Unlike last offseason, defending a MAC championship is not one of the goals for Ball State this coming fall. The Cardinals are coming off a 6-7 season and the 2022 iteration of the squad will feature a very different look than the one of the past two seasons.
Ball State’s offense is undergoing a transition from a unit loaded with veterans to a more youthful presence. Still, the offensive line retains two starters from the 2020 MAC title run, as well as other young players that inhabited the trenches throughout 2021.
The linemen with championship DNA are right tackle Joseph Boggs (who started at left guard in 2020) and Jaylen Turner at left guard (who started at right guard in 2020). Both interchangeable linemen started all eight games in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, the same year which featured Ball State’s first-ever bowl win. That season Boggs and Turner spearheaded a unit which excelled in run blocking and pass protection to a great extent. The net result was the nation’s 24th most productive scoring offense.
Ball State loses its other starting linemen from that near-perfect 2020 — left tackle Kaleb Slaven, center Anthony Todd, and right guard Curtis Blackwell — the latter of the three is currently on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ preseason roster. However, the next crop of talent was already being developed in 2021 due to absences among some of the aforementioned players.
Ethan Crowe earned a voluminous number of reps at center while Todd shifted to left guard, and Crowe should emerge as the primary snapper for 2022. Porter Haught, who earned his first start in 2020, anchored the left tackle position quite often in his third year on campus and his contributions to the line should only amplify during his fourth go-around. And Damon Kaylor, a former Michigan State transfer, eased into the right tackle position for a bulk of the season in his first year in Muncie.
That creates a potential starting lineup, from left to right, of Haught, Boggs, Crowe, Turner, and Kaylor, although Boggs and Turner could swap sides at guard. Either of the tackle spots could also be occupied by Corey Stewart, who experienced his first on-field collegiate action last season as a significant part of the rotation. Stewart’s blocking was instrumental in propelling the Cardinals to a 38-31 win over Eastern Michigan last October, as the team allowed zero sacks and paved the way for four rushing touchdowns in the victory.
A hefty portion of the available offensive line depth consists of freshmen, but the Cardinals also added a necessary piece from the transfer portal in Brandon Malkow. The interior lineman started all 11 contests at center for FCS program Western Illinois in 2021 and 11 at right guard in 2019. Returning reserves Tommy Lorincz and Seth Schmidt should also be set to provide depth at guard and tackle, respectively, behind the team’s six most established linemen.
If injuries transpire, Ball State could send out several true freshmen in this young unit. One notable player in the 2022 class to keep an eye on dons a No. 66 jersey, but his height may stand out more than his uniform number. Chris Hood is one of the tallest players in the FBS at 6’9”, and he enters his first year on campus after excelling at East Noble High School in Kendallville, IN — where he played alongside fellow 2022 Ball State commit Nick Munson. ESPN ranked the 3-star tackle as the Cardinals’ highest-rated o-line recruit in this class, while guard Taran Tyo from Versailles, OH claims the second spot among the team’s five true freshmen at the position.
Ball State first exhibits its new look line — which still consists of many familiar faces — to the public eye on Thursday, Sept. 1. That night, the Cardinals kick off their 2022 season against Tennessee, hoping to capture the magic of two years ago and revert to MAC title contention.