It's that time of year again! Time to flip on the TV, settle into the couch and get ready for those weeknight MAC battles! On Thursday, the Ball State Cardinals will pay a visit to the Ohio Bobcats in a key matchup that could have bowl season implications.
The Ohio Bobcats (4-3, 2-1 MAC) are looking to looking to remain within striking distance of Buffalo in the MAC East Division. The Ball State Cardinals (3-5, 2-2) are looking to win three of their last four to become bowl eligible.
Suffice to say the stakes are going to be high under the Thursday night lights.
Ball State at Ohio
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Ohio -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. A couple of solid quarterbacks
Ball State's Riley Neal and Ohio's Nathan Rourke are both very capable signal-callers with two different styles. Neal has that prototypical NFL size and is willing to toss it all over the yard to help his team win. He has thrown for 1,841 yards this season, eclipsing the 250-yard mark four different times. He'll go up against a Bobcats defense that's last in the MAC against the pass. Ohio is giving up 311 yards through the air per game and allowing opposing quarterback to complete 66 percent of their passes.
Rourke is built more like a big running back and can hurt you with his feet. He ran for 912 yards and 21 scores last season. He has rushed for 492 yards and four scores so far in 2018. Statistically speaking, the Cardinals are better than the Bobcats defensively, but have been run on. Against MAC foes, Ball State is surrendering 200 rushing yards per game.
These teams will go as far as their quarterbacks take them. Their contrast in styles will provide some decent entertainment value for the hardcore football fan, especially since it appears they should be able to take advantage of their strengths against these respective defenses.
2. Who can be consistent on offense?
We've seen both of these teams hang big numbers on the scoreboard this season. We've also seen them lay some duds. Neither team appears to have a good enough defense to make up for its respective offense laying an egg. As a result, this game is probably a one-sided blowout or a shootout. The team that is clicking on offense from the start has a big advantage in this one.
Ohio is coming off of a 49-point showing against Bowling Green. While the quality of competition (Falcons are 1-7 overall) certainly helped, it was the second-highest offensive output of the season for the Bobcats in terms of both points and yards. Meanwhile, Ball State enters this game following a 42-20 home loss to Eastern Michigan. The Cardinals are averaging just 20 points over their last three games, all MAC contests.
3. The coaching battle
Make no mistake about it, Ball State head coach Mike Neu is at a disadvantage in this showdown — and he knows it. Frank Solich is one of the most seasoned coaches in the nation, and all he's done throughout his career is win. Neu needs to find a way to exploit some of Ohio's defensive deficiencies with the talent he has in the passing game. If he can find a way to do that, all else will be neutralized and we'll have ourselves a football game.
Ohio brings an effective and balanced offensive attack to the table. That said, the Bobcats give up a lot of yards through the air on defense. Look for Ohio to run the ball and control the clock in an effort to limit the possessions of Riley Neal and the Ball State offense. If the Bobcats can do that and get an early lead, the Cardinals will become one-dimensional on offense, allowing the Ohio defense to pin its ears back and go after Neal. In the end, the playmaking ability of Bobcats quarterback Nathan Rourke will be too much for Ball State's defense to handle.
Prediction: Ohio 34, Ball State 23
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Top photo courtesy of Ohio Athletics)