finally starting their season.

"We're up," junior running back Derrick Gordon said, "because of something our strength coach (John Opfer) said to us: For the first two weeks we were playing on faith. We felt we could play with other teams, and things didn't work out as we hoped. But the last game, (our hard work) showed. Now we're going on faith plus evidence.

"If there was doubt (in the locker room), I believe that it's gone now."

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