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UB football completes busy stretch as it prepares for Dollar General Bowl

The University at Buffalo football team has crammed a lot into the last two weeks in preparation for the Dollar General Bowl on Saturday.

The players have completed their final exams, and some have completed their undergraduate coursework. The Bulls have split practices between UB Stadium and evenings at the ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park, a 20-mile commute from campus.

The coaches have traveled across the country to make their final recruiting pitches as National Signing Day approaches Wednesday. This is all happening as the Bulls (10-3) prepare to face Troy (9-3) in the Dollar General Bowl at 7 p.m. Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

“With recruiting and signing day coming up on Wednesday, we’re really struggling through two schedules, and our players going through finals,” UB coach Lance Leipold said. “Having to change practice times based on locations and availabilities, I think our players have been a little bit in flux since even before the Bowling Green game (Nov. 23). It’s been unique, and I’m proud of the way they’ve handled it, but we’ve really started to hit our stride in practices.”

The week should slow for the Bulls once they arrive Tuesday in Mobile, where they will practice and attend bowl functions, including a visit to the University of South Alabama’s Children’s and Women’s Hospital on Wednesday and a visit to the USS Alabama battleship in the Mobile Bay on Thursday. But, Leipold said, “at the same time, it beats the alternative.”

The Bulls will play football in December for the first time since 2013, when they lost 49-24 to San Diego State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Bulls also are playing for their first bowl win in program history.

At a time when the players may be inclined to relax, defensive end Chuck Harris sees his team taking on a new level of intensity during bowl practices.

“This time is very valuable and to see the way we’re attacking it, week by week, it makes me feel good as a senior, especially seeing how hard the young guys are working,” said Harris, a senior. “It’s not like we’re sitting there in practice and trying sit there and motivate everybody to come out there and go. The motivation is there. Our first bowl game, playing in the MAC Championship. It’s all in front of us. For the young guys, it’s fun. For the older guys, it’s fun watching them, and it makes our job easier.”

The extra practices, and the busy schedule have helped dull the sting of a 30-29 loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game on Nov. 30 in Detroit.

“This group is getting excited,” Leipold said. “There’s a lot of things mentally, that this group is being challenged with, and we’re all working through it a first time. Three of our last four games were on the road, the travel, the travel for practice. All those things, we’ve tried to balance as well as we could and modify things as we go through it. But we’ve handled it very, very well to this point. And they’ll be excited when they start heading to the airport (Tuesday).”

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UB has sold 2,000 of its allotted 7,500 tickets to the Dollar General Bowl, per a UB team spokesman. Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile has a capacity of 40,000; it is the home field of the University of South Alabama and hosts the Senior Bowl. … UB placed seven football players on the Academic All-Mid-American Conference Team: punter and redshirt freshman Evan Finegan (3.49 GPA, business administration), junior safety Nick Gallo (3.37, public health), junior quarterback Tyree Jackson (3.33, social science interdisciplinary), sophomore tight end Zac Lefebvre (3.37, social science interdisciplinary), senior kicker Adam Mitcheson (3.25, educational studies), junior wide receiver K.J. Osborn (3.35, sociology) and junior linebacker Matt Otwinowski (3.87, accounting). Jackson, Lefebvre, Osborn and Otwinowski were named to the Academic All-MAC team team for the second straight year.

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