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2019 Ball State Cardinals State of the Program

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No need to address a joint session of Congress to get down to the meat of this team

Illustration: James H. Jimenez | Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski (USA Today Sports)

When it comes to the state of things, most folks take their cues from the Constitution. It’s pretty clear on the President’s duties, after all. “He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” says the document. When it comes to the Ball State Cardinals football program, we need neither a joint session nor a binding resolution. The state of these Cardinals is troubling.

It wasn’t that long ago when Ball State was a MAC Championship threat. Pete Lembo had the Cardinals rocking and rolling behind the arm of Keith Wenning and the skill position players Jahwan Edwards and Willie Snead. It was poetry in motion with that squad. P5 upsets, double-digit win seasons, and a feeling of “when not if” a MAC Championship would be coming back to Muncie. Hell, it wasn’t all that long ago when Brady Hoke stalked the sidelines and rode Nate Davis and MiQuale Lewis to Detroit and an undefeated season with whispers of the Cardinals crashing the BCS. How quickly things can change.

Instead of a disciplined team that’s fun to watch, the last few seasons have seen a Cardinals team decimated by injuries and just run out of players, gas, or both as the season went on. MAC teams aren’t deep enough to sustain a roster full of injured reserved. It has been the hallmark of Mike Neu’s career in Muncie. In three seasons, the Cards have won exactly one game scheduled after October 15. That’s bad. That’s like... really bad.

Fan optimism and interest has slid as well. Even the hardest of die hards are approaching ambivalence about the whole thing. Can you blame them? Ball State hasn’t had a winning record since 2013’s 10-win campaign and there isn’t a ton of optimism that 2019 is going to turn that boat around.

This year in Muncie isn’t a battle of good versus bad, it’s unknown versus expected. There are plenty of players on the roster that are talented enough to win games in the MAC. Will they? Will they say healthy? Who knows. The defense is in year two of a scheme change and by all indications should have a better unit performance than the flaming dumpster we’ve all been witness to for the last three seasons. Will they? Who knows.

The bright spot for the program is the spring announcement that an indoor practice facility was coming to Muncie. The $15MM project still has some hurdles to clear in terms of financing, construction, and fundraising, but it’s basically a done deal with a summer 2021 opening. This is monumental for the program and at least closes the gap somewhat between the Cardinals and the rest of the conference. BSU was the last school to get one and it was due. Overdue, really, but at this point beggars can’t be choosers and I will instead celebrate that it’s coming at all.

So, pick your poison and choose your own adventure for the 2019 Cardinals. There’s certainly a history of fans who take a Pollyanna approach and find a way to get to a winning season. I envy those people. I used to be them. There are also those who see storm clouds from miles away and immediately put up the umbrella. They believe this season will be somewhere south of anarchy with abject failure and domination by every opponent the order of the day. For those, a losing season is inevitable and a single solitary win may be too much to ask for. I’m not there yet.

The majority of fans, if my read on the fanbase is accurate, believe the program is on the precipice of a dark place but it isn’t there yet. There is a quiet undercurrent of thinking that Neu likely isn’t the man for the job but somewhat holding out hope that he just might be. Maybe that’s because he’s a decorated alum from the program. Perhaps it’s because he is a throwback to a brighter day of Ball State football with the hope he can guide them back as a program.

I remember a metaphor my father told me when I was younger and bemoaning my spot in life. He shared a story about two ranch hands that lived on a farm and provided upkeep and cattle service for a rancher. Each morning the cowboys would rise early, tend to the farm, work all day, and then to bed to repeat the process the next day. One evening they decided to head to town under the assumption they could drink and carry on and be back before sunrise with the rancher none the wiser. So after a lengthy whiskey-fueled evening they began their trek back to the farm. However, after some length of time they realized they were hopelessly lost and had no chance of arriving back to the farm as expected while the sun began to crest the horizon. One looked to the other and said, “Damn, how’d we end up here?” to which the other replied, “Because this is where we rode to”. For Ball State, this current situation where apathy borders on ambivalence and we’re praying for a .500 season is where we rode to. No choice now but to try to backtrack and start the journey over for tomorrow.