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Ball State Football: 2021 Cardinals Season Preview and Prediction

The Cardinals rank No. 82 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2021
Drew Plitt, Ball State Cardinals Football

Drew Plitt and Ball State look to defend their MAC title

Ball State was the surprise champion of the MAC last season and a repeat title is within reach for coach Mike Neu’s squad. The Cardinals return nearly every major contributor from last year’s group, including quarterback Drew Plitt and receiver Justin Hall. Senior linebacker Brandon Martin anchors a unit that limited teams to 25.8 points a game last season and should be even better in 2021. The September schedule – at Penn State, at Wyoming and Toledo – should be a good barometer for where Neu’s team stacks up next fall.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2021

Previewing Ball State's Offense for 2021

The defending Mid-American Conference champion Cardinals will rely on the experience and leadership of senior All-MAC quarterback Drew Plitt, who returns for his third season as a full-time starter. Plitt ranks fourth all-time at Ball State with 6,520 passing yards in his career. In the 2019 season, Plitt had 2,918 passing yards and a six-TD game against Fordham, and he threw for another 2,164 yards and 17 scores last season.

Plitt has a pair of returning All-MAC receivers to connect with in seniors Justin Hall and Yo'Heinz Tyler. Hall has won All-MAC honors four times and is the FBS active leader in career receptions (257). Tyler caught a touchdown pass in each of the final seven games of 2020 and has a career 16.1 yards per catch average. The real strength of this unit is up front, where Ball State returns its entire starting offensive line. Four-year starters Curtis Blackwell and Kaleb Slaven anchor the group up front. The running back duties are likely to be shared by senior Will Jones and junior Tye Evans.

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Previewing Ball State's Defense for 2021

The Cardinals return nine starters from a unit that allowed 25.8 points per game, fourth in the conference, and led the MAC with 10 interceptions. Four all-conference linebackers lead this experienced group, led by 2020 MAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Brandon Martin, a former running back who racked up 90 tackles in the eight-game 2020 season. Martin was joined on the All-MAC honorees list by fellow linebackers Anthony Ekpe, Christian Albright and Jaylin Thomas. Ekpe's five sacks ranked second in the league last season, while Thomas and all-conference free safety Bryce Cosby are the top two active tacklers in the MAC.

The back side is led by Cosby and senior strong safety Brett Anderson II, who was fourth on the team with 47 stops last season, while senior end Chris Agyemang should create some havoc up front.

Previewing Ball State's Specialists for 2021

Senior Nathan Snyder averaged 43.6 yards per punt last season, and 11 of his 29 punts went 50-plus yards. The kicking duties rest with Jacob Lewis, who knocked in a 51-yard field goal last season as a freshman. Hall averaged 24.6 yards on the dozen kicks he took back last season and should also handle the punt return role.

Final Analysis

If the Cardinals can maintain their momentum from 2020, they should be right in the thick of the MAC title race again. After dropping their opener, the Cardinals rattled off seven straight wins, including a 38–28 victory in the conference title game against No. 23 Buffalo and a dominant 34–13 performance against 19th-ranked San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl, the first bowl win in Ball State program history.

Sixth-year head coach Mike Neu, a former Ball State quarterback, has 16 seniors who took advantage of the opportunity to return for an additional season, and that provides Neu with proven talent at nearly every position. Plitt, Hall and Tyler give Ball State one of the most dangerous aerial attacks in the MAC. Martin, Thomas and Cosby lead an experienced and potent defensive unit. After road trips to Penn State and Wyoming and home dates with Western Illinois and Army, the Cardinals should be poised to make their case as the leaders in the MAC once again.

National Ranking: 82

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