On August 31st, the Ball State Cardinals will open their football season against in-state rival and Power 5 up and comer, the Indiana Hoosiers. On the surface, this may appear to those outside the program like just another neutral site payday game since it’s being played at the home of the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, but there’s a far greater measurement occurring than the zeros on the check.
It wasn’t so long ago that Ball State fans had plenty of ammo for their IU friends. The Cards had a three-game winning streak against That School in Bloomington from 2008-2012. Since then it’s been a two-game IU win streak and most would agree it’s more likely than not going to be at three on September 1.
The rest of the schedule doesn’t get much better for the Cardinals, as it is entirely possible they lose five of their first six, and that’s assuming Fordham is a win. That’s a win, right? Right?!? So for fans of the Fighting Football Cardinals, this season may very well be more about other things than wins and losses.
For all intents and purposes, the 2019 season’s key storylines are:
- Meet the new skill players. Same as the old skill players? Sure, Riley Neal and James Gilbert are out. But quiet whispers around the program say they weren’t guaranteed to keep their jobs had they stayed. Whether that’s a Baghdad Bob version of revisionist history will play out between the hashmarks, but what is known is the offense falls squarely on the shoulders of Drew Plitt. Transfer RB Walter Fletcher may be a secret offensive weapon out of the backfield. Smaller than starer Caleb Huntley it may give OC Joey Lynch options a la Corey Sykes.
- Does the defense figure out how to actually defense? I know it’s the MAC and counting on your defense is akin to a rooting for a Crossfitter in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, but the Cardinals D was bad for even the most pedestrian MAC standards. For this unit, it’s about experienced players stepping up. With nine returning starters and a continuity in the coach’s box, there is simply no excuse. It’s the second year in the 3-4 for the Cardinals and it needs to show. Simply put, if the defense performs like it has, I am not sure the Cardinals will win a single game this season.
- Does Mike Neu make it through the year? I hate to be “that guy”, but someone has to ask the question that everyone is thinking. 10-26 overall record in three years at the helm and overall lackluster and uninspired football. Sure, there were injuries. Sure, the Cardinals played great in the first half of each of those seasons. But there still is no signature win. The Cards have only upset three point spread favorites under Neu, with the largest being the Western Michigan Broncos in 2018 (a 7-point favorite). There has to be something happen this year that galvanizes this coach. As plainly as I can say it: with another year similar to the first three and Neu needs to go. The only thing I’m really on the fence about is whether they should wait until the end of the year or mercy kill it mid-season.
My initial run through of the Ball State 2019 schedule:
Indiana Hoosiers: Loss
Florida Atlantic Owls: Loss
@ N.C. State Wolfpack: Loss
@ Northern Illinois Huskies: Loss
@ Eastern Michigan Eagles: Loss
Toledo Rockets: Loss
Ohio University Bobcats: Loss
@ Western Michigan Broncos: Loss
Crazy prediction: On this bye week, Mike Neu is released and Joey Lynch is named interim coach.
Central Michigan Chippewas: Win
@ Kent State Golden Flashes: Loss
Miami RedHawks: Win
So 3-9, a crazy coach prediction, and a bounceback win against the Chips. Buckle up, Cards’ fans. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.