2011 Ball State Preview
Ball State S Sean Baker
Ball State S Sean Baker
Posted Jun 12, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Ball State Cardinals

Ball State Cardinals

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Pete Lembo
1st year: 0-0
11th year overall: 79-36
Returning Lettermen: 53
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Ball State Players
1. SS Sean Baker, Sr.
2. LB Travis Freeman, Jr.
3. CB Jason Pinkston, Jr.
4. RB/KR Eric Williams, Jr.
5. WR Briggs Orsbon, Sr.
6. WR Jack Tomlinson, Soph.
7. C Kreg Hunter, Sr.
8. QB Keith Wenning, Soph.
9. TE/FB Aaron Mershman, Soph.
10. OT Dan Manick, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Indiana
Sep. 10 at South Florida
Sep. 17 Buffalo
Sep. 24 Army
Oct. 1 at Oklahoma
Oct. 8 Temple
Oct. 15 at Ohio
Oct. 22 Central Michigan
Oct. 29 at Western Michigan
Nov. 5 at Eastern Michigan
Nov. 15 at Northern Illinois
Nov. 25 Toledo

It should be more fun in Muncie, even if Brady Hoke is in Ann Arbor.

The Cardinals struggled over the last two seasons under former head coach Stan Parrish, as Hoke left for San Diego State following the stunning 2008 campaign, but there should be a big leap forward with a new coaching staff, a new energy, and enough veteran players ready to do more after the past two rebuilding seasons.

It wasn't just the loss of Hoke that killed the program; Ball State needed to make some major personnel changes. Nothing really worked for Parrish with no pass rush, a pathetic offense, and a passing game that finished last in the pass-challenged MAC last season. New head man Pete Lembo inherits Parrish's old team with ten starters back on offense, seven returning on defense, and 53 lettermen overall. But he has to prove he take the experience and mix it in with a few new wrinkles to challenge again in the MAC title chase.

Yeah, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, but it's not like Ball State was too far off last year despite the ugliness on offense and all the problems on defense. There are problems if you struggle against Liberty and Eastern Michigan, but the Cardinals should've made both layups and missed in two tight games, losing both by a combined seven points. If they have pulled those out like they would've they'd have finished 6-6. There was also a tough loss in a 31-24 battle at Toledo, but everyone loses games that could go either way; they just don't lose them to Liberty and Eastern Michigan.

Six of the ten losses two years ago were by seven points or fewer, and three of last year's losses were by the same margin. If experienced teams are supposed to win the close games, then there's reason to expect that the trend will go up and Ball State can be on the right side of a few more dogfights.

And now under Lembo the tempo will be faster. The offense will speed things up, it'll try to dictate the pace of games, and the energy should be far better. Veteran players plus a possible schematic advantage – to go Charlie Weis – should mean a stronger season.

On the other side, the defense has just enough talent in key spots to also be far better. After finishing 11th in the MAC against the run, Ball State will be more aggressive – but every new coaching staff says that – and it should sell out more to get into the backfield to keep with the theme of the more active team.

The MAC West will be nasty and the non-conference slate isn't a peach, but at least Ball State will be better and tougher. It might not be back to the Hoke days, but it'll be a step forward from the Parrish era.

What to watch for on offense: Move, move, move and with more passing, passing, passing. Ball State finished a woeful 109th in America in passing offense averaging a pathetic 154 yards per game with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Under Lembo's reign, Elon finished second in the FCS in passing attack. QB Keith Wenning has good size and a decent receiving corps to work with, and now the new coaching staff will make sure everyone is hustling and the tempo is as fast as possible. Wenning will get time to grow into the new job requirements, but he has to prove he can move the chains.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman has to show that things will be different at Ball State than they were at Elon. The Phoenix was terrific against the run two years ago allowing just 104 yards per game while finishing eighth in the FCS in sacks and fourth in total defense. Elon, however, slipped finishing 102nd against the run and was 105th in sacks and 100th in tackles for loss. Considering how pathetic the Ball State line was at getting into the backfield, Bateman will need to prove that his group can get to the quarterback. Everything trickles down from there for a D that needs as many big plays as it can get.

The team will be far better if … the offense can convert on third downs. Only 14 teams were worse at moving the chains than the Cardinals, who only converted 33% of their chances and never seemed to find any offensive consistency. Making it even less forgivable for struggling on the key down was that the running game wasn't bad. The passing attack wasn't put in too many awful situations with several manageable distances. Wenning has to be better and sharper.

The schedule: The Cardinals are hardly taking it easy with the non-conference slate with Indiana, South Florida, and Oklahoma from the BCS conferences, while a home date against Army is hardly a layup. However, this year's team should be just strong enough to beat the Knights, but the bigger deal will to make the two-foot putt against Buffalo in mid-September. Getting Temple from the East isn't a plus, but the bigger problem is in West Division play having to go on the road to face both Western Michigan and Northern Illinois – uh oh. The Cardinals are at home just once from October 15th through November 25th.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Eric Williams. The team needs Wenning to be the best offensive playmaker, but it's Williams who'll balance things out and should be the gamebreaker. He has decent size and phenomenal speed, but now he needs more room to move and more chances to get into the open. While he's a good runner with the potential to be a star in the new offense as a receiver, he's at his best as a kickoff returner.

Best defensive player: Senior S Sean Baker. The tone-setting leader of the defense, Baker is a proven all-star who hits like a ton of bricks and doesn't miss a stop with 243 career tackles. The Cardinal back seven is full of players who can stick, but it's Baker who's the difference maker. Great against the run and better when the ball is in the air, he's the total package.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Keith Wenning. It took a little while, but he eventually started to get the job a little better and started to figure out what he was doing. A good, talented passer, he has the arm strength and the winning résumé to be the one who'll lead the program out of the doldrums, but he needs to be a sure-thing, steady leader for the new offense right away.

The season will be a success if … The Cardinals win five games. Don't expect a major upset against Northern Illinois on the road, and Indiana, Western Michigan, South Florida, and Oklahoma will certainly be losses, but there are just enough winnable games to expect a minor shocker or two on the way to a decent record. The schedule is way too tough to shoot for a winning season, but with so much experience returning the team should be far stronger.

Key game: Oct. 8 vs. Temple. If Ball State can't beat Buffalo in the MAC opener, pack up the truck on anything positive happening over the first half of the season. Assuming a win over the Bulls, it'll be a must to beat the likely best team in the East, the Owls. The Cardinals can't afford to give away any home conference games with four of the next five games on the road, and beating Temple would be a good first half win to build on.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Fourth Quarter Scoring: Opponents 91 – Ball State 44
- Third Down Conversions: Opponents 71-of-167 (43%) – Ball State 50-of-152 (33%)
- Fumbles: Ball State 24 (lost 15) – Opponents 18 (lost 9)

- 2011 Ball State Preview | 2011 Ball State Offense
- 2011 Ball State Defense | 2011 Ball State Depth Chart
- Ball State Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006