Ball State Cardinals vs. Indiana State Sycamores: A Way Too Early Non-Conference Preview

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State takes on the second FCS opponent of their 2014 campaign, welcoming the Indiana State Sycamores to Scheumann Stadium.

By the time this game comes around, I'm sure Cardinal faithful will be happy with a 1-1 slate for the young Ball State season.  The Cardinals kickoff with Colgate, then travel to Kinnick Stadium for a game with the Iowa Hawkeyes, before returning home for a game with in-state rival and FCS foe Indiana State.  This game marks the third non-conference matchup before the Cardinals begin MAC play with Toledo on September 20th, followed by a final non-league game against Army on October 4th.

Indiana State Sycamores 2013 Rewind:

Indiana State is looking to rebound from a 2013 season where they finished 1-11.  That included 0-8 in conference play with the lone win coming September 14, 70-7 against Quincy.  The Sycamores dropped their final nine contests, losing by an average of more than 22 points a game.

Mascot:

The official mascot of the Indiana State Sycamores is Sycamore Sam.  Until 1989 Indiana State used an Indian Chief named Chief Quabachi created by a committee in 1969.  Sycamore Sam was welcomed in 1995.  He's blue.  He's white.  He looks like Wile E. Coyote.

Conference/Division:

Indiana State plays in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.  Indicated by the name, this is a football only conference consisting of ten teams and competing on the FCS level.  It was created in 1985 and along with Indiana State is the home of Illinois State, Missouri State, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, South Dakota, South Dakota State, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, and Youngstown University.  Ball State opened their 2013 season with the Illinois State Redbirds.

Last Bowl Appearance:

Competing on the FCS level, you didn't think we'd have a bowl game to speak of, did you?  Well we do.  Sort of.  In 1984 Indiana State participated in the Pecan Bowl.  The Pecan Bowl has been played in a variety of locations across Texas, and since 1981 has served as the NCAA Division I FCS Playoff Midwest Regional Championship or the National Quarterfinal to you and me.  This was the last time Indiana State participated in postseason play, falling to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, 42-41.

Head Coach:

The head coach of the Sycamores is Mike Sanford.  Sanford played quarterback at Southern California before embarking on a now 37 year coaching career.  Indiana State is the second head coaching opportunity for Sanford.  He led the UNLV Runnin' Rebels from 2005-2009, compiling a record of 16-43.  This will be Sanford's second season with Indiana State, after finishing 1-11 last year.

Five Key Players:

  • Connor Underwood, Junior, Defensive Lineman
  • Mark Sewall, Junior, Defensive Back
  • Jameer Thurman, Sophomore, Defensive Back
  • Buck Logan, Senior, Running Back
  • Eric Heidorn, Sophomore, Kicker

Offense:

It's definitely hard to find many positive things to say about a team that finished 1-11 and 0-8 in conference play last year.  The banged up Sycamores were at the bottom of the Missouri Valley Football Conference last season, and by a wide margin.  Indiana State was the only team in the league to average less than 300 yards of total offense per game.

If the Sycamores are to change that trend, much of the responsibility will fall on senior running back Buck Logan.  He saw an increased role after 2011 Walter Payton Award winner Shakir Bell's season come to an abrupt end. Logan was one of the few bright spots for ISU last year, appearing in all twelve games and starting six.  He finished 10th in the MVFC in rushing, averaging 50 yards a game at better than 4.6 yards per carry.  Joining Logan in the backfield will be Cincinnati transfer Deionte Buckley.  Buckley was the fifth ranked player out of Indiana when he committed to Cincinnati.  The 5-foot-10 210 pound sophomore has three years of eligibility remaining.

Last season the Sycamores struggled with injuries and inefficiency at the quarterback position.  Senior Mike Perish played in eight games before being cut down by injury, completing 57 percent of his passes, and throwing 14 touchdowns versus 10 interceptions.  Freshman Robert Tonyan Jr. struggled in the backup role, completing less than 35 percent of his passes with 3 TDs and 5 picks.  The job eventually fell to Trent Lancaster.  In three games Lancaster completed 8 of 15 passes for 93 yards with a touchdown and an interception.  With Tonyan moving to wide receiver for the Sycamores during the offseason, expect Perish, Lancaster, redshirt Matt Adam, and Cincinnati transfer Patrick Coyne to compete for snaps.

