Ball State Is Now A MAC West Contender

BLOOMINGTON, IN - SEPTEMBER 15: Keith Wenning #10 of the Ball State Cardinals looks to pass the football against the Indiana Hoosiers during the first half of the game at Memorial Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)




Ball State only had two wins over BCS schools heading into this season - both coming against Indiana. Another victory over the Hoosiers nine days ago moved that number to three. But I'm not sure anybody was fully prepared for what happened Saturday with Ball State upsetting the University of South Florida, 31-27.

Two immediate takeaways:

1. Where does this rank in terms of biggest wins in program history?
2. How much higher do the expectations raise now?

Let's explore.

Hyperbole in the euphoria of the moment always runs rampant, so some were ready to proclaim Ball State's 31-27 win as the biggest in school history. I'm not ready to crown this one as No. 1, but this was important in terms of the Cardinals' bowl chances this season and letting the rest of the MAC know Ball State is a contender in the West.

For me, the biggest win in program history is Ball State 31, Central Michigan 24 on Nov. 19, 2008. Everything that season (including a 42-20 stomping of IU) was building up to that point as Ball State entered the game 10-0 and CMU 9-2 in what was billed as the biggest game in Mid-American Conference history. The three IU games are probably in the mix, as well as the win over Navy in 2007.

Ball State also owns five conference titles, all won well before I followed Ball State on a regular basis. I'm sure there were some big wins in there that I have no idea about. (Note: I have no idea if those games are legit). But I don't think we can fully measure the impact of this game until we see how good USF actually is. The Bulls did lose to Rutgers last week - and yes, Rutgers is now ranked in the polls but it's still quite early. Now, if USF somehow beats Florida State next week, then we're talking.

Now, MAC expectations - I think Ball State is now the prohibitive favorite in the West. I know Central Michigan beat Iowa and a lot of people really like what Western Michigan or Northern Illinois bring to the table, but I'd still give Ball State the edge over everyone from based on what we've seen so far.

Now, some thoughts about the game:

- I found this Pete Lembo quote interesting: "Only the 4th win over a BCS Program, the others were Indiana. No offense to Indiana, but South Florida is a different animal." Let's wait and see what USF becomes - even with 100th-year starter B.J. Daniels at quarterback - before we crown Ball State.

- An awful lot of poise from Keith Wenning on that last offensive possession. He looks like the third-year starting junior quarterback that he is. Even on the hairy, fourth-down plays late in the game, he treats it like first down. Gotta love that at QB. After the game, I was thinking back to the 2009 season when Tanner Justice started games for Ball State and how absolutely horrific that was. Thankfully, BSU is a long way away from that.

- I don't know if Willie Snead sold his soul to the devil, and I don't care. But God Bless You, Willie. If he hadn't put himself in Ball State lore after last week's catch to set up the game-wining field goal against Indiana, he did on Saturday with his one-handed, one-foot inbounds grab in the back corner of the end zone to provide the game-winning points. And the 11 catches for 135 yards were outstanding.

- BSU defense was improved - sort of - on Saturday, although a lot of things leave you scratching our head. USF's last scoring drive, where the Bulls went 99 yards, was atrocious. Poor coverage, poor tackling, poor sense of everything, really. And the plays preceding Eric Patterson's game-winning interception were not good either. I think it may be time for defensive coordinator Jay Bateman to rip the prevent defense pages out of the playbook. BSU was awful in it against IU and USF in back-to-back weeks.

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