The Cardinals recorded more history than Mel Brooks last season. Ball State is the only team in the country to increase its win total in each of the last four seasons. The Cardinals finished the season 10-3 overall, 7-1 in the MAC. The first bowl win in school history continued to elude BSU, falling in the Go Daddy Bowl 23-20 against Arkansas State.
The offseason was a hectic once for Cardinals fans. Keith Wenning graduated as Ball State's all time leader in career passing yards, pass attempts, pass completions and passing touchdowns. Wenning was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Also departed is wide receiver Willie Snead. Snead declared early for the NFL Draft, leaving Ball State as just the second Cardinal to record two 1,000 yard receiving seasons and with 12 100+ yard receiving games, most in school history. The 2013 All-MAC First Team selection went undrafted, and then was signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns.
The Cardinals suffered loss on the other side of the ball as well. Outside linebacker and defensive leader Jonathan Newsome graduated after being named to the 2013 All-MAC First Team. Newsome was drafted in the 5th round by the Indianapolis Colts.
Most stressful for Ball State fans however, was certainly the courtship of head coach Pete Lembo. Lembo was identified as one of the hottest commodities in coaching, and with seemingly every power conference vacancy around the country, his name would be mentioned. With the dust settled, Lembo remains in Muncie, signing a 5 year contract extension bumping his annual salary to $475,000.
It's no surprise that with the loss of key players that Ball State's offense could be crippled this year. Especially the passing attack. Ball State still hasn't announced who their starting quarterback will be, though it will most likely be Ozzie Mann. The only key receiver that the Cardinals possess is Jordan Williams, who had over 1000 receiving yards in the past season. It will be interesting if he can repeat those numbers with their star quarterback gone. If Ball State wants to have any threat through the air, they will need a receiver to step up and be a big play maker. This receiver will most likely be KeVonn Mabon.
Even though it will be a new quarterback running the offense, he should be protected very well. Ball State must replace its two most experienced offensive lineman, though the Cardinals return a total of 43 starts on the offensive line, a significantly higher total than last season. Ball State's offensive line should be one of the best in the MAC. Their anchor will be Jacob Richard at center. The 6-foot-1 275 pound junior center was named to the 2013 All-MAC Third Team, and was named to the Rotary Lombardi Watch List for the upcoming season. Richard helped Ball State rank 17th in the nation last year for fewest sacks allowed at 1.17 per contest.
The bright spot to this Cardinal offense will be their running game. They still have two key running backs on the squad, Jawhan Edwards and Horactio Banks. Last year as a junior Edwards ran for over 1100 yards en route to All-MAC Second Team honors. Horactio Banks rushed for just shy of 600 yards on the season before tearing his ACL prior to the Northern Illinois game. Edwards had a yard per carry average over 5, and Banks had a yards per carry average over 6. Expect both of these players to get a workload throughout the year. The Cardinals also welcome back Teddy Williamson. As a freshman Williamson displayed impressive bursts of speed out of the backfield, with his top effort coming against the home finale against Miami, rushing for a career high 80 yards and a touchdown against the RedHawks.
Ball State is prepped to have a successful year defensively. Miles from where they were at last year. They have some key players returning this year such as Ben Ingle and Brian Jones. Ingle, a 6-foot, 230 pound junior linebacker, had 116 total tackles last year. Jones, a 5-foot-10 202 pound senior strong safety, had 97. These two will be tasked with leading the defense, a defense Ball State will rely on more than in years past. The Cardinals will need others to step up in the secondary with 2013's interception leader Jeffery Garrett departed. Regardless, it is still looking like this defense is setting itself up to be one of the best in the MAC.
Special teams has long been a staple of Ball State football, and the Cardinals have the tools to excel again this season. Retaining placekicking duties will be senior Scott Secor. Last season Secor connected on 19 of 24 field goals. He enters 2014 with a streak of 11 successful kicks, the second longest streak in Ball State history. Last season he hit 16 of 17 field goals of 45 yards or less. Secor was named to the 2013 All-MAC Third Team last season.
Punting responsibilities again go to Kyle Schmidt. As a freshman Schmidt finished sixth in the MAC in yards per kicking, averaging 40.9 yards a boot. He tallied a season long punt of 62 yards at Akron.
