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UB, EASTERN MICHIGAN TRY TO CLIMB ONE RUNG UP LADDER

It has come down to this: 1-6 Buffalo vs. 1-5 Eastern Michigan, a pair of teams in search of the escape hatch that lets them out of the Mid-American Conference basement.

It's this way because the University at Buffalo and Eastern Michigan came into the year facing a building task and have failed to provide much shape to the foundation. UB (0-5 in the MAC) has lost four games in a row, Eastern Michigan (0-2) has lost five. Both have been overwhelmed at various points in the season and spent much of the year searching for answers.

Here's something else the Bulls may be contemplating as they prepare this afternoon (3 p.m., Radio 550 AM) for the Eagles: With three games remaining after today, and the possibility of being the underdog in each, this is the best chance of recording a victory.

UB plays Ohio, Army and Akron over the next three weeks, and wins will be hard to come by. While its record may not reflect success, the three losses by Ohio (1-5, 1-3) to Akron, Iowa State and then-nationally ranked Toledo were decided by just 11 points, and the Bobcats' option attack is difficult to prepare for. Army (1-5) has only one victory, a win over Houston, but has the ability to score. Akron has two MAC victories.

That brings us back to Eastern Michigan, a program whose lone victory this season was a 16-12 tussle over Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State. The Eagles lost at home to pedestrian I-AA Indiana State and were outscored, 100-13, in losses to Maryland, Western Michigan and Connecticut.

UB hasn't fared much better.

Since their Sept. 22 win over UConn, the Bulls have lost to Central Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Marshall and Kent State and have been outscored, 110-49.

Because both teams will be underdogs for the remainder of the season -- Eastern Michigan has to face Northern Illinois, Central Michigan, Toledo and Akron, all on the road -- the loser of this game faces the real possibility of a winless MAC mark. There's no telling how much the last-place factor will play on the minds of the players, but both teams could be thinking about it.

"We have to take it one week at a time, and you can't assume anything," said UB senior tailback Derrick Gordon. "They're looking at us probably the same way we're looking at them. We just have to go out there and play ball."

While UB may be Eastern Michigan's equal, if not better, keeping the player's confidence has been a big issue for first-year coach Jim Hofher.

"Our concerns are as much about us as they are about the opponent," Hofher said. "When you find yourself in a situation like us where we haven't won since September, confidence is an issue. Our kids have done everything we've asked them to do to the best that they can. Human nature can start to step in here, and we've got to make sure that we grab hold of our kids and they grab hold of us."

The Bulls would seem to have the edge, if for no other reason than they have more experience than the Eagles, who are so young that coach Jeff Woodruff probably should have them watching Sesame Street before practice. Of the 63 players who have seen action this year, 28 players (44 percent) are either sophomores or redshirt and true freshmen. Five freshmen start, including quarterback Kainoa Akina and tailback C.R. Roberson, and one redshirt freshman starts. Three sophomores are also in the starting lineup.

"Everyone looks old to us," Woodruff said. "I was talking to a junior college coach the other day on the phone and I told him about all the freshmen we were playing, and he laughed and said, 'Do you realize I'm not starting a single freshman?' And that's a junior college team. Everyone we face is going to be older than us."
e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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