2011 Record: (6-6, 4-4 in MAC)
Head Coach: Pete Lembo (85-42 All-Time, 6-6 at BSU)
Last Bowl Game: 2008 Season GMAC Bowl: lost to Tulsa 45-13
Big Name Opponents: 9/8 at Clemson, 9/15 at Indiana, 9/22 vs USF
Stat to Cheer: only allowed 11 sacks (2nd in MAC, 7th in Nation)
Stat to Fear: opponents converted 52.91% of third downs (last in MAC, 118th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 8; Defense: 5; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Travis Freeman (134 tackles, 2.5 sacks), DT Nathan Ollie (42 tackles, 4.5 sacks))
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Jahwan Edwards (786 yds, 11 TD), QB Keith Wenning (19 TD, 11 INT) WR Jamill Smith (40 rec, 2 TD), WR Jack Tomlinson (43 rec, 2 TD), OG Jordan Hansel
Top Recruit: C Josh Smith (Scout.com's #17 C)
Inside Scoop with Over The Pylon:
CFBZ: Ball State had a two game year over year improvement from 2010 to 2011. What is are the overall thoughts on the job Pete Lembo did in year one?
Over The Pylon: Pete Lembo has done an amazing job. Moreso for his work off the field. He's done yeoman's work in program interest, fan support, and marketing. Coach Hoke "got it" and it appears Coach Lembo does as well. On the field it was a marked improvement from the prior year and there's optimism that the progress will continue.
CFBZ: Ball State gave up the most yards and second most points in the MAC. Who needs to step up on defense this season to turn this around?
Over The Pylon: Quite simply the entire unit. The defensive line needs to play considerably stronger than last year and that begins with an anchor up front. Hopefully Nathan Ollie steps up but there's more than enough room for an unexpected performer to step up and in all truth that will have to happen for the defensive unit to be improved. The biggest concern is the safety position where inexperience reigns. Replacing Sean Baker will be a challenge.
CFBZ: What do you see as the most pivital game on the schedule ?
Over The Pylon: NIU. Hands down. The Cards need to prove to fans and recruits that they are a force to be reckoned with in the MAC West and for that to happen, they have to beat Northern Illinois. Selfishly, the IU game would be nice to win for the bragging rights and momentum but that game matters very little in terms of the real priorities like the conference race and becoming bowl eligible.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Over The Pylon: I think it's entirely possible that a marked improvement in effort and performance could very well end up with the same final record. With the increased strength of schedule, I'll be ecstatic about 6-6 with the possibility of 7 or 8 wins a possibility if things go right at the right times. The flip side of that coin is bad luck or injuries brings a 3 or 4 win season into play. As is usually the case with the MAC, often times the final record hinges on just a handful of meaningful games and fluke luck good or bad.
The MAC checked their list twice and when it handed down schedules it determined that Ball State was on the naughty list. There are absolutely no freebies for the Cardinals. No Akron, no UMass and no Buffalo. The closest they get are trips to CMU and Miami (OH) and I think those teams will be improved this season.
I agree with our Ball State expert, that the Cardinals could be a much better team this year but sport the same record. I like what they have coming back on offense with Wenning and Edwards. Phil Steele shows them with the most returning OL starts in the league (115). They should be fine on offense.
Defense is the concern. Second to last in scoring defense in 2011, last in total defense and second to last in giving up plays over 10 yards (217). This is the second year on the job for Lembo and defensive coordinator Jay Bateman so we should start to see improvement but it probably won't come at the pace they need. Look for the Cardinals to be competitive but I don't think they will take a step up in the record department.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
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