BY NICK LAWLER | Ball State Sports Link
“Detroit or Bust” is the phrase being used throughout Cardinal Nation right now as Ball State gears up for its season opener Wednesday.
The season is set to kick off at 7 p.m. from Oxford, Ohio and on CBS Sports Network. Sports Link GameDay starts at 6 p.m. on Twitter (@bsusportslink).
The opponent in that matchup is the reigning Mid-American Conference Champions, Miami. Coaches (and most media) around the league believe Miami will once again be in Detroit fighting for a championship, according to the recent 2020 MAC Football Coaches Preseason Poll.
In the East Division, Miami was selected to finish first with 64 total points, six points greater than second-place selection Buffalo, who checked in with 58 points. Ohio (48), Kent State (42), Bowling Green State (23) and Akron (17) finished in the No. 3-6 spots, respectively.
The RedHawks return 17 position starters, including reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Brett Gabbert at quarterback, from the team that defeated Central Michigan for last year’s title.
“Miami is a rival for us,” BSU head coach Mike Neu said. “And they’re the MAC Champion. We got the Red Bird Rivalry trophy, but they got the ultimate trophy that we want, so our guys have been very focused this week.”
Eight teams received votes to win the annual MAC Football Championship Game between the winners of the West and East Divisions. Miami garnered six votes, while CMU paced just slightly behind with five. Buffalo (4), Toledo (4), WMU (2), Ohio (1), Ball State (1), and Akron (1) also received votes.
In the West Division, where Ball State resides, Toledo was tabbed the preseason poll champion, garnering four first-place votes and 54 total points.
While Ball State was fourth in the West rankings, it lies only four points behind Toledo, who Ball State defeated in a 38-point rout last season, and received a first-place vote for themselves.
With this in mind, it is easy to see why Wednesday’s matchup between Ball State and Miami will be so crucial in deciding the fate of the MAC this season. Make no mistake, these two teams could very well meet again in Detroit in December.
If that wasn’t enough to make this contest intriguing, consider this: When the Cardinals travel to Oxford on Wednesday, Miami will be having their championship ring ceremony, something that will surely be on the minds of those returning players.
Ball State defeated Miami in last season’s finale, snapping their five-game win streak before Miami would eventually defeat Central Michigan in the MAC Championship a week later.
The game epitomized what the Cardinals were truly capable of, complete with a 21-point fourth quarter performance to seal the victory. They will need to dig deep and realize that potential once again to start off this promising season with a massive win.
While Ball State and Miami have closed the season against each other for the past five seasons, the teams do have some history of opening against each other. They have met seven previous times in openers, most recently in 2007, including some memorable BSU wins.
This year, Week 1 marks the only week of scheduled crossover games in the MAC. The remaining five weeks will feature matchups solely against West Division foes in a shortened race to Detroit.