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Northern Illinois (0-4) may be coming to Muncie winless on Saturday, but beware. A new season begins this weekend with the initiation of conference play.
While this team has demonstrated less talent than recent Northern Illinois teams, the program has hit another gear within the league.
Northern Illinois has dominated the Mid-American Conference since 2010, collating a record of 44-4 in that span.
Only Central Michigan and Ohio have bested Northern Illinois since its commanding six-year run commenced. That stretch has included six consecutive MAC West titles, including MAC Championships in three of the past five seasons.
The Huskies appeared in the Orange Bowl in 2012, becoming the first MAC team to receive an invitation to a BCS bowl game.
Ball State Head Coach Mike Neu acknowledged his team couldn’t be cautious in approaching Saturday’s game.
“If you want to be a MAC champion, you have to go through Northern Illinois,” Neu said.
Ball State hasn’t defeated Northern Illinois since its undefeated 2008 campaign.
“In my time here, I haven’t played with anyone that has beaten Northern Illinois,” senior tight end Sam Brunner said. “This is a great opportunity for me as a senior and us as a senior class to compete with these guys and hopefully bring back the Bronze Stalk trophy.”
Havoc in the Backfield
Ball State sacked opposing quarterbacks 17 times last year. Through four weeks in 2016, Ball State has equaled that total.
“Coach Daost doesn’t want that out there,” Neu said about his defensive coordinator.
Daost has exceeded potential with personnel relatively unchanged from a season ago.
With a front seven that contributed to a bottom-dwelling defense in 2015, Daost has used similar bodies to power Ball State to lead the nation in sacks and rank 18th in rush defense through four weeks.
Anthony Winbush has led the charge, tallying four sacks. That has freed up first team All-MAC defensive end Josh Posley who leads the team with six tackles for a loss.
When action has sieved into to the second level, the linebackers have mopped up.
Zack Ryan leads the team in tackles and sealed the win against Florida Atlantic with a fourth quarter interception. Sean Wiggins tied a career high with 13 tackles in the win last Saturday.
Strong side linebacker Aaron Taylor has recovered from a fraught junior season. Taylor recorded only 30 stops last year. Currently, he’s third on the team with 26.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Neu said. “They realize it is an emotion game and they feed off each other.”
Recognizing the Champions
It’s Hall of Fame weekend at Ball State. Ball State Football inducts former wide receiver Dante Ridgeway in to the shrine.
Ridgeway played at Ball State for three seasons (2002-04), ending his career as the all-time leading receiver. The St. Louis Rams selected him as the 192nd pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Adding to Ridgeway’s recognition, a pair of Ball State Football’s MAC title teams will be welcomed back.
In 1976, the Cardinals went 4-1 to claim the MAC title outright in the program’s second season as a member of the conference.
In 1996, Ball State lost its first three games of the season, then rallied to win eight straight to close the regular season as MAC Champs.
Led by head coach Bill Lynch – the father of Ball State’s current offensive coordinator Joey Lynch and running backs coach Kevin Lynch – the 1996 team lost to Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl.