University at Buffalo football can become bowl eligible, for the first time under coach Lance Leipold, with a victory in its regular-season finale Friday afternoon.
After victories the last two weeks against Bowling Green and Ball State, a win against Ohio U. would put the Bulls at six on the season. That's the minimum needed to get consideration for a bowl.
"Everybody knows what's needed," Leipold said. "We talked about it three weeks ago, even after the Akron game and that tough loss. ... After that game we said we had an opportunity to win out and still reach our goals."
Previously, the closest Leipold came to a Division I bowl was in 2015. The Bulls hit five wins with a 18-17 victory against Kent State, but losses in the final three weeks dashed postseason chances.
"I learned as a head coach," Leipold said. "The way we go about some things now were things that I learned during that time. Hopefully that has paid off."
Bowls have been elusive for UB no matter who the coach is. The Bulls have only made two since moving to Division I-A in 1999. UB lost in 2008 to Connecticut in the International Bowl in Toronto and to San Diego State in the 2013 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Hitting the six-win mark doesn't guarantee an invitation. The Mid-American Conference has four concrete bowl agreements this season -- the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl, the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl and the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. It is an alternate to the Quick Lane Bowl contingent upon either the ACC or Big Ten not having a qualifying team.
Typically the MAC will send its two division winners to bowls, in this case leaving two spots. If current leaders Akron and Toledo win their divisions and UB beats Ohio the Bulls would be among a list of second-tier MAC candidates that includes Northern Illinois (8-3), Ohio (8-3) and Central Michigan (7-4).
The Bulls have to win before they can start worrying about that, and downing Ohio is no small task. The Bobcats are 5-2 in the MAC and 8-3 overall. Ohio is the top scoring team and has the No. 1 rushing offense in the MAC, featuring the third- and fifth-leading rushers in the conference.
"You're talking about a team that's played well all year, a big physical football team," Leipold said. "It's going to be a huge test."
A win against Ohio would also be the Bulls' only victory against a team with a winning record in the MAC. The three MAC teams UB has beaten -- Kent State, Bowling Green and Ball State --, have a combined conference record of 3-18.
Running back Emmanuel Reed said there's a noticable uptick in the team's demeanor as it finally gets the chance to prepare for a meaningful game in late November.
"We're locked in on Ohio," Reed said. "Practice has been intense lately. ... Everyone's been a tad more focused. We understand what we have ahead."