If college football practiced a form of parity scheduling, the University at Buffalo wouldn't find itself in this predicament. The Bulls were 2-10 last season, their first under head coach Jeff Quinn. They revamped the offense, reconfigured the defense. In a parity world, this year's schedule would have afforded them opportunity to continue the transition against comparable opponents.
But most matchups on college football schedules are determined well in advance. UB had no idea where its program would later stand when it arranged two-for-ones with Pitt and UConn, or accepted a big payday for a date in Knoxville, Tenn. "Scheduling up" resulted in three non-conference losses that made UB's situation appear all the more dire when it dropped two of its first three Mid-American Conference games, falling to 2-5 overall.
What the Bulls could use right now is an even field, which amounts to any divisional game now that Temple is behind them. What they get instead today is a crossover against Northern Illinois. If it weren't for bad luck
Northern Illinois ranks fourth in the nation in total offense and averages a sliver under 40 points. Fifth-year senior Chandler Harnish last week became only the 10th quarterback in FBS history to rush and pass for at least 200 yards in the same game. And the Huskies, who haven't visited UB Stadium since 2003, have won their last six meetings with the Bulls by an average of 31 points. It's as if UB went to the doctor and had a sledgehammer prescribed for their migraine.
The Huskies riddled Western Michigan time and again last week without delving deep into the playbook.
"To me, it looked like they just ran sweeps," said WMU coach Bill Cubit. "They ran with the quarterback and every once in a while handed it to the running back."
"We ran a play toward the end of the second quarter [a 29-yard run by Harnish]," Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren said. "So I just told our offense at halftime, 'Run it until they stop it.' "
That never happened. The Huskies put up 38 second-half points in a 51-22 rout.
UB will have to defend the edges better than it did last week. Temple's star back, Bernard Pierce, routinely found room on the outside en route to a 152-yard, two-touchdown afternoon. While the burden of containing Northern seems to fall on UB's defense, responsibility rests with both sides of the ball. The Bulls rank last in the MAC in time of possession, and it's not because they're piling up points in rapid-fire fashion. They went three-and-out the first three series of the Temple game, exacerbating what was already a colossal challenge for the defense.
"It spells disaster and that's what we saw," Quinn said. "It starts up front. That week before [a 38-37 win over Ohio] that's what we were able to do. You get the result when the offense can move the ball and put points on the board because if you're expecting the defense to go out there against a good football team like Temple to shut them down, it's not going to happen. It just won't happen."
Ditto with Northern Illinois (4-3, 2-1), which has scored at least 40 in every game save a 49-7 loss to then-No. 7 Wisconsin.
"As an offense you have to take pride in scoring points, and you can't score points if you're going three-and-out every time," said UB quarterback Chazz Anderson. "We've kind of rekindled the flame what we did against OU this week in preparing to score points. We're going to have to score points if we want to beat a great football team like Northern Illinois."
"I just felt like when we played Temple we didn't play our game," said wideout Marcus Rivers. "I just thought we were better than what we showed out there and it's very disgusting because I know we're a better football team than that."