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Six wins not enough as UB football aims to secure bowl game

The University at Buffalo football team earned its sixth win and bowl eligibility Saturday with a 24-6 victory against Akron. But given recent history, Bulls coach Lance Leipold knows that winning six games doesn’t guarantee anything.

“I thought we were [bowl eligible] last year,” Leipold said. “I say that cautiously, because I told the group of young men [last year] with three games to go that if they won out, they’d have a chance to play in a bowl game. I didn’t look very smart at the end of the year. To get to six and to get those wins is important, but we have a lot of football yet to play.”

The Bulls (6-1, 3-0 MAC) play Saturday at Toledo (3-3, 1-1) and can solidify their grip on a bowl bid with a win against the Rockets. The Bulls won six games in 2017, but were shut out of a bowl bid as seven MAC teams earned at least six wins. The MAC had agreements or tie-ins with only five bowl games.

It’s imperative that the Bulls win the numbers game.

“It feels good to be bowl-eligible again, but we want to go out there, get that seventh win and leave no doubt,” UB wide receiver K.J. Osborn said Saturday after beating Akron at UB Stadium.

Toledo coach Jason Candle isn't surprised by Buffalo's success so far.

"In my head, I predicted maybe this team would come in undefeated or maybe one or two losses," Candle said Monday on the MAC coaches conference call. "They're playing right to what my expectations were. They're talented, they're buying in and believing in what the coaching staff is preaching to them, and when you have that, I think you have a chance to be pretty good."

A win against Toledo could help UB create some separation in the standings.

UB leads the MAC East Division, a one-half game ahead of Miami (Ohio), its opponent on Oct. 30 at UB Stadium. The Bulls aren’t looking too far ahead at the schedule, and Leipold is cognizant of what the next game means for the Bulls.

“We don’t spend a lot of time looking at, early in the season, ‘Let’s get to this game,’ ” said Leipold, whose team can reach 4-0 in the MAC for the first time since 2013. “We don’t red-letter an opponent or anything like that. But this is one that, maybe, privately, a lot of people looked at and said, ‘Hey, if we can progress off what we did a year ago and keep getting better, this game may have some good meaning,’ and I think it does.”

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Leipold said wide receiver Anthony Johnson continues to progress after he sustained a left hamstring injury in a 42-13 win Sept. 22 at Rutgers.

“It’s daily,” Leipold said of Johnson, who has 20 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns. “It’s going to be one of those things on how he feels. He continues to progress, but we need to be smart with him. Weather changes, and other things happen and a lot of factors go in, but it was great to see him make some plays and make some important plays.”

Johnson played in 39 of the Bulls’ 76 offensive snaps against Akron, and caught two passes for 44 yards in his first substantial playing time since sustaining the injury.

“We had a number in mind we wanted him to play,” Leipold said. “We fell right below it.”

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