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2013 Pre-Season Preview: Ball State Cardinals

2012 Record: 9-4 (6-2 in MAC)

Head Coach: Pete Lembo (15-10 at BSU, 94-46 All-Time)

Last Bowl Game: 2012 Beef O'Brady's Bowl: lost to UCF 38-17

Stadium: Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, IN (capacity = 25,400)

Home Field Advantage: ranked 30th out of 55 mid-major teams

Schedule Glimpse:

2013 Schedule Link

Out of Conference: 8/29 vs Illinois State, 9/7 vs Army, 9/14 at North Texas, 10/5 at Virginia

Revenge: 10/12 vs Kent State, 11/13 at NIU

Swing Games: 9/28 vs Toledo, 10/19 at WMU

 

Statistical Snapshot:

2012 Statistics Link

Stats to Fear: gave up 52 passing plays of 20 or more yards (tied for last in MAC)

Stat to Cheer: converted 47.09% on third downs (1st in MAC)

Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 68th out of 124 teams

 

Personnel:

Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 7, Defense 7, Special Teams 1

Key Defensive Returnees: DL Jonathan Newsome (51 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 12 TFL), DL Nathan Ollie (51 tackles, 4 sacks, 8 TFL)

Key Offensive Returnees: QB Keith Wenning (3095 yds pass, 24 TD, 10 INT, 65.4% completions), RB Jahwan Edwards (1410 yds rush, 6.08 ypc, 14 TD), RB Horactio Banks (586 yds rush), WR Willie Snead (89 rec, 9 TD), WR Jamill Smith (69 rec, 6 TD), TE Zane Fakes (57 rec), WR Connor Ryan (44 rec)

Top 2013 Recruits: DT Damerrian Petty, DE Anthony Winbush, OT Vinnie Palazeti, TE Calvin Bank, OG Pat Maloney

 

Inside Scoop with Over the Pylon:

CFBZ: 1- When we did last years preview you said you would "be ecstatic about 6-6 with the possibility of  7 or 8 wins a possibility if things go right at the right times." Ball State ended up with 9 wins on the season. What went right for the Cardinals last year?

Over the Pylon: Pretty much everything! It was a combination of good scheduling, weaker out of conference Power 6 opponents, a stellar offense, and a defense that bent more than it broke. Almost all of the "close ones" went our way, and whether or not that was just solid coaching or fluke luck I couldn't say. However, when 50-50 opportunities break so to one side that's usually the hallmark of preparation and talent instead of just hoping for the best.

Defensively, we were a shut down team by no measure, but they came up with critical stops when needed and the special teams lived up to their moniker as Steven Schott kicked us into some contests and punter Scott Kovanda was capable of flipping the field at a moment's notice. It also helped that outside of NIU, the MAC as a whole was somewhat down. Normally there are three to four solid teams and a whole heap of teams in the middle. This year there was only one dominant team (two if you count BSU) and the middle was significantly lower quality than year's past. The MAC is extremely cyclical, so the good years we've enjoyed as a conference in years past finally came home to roost this season. It was great for NIU as they rode it to the BCS, but as a whole, the MAC set up perfectly for a BSU season that resulted in more wins than anyone expected.

 
CFBZ: On defense, Ball State must replace a LB trio that combined for over 270 total tackles last season. Who will step into that role?
 

Over the Pylon: That's really the big question this year. Last year folks were worried about the defensive line and defensive backfield and not particularly the linebackers. This year, it's the exact opposite. Julian Boyd,  Ben Ingle, and Chris Calloway are the three juniors set to start at the LB positions, but there are a number of serviceable backups as well, all with playing experience. I would think the linebacking corps will be one of those wide open position battles going into fall camp, one of the few positions where there seems to be some level of competition and no firmly entrenched returner. Whether that speaks to the wealth of talent or the lack of it is the big question.
 
 
CFBZ: Both of Ball State's loses came to the teams that played for the MAC Championship in 2012. What do the Cardinals need to improve if they want to beat those two foes in 2013?