Defense:

The defense was slightly more encouraging than the offense at Indiana State in 2013.  Though the Sycamores yielded nearly 36 points a game, being the only MVFC to give up more than 30 a contest in doing so, their overall defensive numbers are a little better.  They were 7th in the league in yards allowed, at 365 a game.  Returning from that team will be senior Connor Underwood.  Last year Underwood was named to the All-MVFC first team, finishing fourth in sacks and tied for second in tackles for a loss in league play.  Joining Underwood will be Mark Sewall, a junior defensive back who was tenth in the MVFC in tackles, and Jameer Thurman,a defensive back who was named to the All-MVFC Newcomer team and finished second in Freshman of the Year voting.

Additions to the Sycamore defense in 2014 will be a pair of transfers.  Kris Davis is a 6-foot-1 275 pound defensive lineman who comes to Indiana State after a reshirt season with the Miami RedHawks.  Joining Davis will be his brother, Jordan Wallace.  The 6-foot 235 pound linebacker spent last season with Indiana.  He did not appear in a game for the Hoosiers last season.

Special Teams:

Eric Heidorn will retain placekicking duties.  Last season Heidorn converted on 10 of 11 PATs and was 5 of 11 on field goals, booting a season best of 42 yards.

How early is the way too early non-conference preview?  Early enough that's there's not a punter listed on the Indiana State website.  Last season Sycamore punter Jordon Stangler finished ninth in the MVFC in punting average with 37.5 yards a kicker.  Presently the only kicker listed other than Heidorn is Collin Carter, a 5-foot-10 190 pound freshman from Kansas City, Missouri.

Indiana State could get a big special teams boost from sophomore LeMonte Booker.  Booker was named to the MVFC All-Newcomer team and with good reason.  As a freshman he averaged 23.1 yards per return including a 97 yard touchdown against #1 ranked North Dakota State.  In that game he ran up a total of 173 return yards, the highest single game total in the MVFC last season.

Early Prediction:

With so much uncertainty in Cardinals camp right now, no wins are to be taken for granted.  With that said, Indiana State was absolutely dreadful last season and while they can only do better in 2014, I don't think that involves knocking off FBS squads.  Although this is an Indiana State team that played Purdue to within a touchdown last season, I'm confident the Cardinals can handle the Sycamores when they roll into Muncie.

Author's Note:

Early in the morning of July 3rd, I received an email that there may have been some errors in my original preview.  After checking the article, I noticed the comment (which you can read below) outlining these omissions.  Upon further research, the criticisms are accurate, and well deserved.

I was then advised that there was a tweet on the Hustle Belt Twitter account calling for my ouster.  The tweet was sent from an account representing what appears to be a very comprehensive, albeit lesser read, Indiana State blog.  The suggestion lacked the eloquence that I have come to associate with the graduates of Indiana State, by all measures a fine university.

Contributing a preview for a non-conference game with an FCS school proved to be a formidable task, particularly since they've discontinued delivering the Terre Haute Tribune-Star to my Orange County, California home.  Nevertheless, as I am an unpaid, non-compensated contributor to our site, driven only by my passion for Ball State athletics, calls for my dismissal were met with the following reaction:

That said, if you are in fact among those that would like to see me removed from my post, please feel free to tweet those sentiments to myself @BSUKeith or my immediate supervisors @HustleBelt.  Furthermore, your voice can also be heard in our daily Belt Loops discussion.  Don't fret if you miss out today, we're there everyday talking MACtion.

I sincerely apologize to Indiana State fans, students, alumni, and faculty for my negligence.  I pride myself on responsible blogging and personal accountability.  As tomorrow is the Fourth of July, it appears I've taken my independence as an unpaid, amateur blogger for granted.  That is a mistake that will not be duplicated.

Go Sycamore Nation, and God Bless America.

Keith

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