DETROIT - Ball State fumbled away its perfect season.

The 12th-ranked Cardinals coughed up the ball four times and Buffalo scored off each turnover, routing the previously unbeaten team, 42-24, last night in the Mid-American Conference championship game at Ford Field.

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 break 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.