The fact remains that preseason prognostication is a literal crap shoot. Aside from the ten to fifteen national powerhouses, there are so many intangibles that suggesting the outcome of a season still two months away from fall drills is an exercise in futility. The unknowns far outnumber the knowns in even those national programs. For a conference like the MAC, and a program like Ball State, the “known” is limited basically to the graduating seniors and the current roster. The overwhelming majority of freshmen are not on campus, offseason gains in the weightroom and skillsets are a mystery, and how the schemes and strategy of Pete Lembo will be enacted based on a year of recruiting and progress make BSU an especially difficult entity to try to judge. Let’s complicate that further by the same unknowns with eight of the opponents on the schedule in the MAC contests.
As a whole, the MAC has suffered from a lack of interest and information even during the season. That inequity is magnified in the offseason when unlike the SEC or Big 12 powerhouses, the messageboards are not aflutter with interest and opinion. In true media fashion, interest drives the subject matter, so mainstream media has little benefit of covering the Cardinals past the barebones basics. So for all intents and purposes, until the Eastern Michigan game looms a few weeks away in middle August, the Cards fight an uphill battle to move the needle and demand the proper attention, respect, and information be paid.
It’s because of those inherent and unchanging factors that preseason magazines and preview pieces should be taken with a giant grain of salt. Athl0n picks the Cards 4th in the MAC West? Awesome. Phil Steele says the Cards will hover in the neighborhood of .500 at the end of the year? Ok. I can’t say I agree or disagree with any of it, and therein lies the most concrete example of how the preseason predictions of midmajor conferences and the teams that reside within them are nothing more than bathroom reading without much to be taken seriously.
This isn’t to say the publications themselves are at fault. Quite the contrary actually. If you have 120 tasks on your to-do list, you’re likely to invest the most time and dedication to the tasks that your supervisor is more likely to check. The others get the once over cursory effort to scratch them off the list but it’s basically a given that few, if any, will follow behind and ensure your t’s are crossed and your i’s dotted. Such is the name of the game with Ball State football and the dozens of other programs who occupy a similar piece of real estate in the college football hierarchy.
There simply isn’t enough time for one or a staff of a few to investigate the ins and outs of the program in Muncie. If a mistake is made, a player name misspelled, a starter misidentified, what are the odds it even gets noticed? What are the odds that someone who may notice it would write a terse email explaining just how bad the publication sucks? What are the odds that multiple people would do the same? For the Ball State’s of the world, I’d say we’re closer to none than slim on that wagering line. Let one of those oversights happen to a Notre Dame preview. Let it happen to Alabama. Watch the vitriol-fueled hatred spew forth like a never-ending spring.
I’m not sure there’s even a way to fix it. Hell, I’m supposed to be the “expert” on Ball State football from the fan perspective in the blogosphere and even I have literally no inclination as to the success of the team this year. If future Alan used a time machine to visit me tomorrow and told me the Cardinals would be 2-10 come January 1, I’d be just as not surprised if the same future Alan told me they’d be 10-2 and MAC Champions.
I guess in some weird twisted way, that’s the draw for Ball State football for many of us. That unknown quantity that is just as likely to leave you pulling your hair out as it is to make you pop champagne bottles just makes the whole darn thing that much more exciting. Knowing you’re destined for the top of the conference leads only to satisfaction rather than elation when it happens, and immeasurable amounts of frustration when it doesn’t.
That fun factor, that unknown, that relative football roller coaster makes the ride exciting, but leaves a lot to be desired for the preseason mags. It renders them moot. It renders them borderline irrelevant. They essentially become the summer guilty pleasure reading for the rabid college football fan with nothing else to do. It’s like our very own version of 50 Shades of Grey where starters returning and strength of schedule replaces the handcuffs and spankings. And yes, if you have “Read a BDSM fan fiction turned major bestseller reference on a midmajor college football blog” on your offseason bingo card, you’re well on your way to a four corners win.