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Beyond The Belt: Previewing the WIU Leathernecks with Missouri Valley Beat

We asked the Missouri Valley Beat, and they actually answered!

MAC Football Championship - Ball State v Buffalo Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Hello fellow Belters, we asked our friends over at their opinion of the upcoming football contest between our beloved Ball State Cardinals, and their Western Illinois Leathernecks.

It’s safe to say there’s probably not a lot of Ball State vs. WIU content out there, so we’re hoping this will be as informative for you, the reader, as it was for me.

Without further ado: the questionnaire!

James Snyder: ”We’ve seen rumblings from the Western Illinois fanbase for a coaching change. How big would a win against a team that finished ranked last season be for coach Elliott?”

MVC Beat: It would obviously be huge, certainly internally. But to me that is almost like asking how big would it be for Willie Fritz at Tulane to beat Oklahoma. I was going to make a Kent State/Texas A&M comparison, but Kent State is actually a favorite in the MAC this year, and WIU has won two games in two years. I will say, and I am sure you get this in the group of 5 as well, a win over a power five is more sexy to the average fan than a win over a MAC team. Even one as good as Ball State. The casual fan is would probably be more impressed if South Dakota beat Kansas than if Western Illinois beat Ball State. That is entirely unfair, as Ball State would probably wipe the floor with Kansas, but that is the way it is. That is to say that if Western were to win this game it would raise serious eyebrows in our little FCS and MAC fan world. But nationally I don’t know how big a deal it would be. It would certainly be a big deal for the WIU fanbase and coach’s job stability for sure.

JS: ”Do you live in a world where it’s possible the Fighting Leathernecks can pull off the upset?”

MVCB: I would love to live in this world. And I have seen some crazy things happen on a football field. If I use the word “possible” literally then yes, it is possible. It is possible that the Chicago Cubs could still win the World Series this year too. But realistically, no it is not happening. I have seen several big FCS over FBS upsets, many from MVFC teams. I think the FCS is underrated (especially among the top 15-or-so programs), but Western Illinois is not a good FCS team……not even an average one. And it isn’t entirely their fault as their school has to fight to even keep its doors open each year. As you know Ball State is a very good, experienced team. It just isn’t going to happen. I will be shocked if the outcome is still in doubt at halftime. Also, for the record I am a Cubs fan so I am allowed to make fun of them.

JS: ”From a fan and blogger’s perspective in the MVFC, how is it going from the non-conference where you are looking to knock off the big dogs to being the big dogs of the FCS?”

MVCB: This is an outstanding question and I am so glad you asked it. It isn’t so much a weird transition from non-conference to conference season. For an FCS fan, the money game is just a fun weekend with very little pressure. You win… you go nuts. You lose… that’s fine, the real season starts next week. It is a fun position to be in. However, it is such a weird juxtaposition when you go from MVFC football to MVC basketball. You’ll see someone post on a message board in the fall that all these small conferences shouldn’t even have automatic bids, and it takes bids away from deserving teams who were tested against the best, and it is criminal that a 6-5 MVFC team would be left out of the playoff field for a 9-2 team from a weaker conference. Then, in the spring, you’ll see that same guy talking about how the mid-majors get screwed out of at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament and I’d rather see a second Valley team that went 24-8 over the ninth best team from the ACC. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics or ignorance to be able to make that argument both ways each year. It’s a fascinating place to be.

JS: “If I was at a Ball State party watching this game (I won’t be,) but wanted to sound really smart, which players would I tell my fellow partygoers that are really good on the Western Illinois side of the ball?”

MVCB: So last year. Western Illinois had one guy on the All-MVFC preseason team. He was an honorable mention, and he was a punter. It might be the unintentionally saddest article ever written by a sports info department. This year they actually had five on the list. They have some solid receivers in first-teamer Dennis Houston (who finished last year as a first teamer as well) and Tony Tate who was a second-teamer. QB Connor Sampson led the league in yards per game last year and is an honorable mention. Part of the reason why he was able to do that is because WIU had no running game at all, but he is still a talented guy and if WIU is going to have any success this year it will have to be with him commanding things through the air. One other thing that might make you sound smart is that while WIU has gone a combined 2-16 the last two years, they are only four years removed from an 8-4 playoff season in 2017. They are also only five years removed from a win over Northern Illinois in 2016, [and] their punter is back on the preseason honorable mention list again. So there’s that.

JS: ”Do you chuckle a little on the inside when I say “Prediction of the Ball State game?” or are you an adult?” Also, what is your prediction?”

MVCB: No, but I do giggle when Austin Peay fans chant “Let’s go Peay”, and “We’re #1, not #2”. I am going to go with Ball State by a score of 37-10, with a 24-0 halftime score. I hope to be wrong. I also predict three MVC teams in the men’s hoops NCAA Tournament this year. Go Valley!

“We’re Number 1, not number 2!” made me chuckle out loud. Thanks for the great answers, and good luck with that NCAA Tournament prediction!

Be sure to follow MVC Beat over on Twitter @BeatMVC for all the latest information on everything Missouri Valley Conference.