Ask the people that have only a cursory knowledge of the Ball State Fighting Football Cardinals who the most important players are and you'll get a smattering of Keith Wennings and Willie Sneads, with a few Jamill Smiths and Quake Edwards thrown in for good measure.
Tight end Zane Fakes would not be the go to choice, but upon further inspection he may very well be one of the players most responsible for the success of the offense. Whether that be blocking in the running game or a safety valve in the passing game, Fakes has a hand in all things offense. And after a breakout year in 2012, Fakes seems poised to again be the straw that stirs the offensive drink in Muncie.
Fakes' 2012 was a surprise beyond measure, as he had more catches (57), more yards (461), and more TDs (5) than his first three seasons combined. 2013 will be the fifth year for him as he was awarded a medical redshirt when his 2010 campaign was cut short after his right knee blew out at Iowa, proving that he ACL Gods don't only focus on Iowa running backs at Kinnick Stadium. Fakes provides an experienced pass catcher and a good-sized tight end, reminiscent of Darius Hill in 2008. And we all remember how that team worked out.
Fakes has something that BSU desperately needs, and that's height. At 6'3" and 237 pounds, Fakes gives Wenning a viable target in the red zone against defensive backs. He's also adept at sealing the edge to allow Edwards the opportunity for a sweep. At his most basic, Fakes is the epitome of the Lembo offense. Each player, each set, each formation is capable of several different options and it's nearly impossible to guard against them all. Throw in the connection that has formed between Fakes and Wenning and it's a deadly combination.
Fakes landed on the All-MAC 1st Team last season, and it's not crazy to expect the same sort of performance from him this year as well. As Jamill Smith and Willie Snead have established themselves, Fakes will see deep seam route opportunities and matching up against shorter safeties or slower linebackers is a matchup dream for the Cardinals and a nightmare for the opponents. Double him and you leave single coverage on the outside for Snead and Smith. Double them and you leave Fakes single covered in the center of the field.
Assuming Fakes stays healthy it isn't unrealistic to expect him to match his 2012 totals and it's a safe bet that defensive coordinators around the MAC will be exceptionally frustrated.