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Virginia Military Institute Keydets vs. Ball State Cardinals football preview

VMI finished in the basement of the Southern Conference last season.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State will open the 2015-2016 football season at home against Virginia Military Institute on Thursday, September 3rd.

The Cardinals are looking to improve upon their disappointing 5-7 (4-4) record from 2014. The kickoff against FCS and Southern Conference member VMI will bring new light to the dark shadow cast over Scheumann Stadium last season. Ball State's opener will set the tone for the remainder of the season, which includes a daunting MAC West schedule.

Jack Milas will be the starting QB for the Cardinals this season. Now playing in his second season for Ball State, Milas will be looked upon to improve on his 55% completion percentage accumulated over six starts in 2014. Milas replaced now-transferred Ozzie Mann halfway through last year's campaign. The sophomore should be able to find veteran targets through holes in a VMI defense that allowed 496 yards per game a year ago. Jordan Williams, KeVonn Mabon, Aaron Hepp, Efe Scott-Emuakpor, and Chris Shillings all return to stack the Ball State receiving corps. It will be running back for committee for the Cardinals' offense as Jahwan Edwards has moved on to the NFL. Darian Green, Teddy Williamson, and freshman James Gilbert can all expect to see carries this season.

To counter the Ball State offense, VMI returns three of its five leading tacklers from last year's squad. Although depth has been lost along the defensive front, 2014 interception leader Greg Sanders returns to boost the Keydets secondary in his sophomore season. Giving up nearly five hundred yards of offense per game should be motivation for the team to improve this season behind the leadership of a veteran linebacker core.

Offensively, the Keydets are solid. Al Cobb stays under center in 2015 after throwing twenty touchdowns a year ago. Cobb completed over 61% of his throws, and ventured near 250 yards per game. Derrick Ziglar is the leading returning ball carrier from 2014's group of backs. The Keydets biggest weapon may be wide receiver Aaron Sanders. Leading the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns a year ago, Sanders offers Al Cobb a reliable set of hands. VMI also returns veterans Matt Nicholson, Dane Forlines and Sam Patterson at wideout.

The first half of the contest will prove to be vital. Ball State outscored opponents 203-171 in the first half during last year's campaign, while VMI fell victim to first half blues, being overwhelmed by opponents 295-129. If Jack Milas and the Cardinal offense can get on the board quick, the Keydets may be in trouble.

Solid defensive play will have to back Ball State's offense if Pete Lembo's bunch hopes to land big blows to VMI in the season opener. Experienced members of the BSU defense will pave the way in 2015, including Aaron Taylor and Ben Ingle.

Kickoff for Thursday's game is set for 7:00pm EST.