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UB RIDES MOMENTUM IN ROAD GAME AGAINST DEFENDING MAC CHAMP MARSHALL

The University at Buffalo football team might find itself in the right place at the wrong time.

Coach Craig Cirbus' Bulls believe the timing is right for UB to face the three-time defending Mid-American Conference champion Marshall Thundering Herd.

The Bulls are coming off their first victory in 19 games and, counting the tough loss to Connecticut two weeks ago, have some rare momentum.

Even more uncommon, however, is the fact Marshall, which is playing its first league game of the season, is coming off of two straight losses for the first time since 1992.

UB might be a target for retribution when the teams meet Saturday at 7 p.m. in Huntington, W.Va., where Marshall has won 32 straight games, the longest home winning streak in the nation.

Marshall has won the MAC title every year since it moved up from Division I-AA in 1997. It went 12-0 last year, finished No. 10 in the country and won the Motor City Bowl for the second straight time.

The Herd is looking to maintain its track record of MAC dominance, and the Bulls happen to be in the way. The Herd, pegged as a 43-point favorite, has lost only two conference games in three years.

"Our season starts Saturday," Marshall coach Bob Pruett said, "because that's what gets you to the conference championship game and that's what gets you to bowl games.

"I'm sure all the coaches are saying the same things to their teams. It doesn't take Kojak to figure that much out."

UB enters the game 1-3 overall and 1-0 in the MAC East Division after shocking Bowling Green, 20-17, last weekend. Marshall is 1-2 after a 34-24 loss at No. 18 Michigan State and a 20-15 loss at North Carolina.

"We're disappointed because we've been a hair away from winning at Michigan State, which is a very, very good team, and North Carolina, which is the best defensive team we've played since we've been here," said Pruett, the MAC's coach of the year two years running.

"(The losses are) something we haven't faced a lot, and we hope we don't have to face it a whole lot more. We just have to go on.

"Buffalo got a great shot in the arm with a big win for their program. They come down here to play a team that has lost two in a row. I'm sure their coach feels they've got a good chance of winning, so we gotta go out and play."

The Herd stomped the Bulls, 59-3, at UB Stadium last year behind the arm of eventual first-round NFL draft pick Chad Pennington, who completed 20 of 25 passes for 339 yards and five touchdowns.

Pennington, now with the New York Jets, was one of four Herd players taken in the draft. Defensive back Rogers Beckett was a second-round choice of the San Diego Chargers, running back Doug Chapman was a third-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings and receiver James Williams was a sixth-round selection for the Seattle Seahawks.

As big as those losses would be to many programs, Cirbus doesn't think Marshall has dropped off much since it beat Brigham Young, 21-3, in the Motor City Bowl.

"Definitely as fast, definitely as physical, just as big on the offensive line," Cirbus said. "They don't have the couple NFL draft picks that they had last year, but they have a couple other NFL draft picks this year."

Pennington was replaced by Byron Leftwich. The sophomore has done well, completing 60 of 99 passes for 652 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions.

"I know how Pruett feels about their quarterback," Cirbus said. "He thinks he can be awfully, awfully good. They're not missing a step much."

Potential first-round draft pick Nate Poole, considered by many to be the finest athlete in the MAC, is back after catching 71 passes for 1,122 yards and nine TDs last year.

The Herd also has a pair of capable runners in Brandon Carey (5.9 per-carry average) and Chanston Rodgers (three TDs). Leftwich also has great scrambling ability.

Cirbus is aware that although Marshall doesn't have the record it's accustomed to, it certainly has the talent.

"This is going to be a well-prepared football team, opening conference play as they are," Cirbus said. "We understand all that. We gotta be ready."

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