On Saturday, Ball State football fell to Western Kentucky for the second consecutive season. The 28-20 loss concluded the non-conference schedule at a low point for the Cardinals (1-3, 0-0), a far worse result than the impressive Week 1 and Week 2 performances against Central Connecticut and Notre Dame.
The near-upset of Notre Dame put Ball State on a national radar for a couple of days. Now the expectations for Ball State are a little lower, and more realistic, than they were two weeks ago.
So, where should we expect Ball State to finish?
Let’s take a look at the conference schedule:
Week 5: vs Kent State (1-3)
Honestly, Ball State vs. Kent State looked like a terrible game in preseason. Both of these teams were projected to be last in their division, and Kent State was seen as being in a worse position than Ball State, with a first year head coach taking over and starting from scratch.
However, the Golden Flashes have been much better than advertised. Their opener in Champaign against Illinois almost ended in a Kent State victory. After an impressive performance against FCS Howard in Week Two, Kent State got predictably thrashed at Penn State. Last weekend, the Golden Flashes took a trip to the deep south to play Mississippi, and made it a competitive game, as they were within a touchdown until the fourth.
Prediction: Kent State 42, Ball State 35.
Kent State QB Woody Barrett, an Auburn transfer, can run the football (He ran for 117 yards vs Illinois in week one), and that has been Ball State’s defensive weakness this year. I predict that Barrett will have a strong game with his legs and win a shootout, dropping the Cardinals to 1-4.
Week 6: vs Northern Illinois (1-3, 1-0)
Northern Illinois will provide a respite for the Cardinal defense. The Huskies have been a slow offensive team, with the second offense in the nation (14.0 ppg). Their passing game has been the most problematic. QB Marcus Childers has only passed for 200 yards once this year, and the Huskies ran for 6 yards as a team on Saturday against Florida State.
Prediction: Ball State 39, NIU 21
Ball State’s defense will finally get a week to regroup against the offensively challenged Huskies. Ball State’s offense builds off the momentum from Week 5, and puts up solid numbers against a stout NIU defense. The win moves Ball State to 2-4.
Week 7: at Central Michigan (1-3, 0-1)
The season started innocuously for the Chippewas, losing by 15 in Lexington to now-ranked Kentucky. Since that Week 1 loss, CMU has put up 13 points per game. Starting QB Tony Poljan threw 4 INTs against a laughable Kansas team and was benched for Tommy Lazzaro, who threw for only 86 yards against FCS Maine on Saturday. The offense is broken, and Week 6 and 7 will not fix it, as Central Michigan faces Michigan State and undefeated Buffalo before facing the Cardinals.
We have our first starting QB change of the 2018 MAC football season, as CMU decides to go with Tommy Lazzaro as QB1 over Tony Poljan vs. Maine. pic.twitter.com/gAJfG8e9b7
— Hustle Belt: Back in #MACtion (@HustleBelt) September 19, 2018
Prediction: Ball State 20, Central Michigan 13
This game will be not as close as the score indicates, but Central Michigan’s defense will have a solid game, turning the Cardinals over thrice. However, CMU will never smell the lead due to their stagnant offense. With the two-game win streak, Ball State becomes 3-4.
Week 8: vs Eastern Michigan (2-2, 0-1)
Eastern Michigan is one of the best 2-2 teams in college football.
The Eagles flew the MAC Jolly Roger after beating Purdue in Week 2. Their two losses have come against 4-0 Buffalo, and in overtime to San Diego State, who beat No. 23 Arizona State in Week 3.
Eastern cycles between two QBs, Tyler Wiegers and Mike Glass III, both of whom have torn up defenses with differing skill sets. Wiegers as the pocket passer, and Glass III as the dual threat QB.
Prediction: Eastern Michigan 38, Ball State 23
Ball State will have a disappointing Homecoming. Eastern Michigan is simply too talented on both sides of the ball. Ball State is in danger of dropping out of bowl contention at 3-5.
Week 9: at Ohio (1-2, 0-0)
Ohio had eyes on their opening week game for the wrong reasons. Howard came to Athens and took a lead into halftime, only losing by five. On that day, Ohio’s defense struggled to contain QB Caylin Newton, Cam Newton’s brother. Howard totaled over 600 yards that day, and the Ohio defense has not recovered. After a bye week, Virginia put up 552 yards on the Bobcats. On Saturday, Cincinnati, who only scored 21 on Miami(OH), gained 424 yards to get a comeback win at home.
Prediction: Ball State 42, Ohio 35
Ohio’s defense is much too porous for the Cardinals offense. The running backs will be key in this one, rushing for over 250 yards and four scores. Justin Hall will be responsible for the other two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving.
Week 10: at Toledo (1-2, 0-0)
The Rockets are very aptly nicknamed this year, averaging 465 yards per game through three games this season. The defending MAC champions have not skipped a beat. Last week, they put up 63 points in a shootout with Nevada. Toledo lost their 2017 QB Logan Woodside to graduation, but junior Mitchell Guadagni has filled the hole aptly, with a 9:1 TD to INT ratio over the first three games. Ball State gets to 4-5.
Prediction: Toledo 48, Ball State 34
Ball State will have more of a shot than they did last year versus Toledo, but Toledo’s strong passing game will wear down the Cardinals young secondary. Toledo will ride a 24 point fourth quarter to victory. Ball State falls to 4-6.
Week 12: vs Western Michigan (2-2, 0-0)
The Broncos have shown some offensive strength this season (42 points vs Syracuse in their opener), some defensive power (15 points allowed last week vs Georgia State), but overall, Western Michigan has been an inconsistent team, with the defense allowing 55 to a middling ACC team, and 35 points in the first half to Michigan.
Prediction: Ball State 35, Western Michigan 13
Off a bye week, Ball State’s defense will be fresh and the offense will be strong. Western Michigan has fallen off from their P.J. Fleck days, and Ball State will win to get to five wins for the first time since 2014.
Week 13: Miami University (1-3, 1-0)
For the second consecutive season, the Cardinals will conclude their regular season in Oxford against the Redhawks. In Miami’s two games against Power Five conference teams, they scored 3 points in eight quarters of football, but versus more comparable opponents, Bowling Green and Marshall, they scored 66 combined points, mostly due to their strong run game.
Prediction: Ball State 23, Miami 17
This will be the hardest fought win for Ball State. On a cold Tuesday night, Ball State and Miami both have leads in the fourth quarter, but due to Ball State’s strong rush defense, and a long TD run by Malik Dunner, the Cardinals will win to go bowling for the first time since 2014.
You can find all of these games and more, live on SL Digital Radio at mixlr.com/bsusportslink.