In honor of Ball State alum David Letterman here are 10 plus people in the BSU football program who have the most at stake in 2012. Just to make it interesting, Coach Pete Lembo is not on this list. The guy has so much job security from last season and great PR moves that he is under no pressure in 2012. Even if the Cards go 3-9 in 2012 I do not see the fan base turning on him over one bad season. There are people who do need a big year and for the sake of pointless arguments here we go.
10. Scott Kovanda, Punter
I hate the moniker “Punter U” that has been placed on the program. It might be the biggest backhanded compliment next to being called a pretty plus-sized model. Is there pressure for Kovanda to live up to the tradition set by Reggie Hodges and Brad Maynard? In terms of a future in the NFL, Kovanda may be the Cardinal in the best position among fellow seniors. If an NFL team wants a punter how much name recognition does Ball State have? Can you imagine some NFL general manager saying in the seventh round, “We need a punter and this Ball State kid has to be good because he went to the holy grail of punting?” We need to get Doug Zaleski to interview Bill Polian to get to the bottom of this important story. Might win a Pulitzer.
9. Efeoghene Scott-Emuakpor and Trey Gardner, Wide Receivers
Who is this year’s Jahwan Edwards to make a big impact on offense as a true freshmen? No one better than Efeoghene Scott-Emuakpor. Don’t know if his name is tougher to spell or pronounce. The hype around Efe is he is 6’3” making him the big receiver the Cardinals desperately missed in 2012. Efe is also a great follow on Twitter.
As for Gardner he was redshirted in 2011 but at 6’4” he should boost the receiving corps as well. I met Gardner in the unfortunate fashion of him trying to dunk a basketball over me in the recreation center. He missed the dunk because of my defense… okay he jumped from too far out. The point is I know from firsthand experience that Gardner has a vertical jump that is terrifying. Hopefully he will use his vertical against other football teams this year and not on me. Such is liberation.
8. Brandon Newman and Jon Newsome, Defensive Line
Newman and Newsome (say that five times fast) transferred from Notre Dame and Ohio State after graduating to the benefit of what may be Ball State’s weakest position. Dropping down from those schools to Muncie is like the NCIS camera crew leaving for Hard Core Pawn on Tru TV. The two did not see much action at their former schools but should be big for the Cards D-line by default. If they can get to the quarterback it will take pressure of the young secondary. Do not forget about Nathan Ollie who had six sacks last year.
7. Kelly Page, Quarterback
Yes, Page is still there. I have never met Page but no one on campus has probably ever been gossiped about more. I want Page to end his senior year on a good note and he still might. If something happens to Wenning how awesome would it be if Page leads the Cardinals to a bowl game. The man fans ripped becomes a hero. I strongly doubt that will happen but it would be a great story. Might be a potential “Rudy” moment for Ball State football this year. Page could have taken the easy way out and transferred to a school closer to his Texas home. He survived Stan Parrish and has a chance to prove his critics wrong if Wenning goes down. I wish him the best.
6. David Feely, Strength and Condition Coach.
Has anyone had more positive press that Feely? Feely made an immediate contribution last season bulking up the Cardinals and it paid off in the opener against IU. Seeing Ball State push around a BCS team, (IU still counts) was the moment when we knew how much Feely meant to the team. If Ball State can continue to get bigger and stronger than a winning season is more than possible.
5. Dan Manick, Kitt O’Brien, Austin Holtz, and Cameron Lowery
The offensive line has been identified by experts as the strength of the team and these four seniors are why. This is Ball State’s most experienced offensive line since the 2008 season. The problem is most MAC teams have experienced offensive lines too so pressure will be on them to make their senior year extra special. Ball State has more juniors than seniors but while the rest of the team will be back in 2013 the offensive line will have to reboot.
4. Travis Freeman, Linebacker
Freeman is hands down the best player on defense and will have to take on the leadership role on that side of the ball. He will have to prove he can captain a defense and not just make tackles. In a defense dominated game, something Ball State is in about once a year, Freeman will have to be the man who saves the day. Sean Baker and Josh Howard are not there anymore to do so. We know he can take a punch, but taking a gauntlet of the MAC’s explosive offenses may be a different story. What are your orders Captain?
3. Willie Snead and JamillSmith, Wide Receivers
In terms of playmakers, these are your guys. Both receivers might be too short to play on the women’s volleyball team, but their speed brings so much to the table. The way Keith Wenning was chucking the ball downfield to these two with success in the spring game made fans excited for season. Snead wants to show off what he can do after being injured most of 2011. Smith wants to make all the other teams eat it after no one in FBS offered him a scholarship coming out of high school. Plus he is a town star. I guarantee you Smith will take part in several trick plays this season as well. Much will depend on their performance in 2012.
2. Keith Wenning, Quarterback
If Snead and Smith hold up their end expect big things from Keith Wenning. He has the talent to light up the scoreboard and flirt with the passing records set by someone named Nate Davis. Expectations may be higher for Wenning than they are for Ball State as a whole. The 2012 season may be when we go from saying, “What an awesome last name,” to “What an awesome quarterback.” Problem is the MAC is loaded with great quarterbacks the way McGalliard Street is loaded with potholes. Wenning can prove he belongs with the elite and we can’t wait for him to do so. No pressure or anything.
1. Jay Bateman, Defensive Coordinator
No one in the football program has more stones than Jay Bateman. Check out this awesome tweet.
Tell us how you really feel Coach Bateman. I like the confidence and I like the fact he broke the streak of defensive coordinators lasting only one season even more. With that said there is pressure and that is not just from the bold predictions. The defense is full of question marks. Virtually everyone outside of Travis Freeman has some form of uncertainty. When a corner blows a coverage fans will not be criticizing the “student athlete,” but the coaching staff does not benefit from such protection. There is no middle ground for Bateman. If the defense defies predictions and stops people, Bateman will look amazing. If the defense gives up more points than the basketball team (it is possible) then it might be time to dial down the rhetoric. It sounds like Bateman’s confidence is similar to Rex Ryan at the New York Jets. Ryan has stones and is not afraid to say anything. When his defense was tearing teams a new one the New York media could not get enough of him. After missing the playoffs in 2011, he is now on the hot seat. Is it fair? No. But it is the life a coach. The revolving door known as defensive coordinator at Ball State University is no exception and I am sure Bateman understands that. I hope Bateman gets his multiple rings. If not, he will at least own one heck of a Twitter account.
Nathan Pace is a 2012 Ball State graduate contributing to OTP and is the new police reporter for the New Castle Courier-Times. If you live in the Big Blue River Valley known as Henry County (who doesn’t) and have a great story idea you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org