Ask yourself what Ball State is known for and you're likely to say David Letterman. Maybe Garfield the Cat if you're old school or a comic junkie. Stoners and painters will remind you Bob Ross filmed his happy tree creation on BSU's campus. But football fans will jump immediately to quarterbacks.
For whatever reason, the MAC has made its bones as a league of extraordinary statistical freakshows on the backs of Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Chandler Harnish, etc. Taking his place in that list a season at a time is current Ball State senior Keith Wenning who has quite the possibility of etching his name in the BSU record books ahead of the school's most recent entrant to the hallowed MAC QB halls... one Nate Davis. The same Davis who catapulted Ball State into the national spotlight, the BCS standings, the MAC Championship game, and an undefeated regular season. And much to the chagrin of the rest of the MAC, at the conclusion of the 2013 season the surpassed excellence of Davis by Wenning may be about a whole lot more than statistics.
It's a shame in the MAC that apparently the QB spotlight and the national narrative is seemingly a table for one. It was true when Nate Davis overshadowed Dan Lefevour at CMU. Such is the case this year when the national pundits and HOT SPORTS TAKES are focusing all their collective small conference love on Jordan Lynch at Northern Illinois. That's a considerable shame, because Keith Wenning in Muncie has been doing it longer and more consistently than his counterpart up the road in DeKalb. There. I said it.
Wenning took over the starting reins in 2010, the final year in the Stan Parrish era and hasn't looked back. He's thrived in the Lembo/Skrosky offense and from all accounts is a true thinking man's QB. And in truth, with MAC defenses being what they are (read: not all that great), having a cerebral assassin calling your shots from the huddle makes quite a bit of difference on the field, the scoreboard, and the record book.
In a rebirth of sorts, 2011 was the arrival of Pete Lembo and offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky and in one of those fate situations, everything clicked. Wenning was named the starter and promptly began his sophomore campaign by leading the Cards over Indiana at Lucas Oil Stadium in a dramatic upset that set the tone for that season and this regime. And some could argue set a remarkably dissimilar tone for Kevin Wilson and Indiana. Since then, Wenning has been one of the better game managers I've seen, putting the Cards in position to win and never giving up until the clock reads zeros. The cynics will say the late game heroics and overtime wins that characterized 2012 will eventually revert back to the median. "No team gets lucky forever," they'll remark. That assumes you subscribe to the theory that Pete Lembo and the Cardinals going from 6 wins to 9 in 2011 and 2012 is some sort of fluke and not the direct result of preparation, special teams, attention to detail, and players like Keith Wenning trusting the system, the staff, and his teammates. I subscribe to the latter and not the former, and advise you to do the same.
That this-isn't-luck-it's-skill-and-scheme theory is cemented by the fact that since Keith Wenning came to Muncie he's been consistent, and more importantly, consistently improving. Each year has been better were it matters most... the win-loss totals. But statistics shouldn't (and in the case of Wenning) cannot be ignored. His passing yardage has increased from 1373 yards to 2786 yards to 3095 yards. His TDs increased from 14 to 19 to 24. And let's not ignore that 2013 saw him miss the season finale against Miami which is not quite the defensive stalwart. Even the statistics that don't necessarily mean your QB is getting it done got better. Completion percentage? Up every year. Average per game? Up every year. Efficiency? Up every year. Just to rub salt in the wounds of his MAC QB brethren, he also caught a TD pass in 2013. Eat it up, MAC. It should also be noted that Wenning's record year in 2012 wasn't a statistical result of a one-sided system. Starting RB Jahwan Edwards also ran for 1400+ yards, good for third-best in single-season school history.
The knock on Wenning from the woefully uninformed would be that he isn't a mobile QB. They'll point to his lack of eye-popping Lynchian rushing stats as an indictment of his abilities and further "empirical" evidence to continue to fawn over the golden one at NIU. What they overlook is Wenning isn't a running QB not because he can't, it's because he doesn't need to be. Let us all not forget that Wenning was a three-sport All-conference athlete from Ohio division 5. This isn't Jared Lorenzen Part 2 who is physically incapable of scrambling. With Jahwan Edwards at running back and outside threats like Willie Snead and Jamill Smith, Wenning just doesn't need to be mobile. As Pete Lembo preaches, you put players in a position to make plays and let the system work. And work it has.
Wenning, much like the rest of the Cardinal squad, finds himself in a bit of a different situation than years past. When national know-it-alls broke down the Cards for the last two years, it was always a breakdown tempered with low expectations and little mention or fanfare. That has changed a bit in 2013. Wenning himself is on national award watch lists like the Maxwell Award and the Davey O'Brien Award joining five of his teammates on preseason award lists. In fact only Oregon, Louisville, Georgia, Miami (FL), Ohio State, and Alabama can boast a player on each of the O'Brien, Walker, Mackey, Biletnikoff, and Maxwell Award lists. Quite rarified air for the Cardinals and unmatched by their conference opponents.
This season could also mean considerably more than a MAC title or national awards for Wenning. He has a legitimate shot to cement himself as one of the greatest to ever call the signals in Muncie. Wenning currently sits with 7254 career yards through the air and 57 TDs. He already has set career records for the Cardinals in completions and attempts and needs only 17 TDs and 1979 yards to be the career leader in both those categories as well. For comparison's sake, to not break those two thresholds would mean he would have to clock his worst statistical year as a full-time starter. In other words, it's a matter of when, not if, Wenning rewrites the top spot in BSU passing history. As a nice little sidestory, if his averages hold from last year without increase, the yards record and passing TDs records stand to fall at Western Michigan on 10/19. Get your tickets now, Kalamazoo. How often can you see notable football achievements in your stadium?
For Wenning and the Cards, though, this season is about considerably more than individual achievements and record book rewrites. It's a legitimate shot to do something special on the field and more importantly set the stage for future expectations, performance, and attitude around this program. In Pete Lembo's offense, success begins with the QB but Wenning's performance this year could very easily be a bellwether for future success in Muncie. Fans and supporters will be able to say after 2013 that they were a part of success, greatness, and very likely the bellwether for future success in Muncie. And MAC defenses can say they got torched by the best. So there's that.
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