AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) -Not in five years, and perhaps not in a million, did fullback Chris Scharon ever imagine he'd be sitting at a table next to a division championship plaque with the University at Buffalo inscribed upon it.
``Five years ago, when I got here, things were pretty bleak,'' Scharon recalled Tuesday.
Then Turner Gill arrived in 2006, and everything changed for the Bulls.
``He really brought a direction and focus to this football program. And that's when I started to believe that, possibly, I could go out a winner,'' Scharon said.
Scharon's belief has turned into reality.
merican Conference punch line to a powerhouse.
In securing the East Division title with a 40-32 double-overtime win at Bowling Green last week, Buffalo (7-4, 5-2) clinched its second bowl bid, and first in 50 years. The Bulls, who have won five straight, close their regular season hosting Kent State (3-8, 2-5) on Friday and will then play the West Division champion for the MAC title at Detroit on Dec. 5.
Beyond that, the Bulls will earn an invitation to one of three bowl games with MAC tie-ins, with the International Bowl in Toronto, a 90-minute drive from Buffalo, a strong possibility.
It's a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost 79 of its first 91 games after joining the MAC in 1999, and hadn't posted a winning season since going 8-3 as a Division III program in 1996.
``It's like night and day,'' Willy said. ``The program's been getting better and better each year and I'm glad to be a part of it.''
Next to Gill's influence, Willy's been the difference on the field.
ards passing and touchdowns passing.
He's been at his best in the clutch on a team that's 3-1 in overtime this season, and coming off a win over Bowling Green in which the Bulls overcame a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Willy's 35-yard touchdown pass to Naaman Roosevelt as time ran out secured a 30-28 win over Temple on Sept. 13. The Bulls opened their five-game run by overcoming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 27-24 overtime win over Army. And then there was a 43-40 quadruple overtime win over Akron.
``Our thing this year is relentless to finish,'' Gill said, referring to the message he instilled in the Bulls prior to the start of the season. ``What does that mean? That means you play every play like it's your last.''
The wins have been so dramatic that school president John Simpson wondered if his heart could hold up much longer when he formally presented Gill with the championship plaque on Tuesday.
``One of the benefits of doing this, no longer do we need to visit our cardiologists,'' Simpson said. ``It has been as exciting as it gets.''
So much for those who once questioned whether Buffalo could ever produce a winner and wondered whether the school should scuttle its football program as it did in the 1970s.
,'' athletic director Warde Manuel said. ``We have shown that we can.''
The turnaround began with Gill, the former Nebraska star quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist, who was a first-time head coach when he took over in Buffalo.
``I'm just happy for the young men, to give them hope. That was the biggest thing coming here, was to give them direction,'' Gill said. ``I said that, `We will be successful here at the University at Buffalo at some point in time.' I couldn't tell you the magical day. But I said, `We will.'''
That magical day has arrived.
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