Ball State has a chance to play spoiler when it closes out the regular season against Miami (Ohio). The Cardinals (4-7, 3-4 MAC) know they aren't going to a bowl game, while the RedHawks (5-6, 5-2) still have a chance. In fact, Miami could still win the MAC East Division should it beat Ball State at home on Tuesday night combined with an Ohio victory over Akron and Buffalo loss to Bowling Green on Friday. That's a complicated tiebreaker scenario, but first things first – take care of business at home.
It could be argued that the Cardinals are better than their record indicates. They have lost three games by one score, including a pair of eight-point defeats to current No. 3 Notre Dame and MAC West champion Northern Illinois. Ball State also is coming off of last week's 42-41 overtime victory over Western Michigan.
The RedHawks have won two in a row, beating both the Huskies (13-7) and aforementioned Bobcats (30-28). They also acclimated themselves well on the road against Army (losing 31-30) and the MAC East-leading Bulls (51-42), but it doesn't change the fact Miami still needs one victory to become bowl eligible.
The RedHawks lead the series against the Cardinals 18-12-1 and have won the past two meetings. Also at stake in Tuesday night's game is the Red Bird Rivalry trophy, which was awarded for the first time last year. The rivalry between these schools, which are separated by a little more than 70 miles, dates back to 1931.
Ball State at Miami (Ohio)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
1. Ball State's passing game vs. Miami's pass defense
The Cardinals lead the MAC in passing offense at 254.2 yards per game even though senior Riley Neal has missed the last two games with a knee injury. Sophomore Drew Plitt has stepped in nicely, including throwing for 258 yards and three touchdowns in last week's overtime victory over Western Michigan. He completed an impressive 81 percent of his passes (21 of 26) in that game but he also tossed two interceptions. He will need to minimize the mistakes against the RedHawks' defense, which is sixth in the conference at 205.7 yards per game allowed. Miami has surrendered 20 touchdown passes compared to just six interceptions so if Plitt has time to throw and makes the right decisions, Ball State should have some success through the air.
2. Miami's solid ball security
Part of the RedHawks' success this season can be attributed to turnovers, namely limiting them. Miami is tied for fourth in the MAC with a plus-five margin. In their five wins the RedHawks are plus-six. Last week, Miami not only won the turnover battle against Northern Illinois (+2), Ja'don Rucker-Furlow's pick-six of Huskies quarterback Marcus Childers in the third quarter proved to be the difference in the 13-7 road victory. But the real reason for the RedHawks' high ranking in turnover margin is that they have committed just nine of their own thus far. That is the fewest of any team in the conference and ties them for seventh in the nation. Compare that to Ball State, who has turned it over 20 times in 11 games. Overall the Cardinals are minus-three in the turnover department.
3. Miami's red zone efficiency
The RedHawks have been almost perfect in the red zone this season, coming away with points on 38 of their 39 trips (97.4 percent). That leads the MAC and is topped only by Navy (100 percent) in the entire FBS. And it's not just field goals either, as Miami has scored 30 touchdowns once it gets inside opponents' 20-yard line. That TD percentage (76.92) ties Miami with Clemson for sixth in the nation. This could be a problem for a Ball State defense that ranks ninth in the conference in red zone defense. The Cardinals have allowed opponents to score on 44 of 51 such trips (86.3 percent) with the vast majority of the outcome being a touchdown (36 or 70.6 percent).
Miami (Ohio) is on the doorstep of its second bowl berth in three seasons under head coach Chuck Martin. Even though Ball State leads the MAC in passing offense, the RedHawks have the pieces to keep pace. Both teams have experienced some tough, close losses, but Miami has done a better job of making the most of its conference schedule. The RedHawks have considerably more to play for and won't let this opportunity at home pass them by.
Prediction: Miami (Ohio) 30, Ball State 24
(Top photo by Ricardo Trevino/Miami University)