2013 CFN Preview - Ball State Cardinals
Ball State QB Keith Wenning
Ball State QB Keith Wenning
Posted Jul 20, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Ball State Cardinals

Ball State Cardinals

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Pete Lembo
3rd year: 15-10
13th year overall: 94-46
Returning Lettermen: 39
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Ball State Players
1. QB Keith Wenning, Sr.
2. WR Willie Snead, Jr.
3. WR/KR Jamill Smith, Sr.
4. TE Zane Fakes, Sr.
5. RB Jahwan Edwards, Jr.
6. DE Jonathan Newsome, Sr.
7. OG Jordan Hansel, Sr.
8. RB Horactio Banks, Soph.
9. WR Connor Ryan, Sr.
10. CB Eric Patterson, Jr.
2013 Schedule  
8/29 Illinois State
9/7 Army
9/14 at North Texas
9/21 at Eastern Michigan
9/28 Toledo
10/5 at Virginia
10/12 Kent State
10/19 at Western Michigan
10/26 at Akron
11/6 Central Michigan
11/13 at Northern Illinois
11/20 Miami Univ.
Say this for Ball State football, it's certainly not dull.

Pete Lembo has not only done a nice job with a traditionally mediocre program, but he has made it successful with a terrific offense that puts up lots and lots of points out of necessity. It's one thing to have to get the offense moving to try to win games, but it's another to do it because the defense can't figure out how to stop anyone

At least the D has been consistent under Lembo's watch, allowing 416 points in each of the first two seasons, but the difference has been the improvement for an offense that has the potential to be unstoppable at times with all the skill players back and just enough experience returning up front to keep the music rolling. But while the offense should be even better, the defense, if possible, could struggle even more.

It's not for lack of trying, but the Cardinals simply don't have the defensive playmakers. The line is too small, the linebackers too inexperienced and the secondary too mediocre. However, with great special teams and that great offense, winning two out of the three phases appears to be enough to come up with wins.

So now the goal is to try getting one more big year out of Lembo before he makes the inevitable next move up. He might not be the rising star that Brady Hoke was, but after the problems of the Stan Parrish era for 2009 and 2010, Lembo has quickly turned around the expectations and now it's time to show what his offense can do with everything in place, including experience.

And if the defense can be just a wee bit better, like Hoke did, Lembo might be able to move on – if he does move on - with a MAC title on the résumé.

What to watch for on offense: The emergence of the offensive line. Everything else is in place. Keith Wenning is one of the MAC's best quarterbacks. The running game should be fantastic with the return of Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks. The receiving corps is loaded and the tight ends are terrific. Now it's up to the offensive line to come around in a hurry with several key replacements needed from a group that allowed a miniscule 14 sacks and paved the way for 2,642 rushing yards. Fortunately, getting Illinois State, Army and North Texas to start should give the team front five time to come together.

What to watch for on defense: Will there be any production whatsoever? The Ball State defense was an equal opportunity giver, allowing almost 2,700 rushing yards and over 3,300 through the air. It got stuck in shootouts, couldn't handle running quarterbacks, couldn't deal with pounding offensive lines, and couldn't seem to find anything that consistently worked. It'll start up front; the line has to start generating more pressure.

The team will be far better if … the defense can make more plays. Turnover margin wasn't that big a deal thanks to an offense that didn't give the ball away all that often, but the defense didn't force enough errors with just seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. Amazingly, though, the Cardinal D only forced eight fumbles and got almost all of them. The defense couldn't seem to do anything right last season, and if it's going to be bad again, it at least has to be more aggressive and effective.

The schedule: With Illinois State, Army and a trip to North Texas to start the season, there's a good shot at a nice 3-0 start before getting into MAC play and a date at Eastern Michigan. Eventually, the schedule has to even out with tougher games, and it starts with a home game with Toledo before a trip to Virginia kicks off a run of three road games in four weeks. The date at Northern Illinois makes it four road games in six dates, but there's two weeks off to prepare for the finale against Miami University.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Keith Wenning. The offense has more than its share of stars with receiver Willie Snead and returner/receiver Jamill Smith two of the MAC's most dangerous targets, running back Jahwan Edwards one of the most effective runners and Jordan Hansel one of the better guards, but this is Wenning's show. The veteran is in total command of the attack with a good arm, nice presence and good accuracy. Able to bomb away when needed and keep the offense balanced on a regular basis, he can go toe-to-toe with any opposing quarterback on the slate.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Jonathan Newsome. The Cardinals only came up with 20 sacks on the season and 54 tackles for loss on the year, and Newsome managed to come up with 8.5 of the sacks and 12.5 of the tackles for loss. Quick off the ball and with good closing skills, he might not be a dominant pass rusher, but he's the best Ball State has and one of the few consistent playmakers.

Key player to a successful season: Senior NG Joel Cox. The D needs one strong player to build around, and Cox needs to be it. The nation's 106th-ranked run defense has to be stronger and the play up front has to be better in the backfield. The 288-pound Cox isn't huge, but he has to hold down the fort on the nose and use his quickness to bother the quarterback once in a while.

The season will be a success if … the Cardinals win the West. It's not going to be easy with so many big changes needed on defense, but the offense that managed to beat everyone in the league last season but the two MAC title combatants should be even stronger. After a nine-win regular season was nice, but coming up with a division title this year would be even better.

Key game: Sept. 28 vs. Toledo. It's not a bad thing to get the big divisional game out of the way early. The Northern Illinois road trip in November could turn out to be the bigger deal, but to get there, the Cardinals have to slip past a strong Toledo squad at the end of September to set the tone for the rest of the conference slate. With three road games in the following four, and with that game against the Huskies looming, a home win over the Rockets will be vital.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Punt Return Average: Ball State 11.1 – Opponents 1.0
- Penalties: Opponents 96 for 927 yards – Ball State 61 for 614 yards
- Fumbles: Ball State 13 (lost 7) – Opponents 8 (lost 7)

- 2013 Ball State Preview | 2013 Ball State Offense
- 2013 Ball State Defense | 2013 Ball State Depth Chart