 
Over the Pylon: The Cards lost to Kent and NIU by a combined 14 points and in truth, either of those games could have gone either way. For Kent, BSU lost by 2 on the road, so that game was a virtual toss-up to begin with. The Cardinals get them in the friendly confines at Scheumann Stadium where the outcome will most definitely be different. NIU beat BSU at home last season, so traveling to Dekalb is never a good thing. Couple that with the return of Jordan Lynch and I'd say it's safe to say NIU is the prohibitive favorite for the MAC again. However, with a new head coach and losing two of their top three receivers, there's at least hope. That game is a de facto MAC West championship in the making and it may very well be the traditional MAC Whoever-has-the-ball-last-wins kind of games.
 
 
CFBZ: What will make the 2013 season a success in your eyes?

 
Over the Pylon: I struggle with this question for this team immensely. The schedule for BSU this year is exceptionally favorable, with the out of conference games all winnable. In all honesty, this year is shaping up quite a bit like 2008 with a couple of key exceptions. The similarities are a lack of payday games on the schedule where you trade a loss for a paycheck, the returning skill players at RB, QB, and WR, and a defensive front that is experienced and stout. The differences are that there is a standout MAC team in-division to compete against, no known shutdown defensive back like Sean Baker, and the offensive line isn't as stout as it was in 2008 with nearly every position a 4-year starter. Having said all that, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Cards drop their road contest to UVa and two MAC games (most likely on the road against Northern Illinois and either at home against Toledo or on the road against EMU). 9-3 is an exceptionally conservative prediction, but that will leave me satisfied and with the feeling that BSU football is building a consistent winner. Less than that, and I'll feel a little disappointed, especially considering if Vegas put the odds on BSU wins at 10.5 I'd probably bet the over. 11-1 or *gasp* 12-0 is not out of the question at all with this team.

 

Verdict:

Ball State returns a bunch of skill position players on offense. The issues on offense will come with the offensive line. The offensive line must replace four linemen that logged more than 30 starts each. The only remaining starter is Jordan Hansel (RG) who has started 27 games and in 2012 was third team All-MAC. Besides Hansel, the Cardinals return just six career starts on the OL spread over three different players. There are certainly some great pieces on the offense like Willie Snead (89 rec), Jamill Smith (69 rec), Zane Fakes (57 rec), Jahwan Edwards (1400+ yds rush), Horactio Banks (550+ yds rush as a freshman) and Keith Wenning (65.4% completions, 24 TD) but can the OL protect them and help them like they did last year?

The DL returns it's top three players but needs to be better against the run this season (gave up 5.1 ypc in 2012). As we discussed in the Q&A, the LB corps could be the biggest concern on the team (along with the OL). Losing your top three LBs and your top two tacklers is never a good thing. The secondary returns three of four starters as well as some key back-ups. 

This team returns pretty much intact except for the OL and LB units. The schedule starts off pretty tame. They play Illinois State to start and then they have a game with Army at home and then travel to North Texas and Eastern Michigan. The Army game is the one to watch in that group with the way the Black Knights run the football and the Cardinals issues with the run (and having to replace it's LB corps). Then is the killer stretch of the season- Toledo, at Virginia, Kent State, at WMU. That stretch will decide the season. The final four includes a date on the road with Jordan Lynch and NIU. This looks like an 8 to 9 win team with that stretch in the middle and the early Army game (despite their lackluster record in 2012) as ones I would keep an eye on. This is a team that can challenge for a spot in the MAC Championship but if the OL doesn't come together I could also see them struggle more than some might think based on the personnel that comes back. I'd peg them at 9-3 with the possibility of moving two games in either direction.

 

Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews:

Independent: Georgia StateNavyOld Dominion
MWC- Air ForceSDSU
The American- Memphis
Kevin Causey

About Kevin Causey

dry humorist, beer snob, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Student Section and founder of College Football Zealots

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