There should be a disclaimer here: I did not watch or listen to a single second of Ball State's Saturday beatdown of Army. The fun part of being a sportswriter is that you get to watch sports all the time and write about it for a living. The downside is that you sacrifice your nights, weekends and social life — a social life spent hanging out with other sportswriters. (One of my roommates is also a sportswriter and the other's a 37-year old bartender. This is our profession's social group. Do not be jealous.)
But following along on Twitter and reading the various stories has me more than clued in on what occurred Saturday - and it was Cardinal domination of epic proportions. I may have been a little too cautious in predicting a 4-8 record for Ball State in the preseason. This team — and especially Mr. Efficient Keith Wenning — is much, much better than almost anyone could have predicted.
I didn't see anyone out there predicting Ball State to win the MAC West, especially me, who whined throughout the preseason about how terrible the Cardinals were going to be. But now, not only is Ball State a contender, I believe the Cardinals can even win it. While Toledo and Northern Illinois got the deserved preseason hype, they are not overly dominant favorites like some other teams of years past: Roethlisberger's Miami, Marshall's Pennington-Moss-Leftwich, or even Northern Illinois with Michael Turner. The point being is that it's not out of the question that Ball State could win it all.
Ball State beat the living snot out of the same Army team that defeated Northwestern one week earlier. Yes, Army ran for 402 yards, but 300 came in the second half as Ball State enjoyed a 31-0 halftime lead. The Cardinals' running game may not be fully solidified yet, as Jahwan Edwards, Barrington Scott and Dwayne Donigan combined for 143 yards rushing but any Cardinals fan will take that if it came from one person.
You can throw Saturday's game against top-ranked Oklahoma out the window. The only fear is that a loss in the neighborhood of 83-10 may be crippling to team morale, but nothing could be as crippling as Indiana University's loss to North Texas this weekend. (LOL.)
But make no bones about it, Ball State is a contender in the Mid-American Conference. The games against Western, Toledo and Northern have a much-more heightened importance than they did four weeks ago.
Ball State's defense is ranked 98th in the FBS, but the Cards have played better than that. They'll probably fall after the Oklahoma game but there's enough talent to withstand the Mid-American Conference schedule. What the defense has is playmakers. These same playmakers have been in the lineup the past two seasons, but that talent has fully blossomed into what may become something special. Three of the first four MAC Defensive POYs have been from Ball State, including Sean Baker this week.
And the receivers have really come along. I did not have Willie Snead on the radar three weeks ago, and now he's hauling in 10 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown. Wenning's throwing fade routes to 5-foot-5 receiver Jamill Smith and completing them for touchdowns. Tight ends (David Schneider) are getting 51-yard touchdowns passes. All the while our best receiver - Briggs Orsbon - conintues to not put up big numbers. But that's OK as long as everyone else is picking up the slack.
Bring me the Kool-Aid, Jim Jones, because it only took four weeks for me to go all-in on Pete Lembo and this Ball State football team.