A game that some thought would play a major part in determining the participants in the MAC championship game now comes down to simply a matter of pride.
Bowling Green (7-4, 5-2) knows it's fate. Last time out the Falcons ended up on the wrong end of a 27-20 decision at Toledo. By then however, BGSU had already clinched a return trip to the conference championship game, thanks to a 30-20 home win over Kent State on November 12th. This is the third time Bowling Green will play for a MAC title.
It was hard to tell what direction the Ball State Cardinals (4-7, 3-4) would head in 2014, following the graduation of Keith Wenning and the departure of Willie Snead. There have been growing pains. The Cardinals opened up 1-5 on the season, before scoring back to back wins against Central Michigan and Akron. A pair of losses to Northern Illinois and UMass followed, before BSU sent the seniors out with a home win, 45-30 against Eastern Michigan last week. The seven losses are already the most Pete Lembo has suffered in his collegiate head coaching career.
It will be a return to Oz Friday for the Cardinals. In spring camp, quarterback Ozzie Mann won a four-way battle and was installed as the team's lead signal caller. Mann lead the team through the first 5 games of the season, completing better than half his passes in every contest and throwing 7 touchdowns versus 2 interceptions. While he didn't make a lot of mistakes, Ball State's aerial attack was at best lukewarm. Enter Jack Milas. In his first game Milas threw for 326 yards and four scores. While he'd struggle at times following that first game against Western Michigan, it was clear he was more dynamic in the passing game than Mann. Last week Milas left the Eastern Michigan game with a broken wrist, and was replaced by Mann who will start on Friday.
Bowling Green's season started with disaster. In a 59-31 shellacking at the hands of Western Kentucky, the Falcons also lost All-MAC everything quarterback Matt Johnson. James Knapke stepped in and was able to right the ship for the Falcons. Entering Friday's matchup he has completed better than 56% of his passes for north of 2500 yards and 12 touchdowns. The game against Toledo was abbreviated for Knapke, as he completed just 7 of 24 passes for 71 yards before being replaced true freshman Cody Callaway. Head coach Dino Babers has said that there is no controversy at quarterback and Knapke will start on Friday.
Friday's game also marks the final appearance of Jahwan Edwards in a Ball State uniform. Edwards rushed his way into the Ball State record books with his third consecutive season of more than 1,000 yards on the ground. He has rushed for more touchdowns than any player in Ball State history. He is just the sixth Cardinal to amass more than 3,000 career rushing yards.
Running backs Travis Greene and Fred Coppet have handled most of the Bowling Green rushing responsibilities in 2014 until recently. Greene has not played since the first half against Akron on November 4th, and Coppet left the Kent State game early on November 12th. They've combined for nearly 1200 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. In their absence, look for Andre Givens to handle the bulk of the rushing duties.
Both teams have plenty of depth at receiver. Bowling Green is lead by Roger Lewis who has caught for 874 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. Ryan Burbrink has tallied 640, Ronnie Moore, 561.
Jordan Williams has been a little underwhelming for the Cardinals this season. Still, he leads Ball State with 683 yards and five touchdowns. KeVonn Mabon has emerged has an explosive threat for BSU, totaling 598 yards and 4 tds.
Neither team fields a top defensive squad in the MAC. Ball State ranks 8th in total defense in the league, Bowling Green 12th. Look for BGSU cornerbacks Brian Sutton and Ryland Ward to get plenty of work on Friday. Taylor Royster, who leads the conference with four fumble recoveries will anchor the defensive line. Ben Ingle and Zack Ryan will also be busy for the Cardinals, in what has all the makings of a classic MAC shootout to close out the regular season.