Before hiring 37-year-old Maurice Linguist over the summer, the UB football team had earned a reputation as a winning program under former head coach Lance Leipold.
The Bulls made three consecutive bowl games and earned wins at the 2019 Bahamas Bowl and 2020 Camellia Bowl.
But now, UB (4-5, 2-3 MAC) is at serious risk of missing out on a postseason bid for the first time in four seasons.
Following a puzzling 56-44 loss to Bowling Green — the losingest program in the Mid-American Conference over the past five seasons — the Bulls find themselves in the bottom-half of the MAC standings.
With three weeknight “MACtion” games remaining on the Bulls’ schedule, UB will likely have to “win out” (win all of the remaining games on its schedule) to have a chance of winning the MAC.
The Bulls will also need to win two of their next three contests to meet the FBS requirement of six wins and a winning percentage of .500 or better to become bowl-eligible. And even if UB earns bowl eligibility, it’s no guarantee they will be selected to a bowl game.
The pressure is on UB to play its best football at the end of the season.
“I think that’s the type of pressure we need to get us over the top and get that fire under ourselves to really go do what we’re supposed to do,” senior linebacker James Patterson, who has played in three bowl games in three years, said. “Having that type of pressure is good for any person in general because it’s bringing the greatness out of you, don’t ever try to run from it.”
The Bulls’ most recent game, a 12-point loss to Bowling Green at UB Stadium, is what put UB in its current predicament. The Bulls were 13.5-point favorites ahead of the must-win game and completely flopped against the inferior Falcons.
UB gave up 56 points and nearly 500 yards in a performance Linguist and his team will want to put behind them as soon as possible.
In his first year as head coach, it’s up to Linguist and his coaching staff to keep the Bulls focused on the current situation and produce better results against a gritty Miami (OH) squad.
“That wasn’t our team that showed up there [last week against BGSU], it wasn’t to the standard of what we’ve been,” Linguist said. “And the second thing is [we have to] get up and get off the mat. Part of seasons are anytime you have a step back or you have a little bit of a disappointment, it’s how quickly can you respond? A word that we’ve used all week is respond to our program and our team, how do we respond? How do you respond to adverse situations?”
While the Bowling Green loss came at a bad time for a team fighting for their playoff lives, UB’s bye week couldn’t have been better placed, Linguist says.
UB didn’t quite receive a full two-week break, because they will face Miami (OH) in a weeknight MACtion game on Tuesday night, but the “mini bye week,” as Linguist calls it, gave UB some time to rest up and mentally prepare for the most important three-game stretch of the season.
“I think it [the bye week] came at a good time. [It’s] just kind of an untraditional calendar makeup for us because we don’t have the full bye week. We had the 9 ½ day window that we took advantage of. [We] gave the guys a couple of days just for their mental and physical recovery and then we were able to get a bonus day in of preparation to work on some corrections,” Linguist said.
According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, which “measures [a] team’s true strength on net points scale; expected point margin vs average opponent on a neutral field,” the Bulls have a 12.9% chance of winning all three remaining games on their schedule and a 0.3% chance of winning the MAC.
Going undefeated to close out the season is a tall task for a team that’s struggled to find consistency all year, so the Bulls are taking a week-by-week approach.
“Just making the decision to go 3-0 these next games all starts with us taking the first step and that’s going 1-0 this week,” graduate wide receiver Quian Williams, who transferred from an Eastern Michigan team that made the 2018 Camellia Bowl and 2019 Quick Lane Bowl, said. “We’re confident that with us doing so we’ll be exactly where we need to be at the end of the season.”
While it’s a daunting task, it’s something that can be done.
Linguist says his staff discussed some of the greatest comeback stories in sports history with his team. He mentioned comebacks by the 2007 Boston Red Sox and the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers, who both overcame 3-1 series deficits en route to winning championships.
Linguist says his staff also discussed the heroics of the 2007 New York Giants, who defeated the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII after just squeaking into the playoffs with a 9-7 regular season record.
All of those teams did something Linguist has been preaching to his club all week: respond. Now it’s the Bulls’ chance to respond and string together multiple wins to end the season.
“I think the biggest message for us is we know we’re capable and able, but that enough isn’t getting it done. We have to make sure we have the right approach and mentality going into games and we’ve got to respond the right way,” Linguist said.
Looking ahead, there are six bowl games — the Arizona Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl, Camellia Bowl, Bahamas Bowl, LendingTree Bowl and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl — that guarantee a MAC bid. And while they don’t guarantee a MAC participant, the Cure, Boca Raton and Myrtle Beach Bowls are also possibilities for UB if the Bulls can meet the six-win requirement.
But before the Bulls can think about which bowl game bid to accept, UB must take care of business over the next three weeks.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces in the league, there’s a lot of moving pieces that are still going to be played out,” Linguist said. “Those things are going to happen, however they happen, when they happen. For us, control the controllables, keep our eyes on the prize in terms of being 1-0 today and 1-0 every single week. And then, whatever happens from there, we’ll be ready for the next situation when that presents itself.”
The Bulls will take on Miami (OH) (4-5, 2-3 MAC) Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Yager Stadium in Oxford, OH. The game will be aired nationally on ESPNU.
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.