A week ago, this looked like it would be a must-win game for Miami (Ohio) (4-7, 3-4 MAC) as the RedHawks needed two victories in their final two games to secure bowl eligibility. A 27-24 loss at the hands of Eastern Michigan on Senior Night, however, washed away their already-slim chances of playing in the postseason. Ultimately, Miami and head coach Chuck Martin can look back at the five losses by just one possession — three of which came to teams with a combined five wins in MAC play — that doomed the team and put to bed any remaining hope in that pipe dream.
When the RedHawks head to Muncie, Indiana, take on Ball State (2-9, 0-7) in the Red Bird Rivalry, there will be some history attached. Just over a year ago, the MAC conferred “protected rivalry” status upon this matchup, meaning that the two teams will play annually moving forward even though they sit in opposite divisions. Miami won last year’s game 21-20 in Oxford, snapping a three-game winning streak by Ball State that dated back to 2008. Even with the Cardinals’ recent success in the matchup, Miami leads 17-12-1 in the all-time series, which originated in 1931.
Miami at Ball State
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN3
Spread: Miami (Ohio) -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Miami’s response to postseason elimination
As Miami finishes the season with at most five wins — if it wins this game — that likely leaves them out of the postseason unless there aren't enough bowl eligible teams (with six wins) to fill all of the spots. Then the RedHawks may be able to get in if they are among the leaders in Academic Progress Rate (APR), the NCAA's team-based metric that measures programs’ success in the classroom and rewards those who excel academically. The biggest question with Miami coming into Tuesday night is how will the team will react to having essentially nothing to play for? Will its electric junior tandem of quarterback Gus Ragland and wide receiver James Gardner come out firing and try to end the year on a positive note? Or will they take a back seat to some younger players to allow them to see game action heading into the offseason?
2. Short rest for the weary
Both of these teams enter the final game of the regular season on short rest, certainly a tough way to finish off what has been a grueling season. Miami last played on Wednesday, with Ball State’s Thursday night game netting the Cardinals one fewer day of preparation. Both the RedHawks’ and Cardinals’ rushing defenses are outside the top 50 nationally, so two already weak units will be tested even more so with a short turnaround. For the Cardinals to pull off the upset and sneak past the RedHawks, it is absolutely imperative that they stop Miami on the ground — especially with how potent Ragland and Gardner can be through the air — something that has been difficult for Ball State all season long.
3. Senior sendoff
This season hasn’t gone the way that the Cardinal faithful in Muncie had hoped, but 11 seniors take the field for the final time in search of a win to close their college careers. With a bowl game out of the picture, this is a chance for those seniors to play one last game at in front of the home fans before graduating — and possibly turning pro. Ball State’s highest-impact player who will be recognized on Senior Night is defensive end Anthony Winbush. Winbush is second and third, respectively, in the FBS in forced fumbles (0.45) and sacks (1.05) per game. If Ball State is to have any chance in this one, its redshirt senior defensive end will have to shine once more.
Both teams have had disappointing second halves to their season, with Miami dropping five of its last seven games and Ball State currently on a nine-game losing skid. With this being Ball State’s final home game in what has been a dismal 2017 campaign, there is certainly a chance that the Cardinals — playing with nothing to lose — explode and make this one competitive. However, Miami is simply too talented, despite what its record might indicate, and should be able to pull out a win.
Prediction: Miami (Ohio) 31, Ball State 14
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Associate Editor of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Top photo courtesy of @MiamiOHFootball)