DETROIT (AP) - Ball State fumbled away its perfect season.
The 12th-ranked Cardinals coughed it up four times and Buffalo scored off each turnover, routing the previously unbeaten team 42-24 Friday night in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
Ball State (12-1) finished the regular season undefeated for the first time since 1949, but entered the game without much of a shot to bust into the Bowl Championship Series because it trailed Utah in the standings.
The Bulls returned fumbles 92 and 74 yards on consecutive drives late in the third quarter to take a 28-17 lead.
Buffalo (8-5) won its first MAC title, capping the program's first bowl-eligible season since joining college football's top tier of teams in 1999.
NFL scouts at Ford Field saw Ball State quarterback Nate Davis struggle to hold onto the ball. The Cardinals fumbled four times and Davis was involved each time.
The most critical came when he tried to dive toward the goal line, but had the ball knocked loose for Mike Newton to scoop up and take 92 yards for a go-ahead score.
Davis finished 31-of-48 for 351 yards with a touchdown and an interception on his final attempt when the game was out of reach.
Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy, meanwhile, played mistake-free football.
Willy was 19-of-28 for 206 yards with three touchdowns to Naaman Roosevelt, didn't throw an interception and was sacked only once.
Roosevelt finished with 116 yards receiving and James Starks ran for 82 yards and a score, though he fumbled twice.
Ball State's MiQuale Lewis ran for 138 yards and two TDs and Briggs Orsbon set a MAC title game record with 13 receptions and had 141 yards receiving.
The Cardinals hadn't trailed by more than a touchdown all season and were behind for just 23 minutes this year, but they fell behind for good against Buffalo with 3:52 left in the third when Newton went 92 yards.
Sherrod Lott returned a fumble 74 yards on the next drive.
The last team to return two or more fumbles of at least 74 yards was Louisville in 2001 against New Mexico State.
Buffalo celebrated in front of a small crowd at the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, enjoying its first win against a ranked team. Since playing in the top tier of college football, the Bulls were 0-8 against ranked teams and had scored just 70 points in those losses heading into the matchup with Ball State.
The Bulls won just 10 games in seven seasons before coach Turner Gill took over the program in 2006.
Buffalo will likely make a short trip to Toronto to play in the International Bowl.
Ball State, which hasn't won a MAC title since 1996, might return to Detroit to play in the Motor City Bowl.
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Posted: 12/6/08 12:15 AM ET