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Plenty on line for UB Bulls have chance for share of title

It's late November, so that usually means the University at Buffalo and Kent State are playing football with virtually nothing on the line.

Nevertheless, UB and Kent will line up today at Dix Stadium (1 p.m., Radio 550 AM) in the season finale for both teams with the Bulls pressing hard to finish on a high note and the Golden Flashes (3-8, 1-6 Mid-American Conference) wrestling for meaning in an otherwise irrelevant, unsatisfactory season.

UB (4-7, 4-3) lost any hope of seeing the postseason with a loss to Bowling Green last week, so the Bulls have to manufacture other reasons for interest.

For starters, if UB wins and Miami (Ohio) loses today at Ohio University, UB can earn a share of the East Division title, although the RedHawks have already earned a spot in the MAC Championship Game next week against Central Michigan. The Bulls are 3-2 in divisional play.

"For us to finish 4-2 in the East Division would be outstanding," said UB coach Turner Gill. "I talked to the team about leaving a legacy with a winning record in the MAC East. Leaving a legacy is having a 5-3 record overall. We talked about setting a high standard of excellence for our football program."

Also, sophomore tailback James Starks needs 141 yards to eclipse O.D. Underwood's UB single-season rushing record of 1,189 set in 1986. The Niagara Falls High School standout has already rushed for 1,049 yards, the most by any UB back in its Division I-A era.

And it would be nice to take some momentum into the 2008 season where the Bulls are expected to compete for the MAC title. That the Bulls were even talking about a conference title and a bowl game 11 weeks into the season means the program is headed in the right direction.

"We had some opportunities but we let them get away from us," said senior center Jamey Richard. "The positive of that is that we had opportunities. There were years in the past where the opportunities weren't there. We didn't make the most of some games and we were out of those games early. You look at next year and there's a lot of returning players and a lot of returning talent."

Then there's the possibility this could be the swan song for Gill, who may be pursued by Nebraska if it elects to fire Bill Callahan after the season.

Kent State was expected to contend for the East Division crown but has instead lost its last six games. The Golden Flashes' problems can be traced to injuries, especially at quarterback. If sophomore Anthony Magazu starts today as expected, he will be the team's fourth starting quarterback.

Magazu started the season as the backup to starter Julian Edelman, but has been sidelined since Oct. 13 with an ankle injury suffered at Ohio State. Since then, Edelman (broken arm), Giorgio Morgan (knee) and Jon Brown have all seen action at quarterback.

"We are hoping that we can go and finish the season with a win for [the seniors]," said Kent State coach Doug Martin. "To help us a little bit we will have Anthony Magazu back at quarterback. I almost played him last week but he wasn't quite ready. But he is healthy enough this week so we will start him, and will hope he provides a spark for us."

The Flashes lost, 24-14, at Temple, last week and were held to a season-low 124 yards while Brown went 11 for 27 for just 76 yards with four interceptions. Tailback Eugene Jarvis -- the MAC's top rusher -- was held to 57 yards on 13 carries, both season lows.

Hopefully, fans won't be in for a repeat of the 2005 game at Dix Stadium which was as entertaining as a bubble gum chewing contest. With just one win between them, the teams went at it just a few days after UB Athletics Director Warde Manuel fired coach Jim Hofher. The Bulls held Kent to minus-37 yards rushing and won, 10-6, for their only win that season.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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