The Cardinals will deal out some new duties in the kick return game. Last season Jamill Smith, now of the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks, finished his Ball State career with 1,988 career kick return yards, good for second on the school's all time list. Smith was named All-MAC Second Team as a kick returner, and Third Team as a wide receiver and punt returner. This is a Cardinals team with plenty of speed that should have plenty of options to win the field position battle in 2014.
|Sat., Aug. 30||vs. Colgate||2 p.m.||ESPN3 Ball State Radio Network
|Sat., Sep. 6||at Iowa||3:30 p.m.||Ball State Radio Network|
|Sat., Sep. 13||vs. Indiana State||3 p.m.||ESPN3 Ball State Radio Network|
|Sat., Sep. 20||at Toledo||TBA||Ball State Radio Network|
|Sat., Oct.4||at Army||12:00 p.m.||CBS Sports Network Ball State Radio Network|
|Sat., Oct. 11
||vs. Western Michigan||3 p.m.||Ball State Radio Network|
|Sat., Oct. 18||at Central Michigan||TBA||Ball State Radio Network|
|Sat., Oct. 25||vs.Akron||TBA||Ball State Radio Network|
|Wed., Nov. 5||vs. Northern Illinois||8 p.m.||ESPN2/ESPNU Ball State Radio Network
|Wed., Nov. 12||at. Massachusetts||8 p.m.||ESPN2/ESPNU Ball State Radio Network
|Sat., Nov. 22||Eastern Michigan||TBA||Ball State Radio Network|
|Fri., Nov. 28||at Bowling Green
||TBA||ESPNU/ESPN3 Ball State Radio Network
All Ball State fans will immediately circle Wednesday, November 5th, on their calendar. The Cardinals have won the Bronze Stalk Trophy against Northern Illinois just once, 45-14 over the Huskies in 2008. Since then, NIU has taken the five in a row, including a 48-27 win in DeKalb last season. Again in 2014, the Cardinals and Huskies will battle for the Bronze Stalk on national television, this time in Muncie, and the Ball State faithful are thirsty for a win.
Hustle Belt's Nick Lowe picks each game of the 2014 season. Keith refrained, because he's convinced he's bad luck when picking the Cardinals.
Ball State shouldn't have any trouble taking care of Colgate week 1. It most likely will be by a decent size margin, so we may see a few Cardinal quarterbacks getting a chance on the field.
Ball State has never had success against Iowa, and that won't change next year. The Cardinal offense just isn't strong enough to compete with the Iowa defense. Iowa should get the W pretty easily.
Indiana State: Win
The Cardinals come back for week 3 to face the Sycamores. This is the second FCS team they play this year. The outcome should be similar to week 1.
The first MAC game of the year for Ball State, and unfortunately it will most likely result in a loss. The Cardinals managed to take care of the Rockets last year, but again, with the offense as shaky as it is, I can't imagine they will be able to pull out a win. Plus, being on the road puts Ball State at a slight disadvantage as it is. It should be close, but the Rockets will take it.
Army was blown out last year by Ball State, but this year the game should be much closer. The Cardinals should pick up the win, but it won't be as easy as it was the past year.
Western Michigan: Win
Western Michigan had an incredible recruiting class this year, and they should be miles ahead of where they were a season ago. However, Ball State will still get the win. A good recruiting class doesn't completely turn a program around after just 1 year, but Western Michigan could be a serious threat soon.
Central Michigan: Win
Ball State will travel to Mount Pleasant to take on the Chippewas. The Cardinals handled them pretty easily the year before, and they should be able to handle them well this year. By this time, the Cardinals offense will hopefully start clicking, so they won't have any problem.
The Zips will have to play Ball State at home this time around. Since the Cardinals have just won 3 straight, the momentum will be leaning their way. The Zips had a pretty mediocre year last year, and they lost by a wide margin to Ball State. I'd imagine a similar outcome again.
Northern Illinois: Win
Now this may surprise some people, but the Cardinals will get the win this time around. They will be seeking for revenge, and being at home gives them some extra momentum. With key players like Jordan Lynch and Jimmie Ward gone, the Huskies will have to look for some new stars. The Cardinals will win by a very, very slim margin.
UMass didn't have a very successful 2013 season, so it would be hard to imagine that they would completely turn this program around in 1 year. This should be an easy win for the Cardinals
Eastern Michigan: Win
The Cardinals won't get the opportunity to play on Eastern Michigan's new grey field. At this point in the season, they have had a pretty successful win streak. Eastern Michigan had a big quarterback transfer acquisition from LSU, so it's hard to say how they will play. Regardless, Ball State should pick up the win.
Bowling Green State: Loss
It's the last game of the regular season, and this is where the win streak ends for the Cardinals. The Falcons are just too good offensively and defensively. I doubt there is a team in the MAC that could beat Bowling Green.
Nick Lowe's got the Cardinals at 9-3. Good enough for a MAC Championship? If not, we will gladly welcome a trip to the Bahamas.