The Ball State Cardinals check in at no. 60 in the Rant Sports 100 in 100 Series. Coming off a 9-4 season and a trip to the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, the Cardinals are looking to take the next step and get back to the MAC Championship game for the first time since 2008.
Here’s a look at the key players on both offense and defense that will help them try to get there.
The Cardinals offense will undoubtedly be their strength in 2013. They return nearly all their skill players from an offense that was explosive in 2012. Leading the way will be quarterback Keith Wenning, who threw for 3,095 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, while completing over 65 percent of his passes. He will also have the luxury of throwing to some of his favorite targets once again. Wide receiver Willie Snead returns, hoping to replicate his outstanding numbers from last year. As the Cardinals’ primary target, he totaled 89 catches for 1,148 yards and nine touchdowns.
Ball State will also have two other receiving threats in wide receiver Jamill Smith and tight end Zane Fakes. Smith was second on the team in catches, yards and touchdowns, trailing only Snead. Fakes had 57 catches and five touchdowns from his tight end spot.
The Ball State running attack will also bring back its top two players from last year. Running back Jahwan Edwards ran for 1,410 yards and 14 touchdowns, and added 10 catches out of the backfield. His backup, Horactio Banks ran for another 586 yards and will be back again.
The Ball State defense needs to dramatically improve on its 102nd ranking in total defense from last year. Jonathan Newsome (former Ohio State Buckeye) will be back rushing the quarterback from his defensive end spot where he racked up 8.5 sacks in 2012. Unfortunately, he was really the only bright spot in a front four that struggled with its consistency.
The best unit for this defense last year was its linebackers, but unfortunately, that trio is gone. A whole new crew will have to step in, leaving a lot of questions for a defense that was unspectacular in the first place. The defensive backfield is led by Eric Patterson, who had 61 tackles and two interceptions from his cornerback position.
The out-of-conference schedule for Ball State isn’t as bad as other MAC schools, as they take on Illinois State, Army, North Texas, and Virginia. The trip to Virginia could be a big statement game for this program. A win against any ACC team is big, and Virginia is beatable this year.
Their toughest MAC game will come in November when they travel to take on the defending MAC Champion Northern Illinois.
While Ball State fans are hoping to win the MAC this year, that seems unlikely. The defense will likely get better, but not enough to compete for the MAC title. It’s possible they can repeat the nine-win season, but that won’t be enough to get them into the championship game.
They will have an explosive offense once again, but will have to win shootouts once again.