The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 79 Ball State.
Previewing Ball State’s Offense for 2014:
Ball State bid a bittersweet farewell to four-year starting quarterback Keith Wenning, who walked out the door with 11,402 career passing yards, 92 touchdowns and virtually every other passing record in the school’s book. Wenning led the Cardinals to 19 wins the last two seasons and a pair of bowl bids, but Ball State is still searching for its first bowl victory.
Coach Pete Lembo spent the spring searching for Wenning’s successor. Four youngsters shared the snaps in April, but sophomore Ozzie Mann (nine career attempts) and redshirt freshman Jack Milas earned the right to take the fight into fall camp. “It’s Mann slightly ahead of Milas,” Lembo says. “Ozzie had a solid spring. Jack has a big upside to him. He has the playmaker ‘it’ factor. It should be a good battle.”
Ball State also lost three of its top four receivers, including Willie Snead (106 catches, 1,516 yards, 15 TDs) after he opted to turn pro a year early. Look for Jordan Williams (72-1,050-10) to expand on his monstrous sophomore campaign. “He’s poised for a breakout year,” Lembo says. “He’s got a chance to be special.”
With relatively few veterans returning in the passing game, the Cardinals are more than happy to emphasize a running game that features Jahwan Edwards (1,110 yards) and Horactio Banks (595). Edwards already owns the school record with 39 career rushing scores and needs just 697 yards to claim that career mark as well. He has three stalwart linemen, including third-team All-MAC center Jacob Richard, to blaze paths for him.
“We would be foolish if we didn’t play to the strengths of the unit,” Lembo says.
Previewing Ball State’s Defense for 2014:
When defensive coordinator Jay Bateman moved to take the same role at Army in the offseason, Lembo jumped at the chance to hire Georgetown head coach Kevin Kelly to replace him. Lembo and Kelly coached together at Dartmouth in 1995 and have been close friends since. “He’s a guy I completely trust,” Lembo says. “The trust factor is huge. He’s brought such a great presence to our defense. He’s tried to simplify a few things so our kids can play fast. I like the way this group is playing right now.”
Ball State won’t look significantly different than in years past, though opponents might notice the Cardinals in a few more three-man fronts this fall.
Kelly inherits a strong secondary that features three worthy starters at safety in Brian Jones, Dae’Shaun Hurley and Martez Hester as well as veteran corner Eric Patterson. Second-team All-MAC outside linebacker Ben Ingle ranked third in the league last year with 116 tackles, while sophomore Zack Ryan started every game in the middle last year.
The question marks are along the line as defensive end Nick Miles (five sacks) is the only returning starter. Projected starting nose tackle Carlutorbantu Zaramo injured his knee during spring ball, so he’s not expected to be ready on time.
Previewing Ball State’s Specialists for 2014:
Senior Scott Secor was the top-scoring kicker in the MAC (117 points) last season and drilled 19-of-24 field-goal attempts. Sophomore punter Kyle Schmidt ranked sixth in the league with his 40.9-yard average. The Cardinals must replace splendid returner Jamill Smith and will decide among three different contenders to handle return duties in the fall.
Northern Illinois is the standard-bearer in the MAC West, but nobody in the division has played the Huskies tougher than Ball State. While the Cardinals might not improve their win total for the fourth time in Lembo’s four years at the helm, they appear positioned to stay in the MAC’s elite for years to come.