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
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
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
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)
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.
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: