7-1 MAC West (2nd)
Head Coach: Pete Lembo
2014 MAC Media Preseason Pick – Third in MAC West
The Ball State Cardinals football team posted one of its best seasons ever in 2008 when BSU ran the regular season table before finishing 12-2. Quarterback Nate Davis led that team but then decided to forego his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. Coach Brady Hoke, meanwhile, departed for San Diego State. Those losses, along with other personnel, contributed to losing records (2-10, 4-8) over the next two seasons under new HC Stan Parrish.
The Cardinals then rebounded under new head coach Pete Lembo, who broke even at 6-6 the first year and followed with records of 6-4 and 10-3. A key catalyst in that turnaround was quarterback Keith Wenning. With Wenning and others departed, the question becomes: Can the Cardinals avoid the kind of competitive dip they experienced after the loss of Davis?
“I love working on a college campus every day. I love the fact that I can go to work and my family can be five minutes away and my kids can come over and watch practice,” Lembo said. “There are a lot of highs and lows in this job, and there are challenges every day, but there is a passion for what we do and how we do it.”
Joining Lembo as a key “returnee” is running back Jahwan Edwards. The senior is wrapping up a fine career. Like Wenning, he was an All-MAC Second Team pick. Despite being in a pass-friendly (putting it mildly) offense, the 5-10, 219-pounder racked up 1,110 yards rushing in 2013. Matching – or bettering – that this time around could be more challenging if BSU has trouble establishing a passing game.
Nobody is expecting the Cardinals to maintain the kind of record-setting numbers Wenning and his receiving corps were achieving. However, the quarterback question wasn’t exactly settled in the spring and it seems very much a question mark? Third-year sophomore Ozzie Mann and redshirt freshman Jack Milas are among those in the mix, but the competition hardly seems dazzling to date. The Cardinals were 71.5 ypg better than the next closest MAC team in passing yardage last year. Leading the league again in that category seems unlikely.
If a QB steps up, there are some targets for the passing game. Sure, speedy Willie Snead (First Team All-MAC) and Jamill Smith (Third Team All-MAC) are gone, but Jordan Williams (Third Team All-MAC returns and will anchor what could be a pretty good unit going forward. KeVonn Mabon played in 12 games with two starts in 2012. He’s back after a season-ending injury early last year (resulting in a medical redshirt). The position was also addressed in recruiting.
The Cardinals lost MAC first teamer Jordan Hansel off the offensive line, but three starters return. Jacob Richard (All-MAC Third Team) will hold down the center sport. Junior Jalan Schlachter and sophomore Steven Ball are also back.
“I love my offensive line” Edwards said. “Without them, I couldn’t do anything. We’ve been putting in a lot of work this summer – extra - without the coaches being there. … I feel like as the years have progressed, guys have gotten better. … I’m looking forward to seeing what they are going to do this year.”
Given the Cardinals prolific scoring (38.5 ppg, second only to NIU), it’s a little surprising to see BSU third in scoring defense. They did slip to seventh in total defense, but were aided by a nice plus-12 margin in turnovers.
All-MAC players Jonathan Newsome (DL, First Team) and Jeff Garrett (DB, Second Team) have departed. However, Ben Ingle (6-0, 230, LB, Second Team) returns after leading BSU in tackles with 116 stops. Zach Ryan acquitted himself well as a freshman, finishing third with 92 hits.
Two seniors figure along the back line. Eric Patterson holds down one corner while Brian Jones is at one safety. Another returning starter is Dae Shaun Hurley. The then-freshman finished fourth on the team in tackles, including a season-high of 12 in the Cardinals 27-24 victory over Kent State.
Senior defensive end Nick Miles is a returning starter up front.
Senior Scott Secor earned MAC Third Team honors after hitting 19 of 24 field goal attempts last year. Sophomore Kyle Schmidt finished sixth in punting with a 40.9-yard average during his freshman campaign. Return specialist Jamill Smith is gone.
The Cardinals are reloading, but so are some other teams in the West. Lembo probably has BSU strong enough to remain in the top tier, but unless somebody steps up in the quarterback role, the offense is likely to be more pedestrian this season. A strong linebacking group will lead the defense. Keeping a positive number in the turnover margin would be advisable, because the Cardinals are likely going to see some close games.
- Ball State opens at home against Colgate Aug. 30. One week late, the Cardinals travel to Iowa. The other BSU non-conference road game is at Army.
“Iowa is going to be a special opportunity – a great environment. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be intense,” Lembo said. “Army’s got a new staff and playing at Michie Stadium – it’s never easy to beat the cadets on their home turf.”
- BSU gets a stiff test Sept. 20 when it opens MAC play at the Glass Bowl against Toledo.
- Ball State was third in 3rd down conversions and fourth in stopping opponents on third down last year.
- BSU was the MAC’s least penalized team in 2013, incurring 49 penalties for 404 yards (31.1 ypg).