The MAC East champion Miami (Ohio) will wrap up its regular season with a trip to Indiana to face Ball State on Friday. And while their records may be inverted, the teams are much closer than they might otherwise appear.
The RedHawks (7-4, 6-1 MAC) are having their best season since 2010 thanks to strong play in close games. Miami is riding a five-game winning streak, but four of those were decided by seven points or fewer against losing teams. Call it clutch performance or a bit of luck, but all of their losses have come by three scores or more.
The Cardinals (4-7, 3-4) have had no such luck in tight games. Ball State is on a four-game skid, and the last three have been determined by a total of eight points. With a couple of different bounces, head coach Mike Neu's team could be having a much different season, but a win in the last game of the year would still be good enough to hand the program its best record in six years.
Miami (Ohio) at Ball State
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Ball State -2.5
When Miami (Ohio) Has the Ball
One of the MAC's more pleasant surprises this season has been the play of freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert. Although his completion rate leaves much to be desired (53.2 percent), other numbers, such as his 7.4 yards per attempt, have been respectable. Gabbert struggled last week, finishing with a season-low 4.1 QBR against Akron, but this matchup with Ball State presents a big opportunity for him. The Cardinals rank 101st nationally and are 11th in the MAC in passing defense at 252.1 yards allowed per game.
Gabbert has not found one consistent target, but wideouts Jalen Walker, James Maye, and Dominique Robinson all average more than 20 yards per reception. The backfield duo of Jaylon Bester and Tyre Shelton has also proved effective with a combined 1,038 rushing yards on 204 carries.
When Ball State Has the Ball
Miami (Ohio) may have some intriguing freshman players with promising futures, but Ball State currently has more firepower on offense. The Cardinals' rushing attack ranks 22nd nationally and is spearheaded by junior running back Caleb Huntley. Despite not cracking 100 yards in a game until Week 6, Huntley sits at 1,141 on the season, as he has 418 yards in his last three games and 858 yards in his last seven.
Quarterback Drew Plitt has been one of the MAC's best passers with an impressive 21 touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. Four different pass catchers have posted at least 400 receiving yards, although Miami's 20th-ranked pass defense (191.8 ypg) will make life hard on them.
In a battle of defense (Miami) vs. offense (Ball State), this one should be an entertaining way to wrap up the MAC regular season for both teams. Ball State may not have a bowl game to play for, but the chance to take a conference rival down a peg and top last season's win total is a nice carrot to chase. Expect a lot of Caleb Huntley as the Cardinals try to control the tempo with their biggest strength. And you can forget their records; advanced stats think Ball State is better than Miami even before considering its home-field advantage this week.
Prediction: Ball State 35, Miami (Ohio) 30
(Top photo courtesy of miamiredhawks.com)