Here's what you need to know about the University at Buffalo's football season: The oddsmakers have installed the Bulls as 8 1/2 -point underdogs this afternoon against a Kent State team that has only one win against a Division I-A opponent.
Life is undeniably humdrum around UB, so withered that the Bulls find themselves frantically in need of a win over a school that has enjoyed only one winning season since 1987.
After reaching a pinnacle in a 48-20 pounding of Central Florida, the Bulls have come apart offensively. The passing game, in particular, has become non-existent. UB, coming off a much-needed bye week, has to start somewhere if it is to emerge from the depths of its 1-7 overall record and 1-5 in the Mid-American Conference, a struggle accentuated by a blowout loss at Marshall two weeks ago.
"We have to start playing sound football," said UB linebacker Ramon Guzman. "We emphasized fundamentals during the bye week because that's the only way you get better. With the bye week, I think everything is back together. I think it was something that we needed."
A win will double the Bulls' win total from last season. After today's game in UB Stadium (1:30 p.m., Radio 550 AM and 1280 AM), the Bulls have their home finale next week against Central Michigan (3-5, 2-3), followed by a nonleague road game at Connecticut.
Of course, nobody around UB will admit that the next two games in UB Stadium look like the team's most winnable opportunities in the last month. Kent State is a big game in the context that the Bulls need to show continued progress in Jim Hofher's fourth season as coach.
"Our mentality has been the same as it's been all season, go into every game and try to win no matter who's the opponent," Guzman said. "If one game is more winnable than the next, I wouldn't say because anything can happen on any given Saturday."
The Golden Flashes (2-6, 1-4) cannot be considered susceptible as long as quarterback Joshua Cribbs is in the lineup. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Cribbs needs 314 yards of total offense to become just the sixth player in MAC history to finish with 10,000 yards in a career. Before Cribbs, Kent was an easy win for opponents. Now they're more respectable. Kent State is 16-27 since Cribbs arrived in 2001, and in the 10 seasons prior to his freshman season, the Golden Flashes won 15 games total.
UB tailbacks Dave Dawson, Steven King, Chris McDuffie and Jared Patterson have combined for 2,874 yards on 581 carries in their careers.
Compare those numbers to Cribbs, who has rushed for 3,379 yards on 590 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
"He's a tremendous tailback who plays quarterback," Hofher said. "I'm not so sure that his particular talents running the football aren't every bit as dominating as Byron Leftwich or Ben Roethlisberger were as passers. He's a dangerous player."
The Bulls, meanwhile, are still clinging to hopes that they can turn things around with a late-season push. UB will be pumped up by the return of freshman quarterback Datwan Hemingway, who missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. Hemingway will back up junior P.J. Piskorik, but Hofher indicated they will rotate. It's a position that draws the most attention because of the need for improvement.
UB quarterbacks have passed for a conference-low 1,025 yards, four touchdowns and have completed just 49.2 percent of their passes. UB hasn't enjoyed a 200-yard passing game in over a year -- since Randall Secky passed for 254 yards against Toledo on Nov. 1, 2003, a span of 10 games. They've passed for more than 150 yards only twice this season, but the players say the bye week has corrected some problems.
"We have to cut down our penalties and play fundamentally smart football," said UB senior flanker Matt Knueven. "We usually hurt ourselves, and that's where we run into problems. We kill our own drives in terms of incompletions, dropped passes. It's usually on us. We just have to put it all together."