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Illinois State a Barometer for the Rest of 2013

With any luck, we'll see this about 10:30 on Thursday.

With any luck, we’ll see this about 10:30 on Thursday.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Here comes another rah-rah type of column from OTP”. Or, if you’re a national sportswriter with a gigantic axe to grind with OTP, you’ll accuse us of “shilling for the administration”. I’d say it’s none of the latter and only some of the former. Excited? Sure. Positive? Yep. Blind faith throwing reality out the window? Nope. Been there, done that in 2009.

On Thursday evening, BSU opens their 2013 campaign against Illinois State in a matchup made for ornithologists as the Redbirds travel to Muncie to take on the Cardinals. It is far from a premier game, white out be damned. The Redbirds (despite being in the top 10 of FCS in some polls) don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents. They’re FCS. We’re FBS. This isn’t insanity. THIS. IS. MUNCIE. (Then we kick someone down a hole if we’re really going for effect)

Detractors of the Cardinals will point to some struggles against recent FBS powers like Liberty and New Hampshire as an indicator that the Cardinals are vulnerable. They’ll say it’s a similar sort of team as 2009 with an unproven offensive line, significant questions on defense, and a top-tier FCS program catching the Cards at the exact right time. Those people are morons. And they probably root for Indiana, which would explain their inability to recognize good football since it’s such a foreign concept for them. For those needing a definitive statement, the differences between 2009 and 2013 for Ball State are the same as the differences between a beat up leather sofa and Kate Upton. Quote me on that, boys and girls.

FBS vs. FCS games don’t get the Vegas treatment with lines or odds, but if you held a gun to my head and made me put a point spread down, I’d say BSU would be favored by 10.5 or so. That’s the line that would make me at least take a beat before taking the Cardinals. So while I do expect a win, it’s the margin that I will look at in terms of guiding my expectations for the remainder of the season.

If Pete Lembo and company come out and lay the wood to Illinois State in a good old-fashioned season-opener throttling, then I will stand even firmer in my prediction that 10 wins in the regular season should be the baseline. If BSU struggles but pulls away late, then I’d say 10 wins or so may be the ceiling rather than the floor. If it’s a last second heroic type win for BSU, then I’m going to invest in Maalox stock because the fanbase is going to have a bumpy ride in 2013. A loss for BSU in the season opener would literally make for one of the hardest weeks on the site and I’m sure a fanbase that overreaction and hyperbole would be the order of the day. Let’s all hope that last one doesn’t happen. I’m not sure I could take it.

Some things I’ll be watching for in this season opener:

  • Protection from the Oline: I know it’s not politically correct to say that FCS and FBS are all that different, but if BSU can’t keep Keith Wenning’s jersey clean against an FCS team (even a good one) then I begin to sweat a bit as the season draws on. Same goes for opening running lanes for Jahwan Edwards. If you can’t get it done against FBS competition, I get nervous. I understand there are FBS transfers on ISU’s roster but this is a team BSU needs to have their way with solely through brute force and exerting their will. Jordan Hansel’s injury and questionable status means there are no returning starters for BSU in the offensive trenches. It’s time to step up, young men.
  • Pressure from the Dline and coverage from the secondary: In a similar sort of vein, if the defensive line fails to capitalize on one of the smaller o-lines they’ll see this season and the secondary can’t throw lockdown coverage on the Redbird passing attack, then it makes me dread the Toledo and Northern Illinois contests further down the schedule.
  • Precision and awareness: In some season openers, teams look anything but crisp, sharp, and ready. Pete Lembo has preached since his arrival the attention to detail that has won the Cards more games than they should have. I fully expect this to be easy to see, but it bears mentioning. A team that struggles with playcalls, getting in correct formations, executing routes, etc. in game one is a team that usually will struggle with that sort of detail work all season.
  • That killer instinct: The best teams don’t ever take their foot off the throttle. That’s what I hope we see on Thursday night. Ideally, the BSU attack is relentless, the defense all-encompassing, and the special teams precise. If there’s a sizable lead, keep on going for the jugular. That sort of instinct is what 2008 had. It’s what 2009 didn’t (among many other things). I want to see players, coaches, fans, and staff with that dog in ’em.

The above four things go the way I expect them to and BSU will blow that fictional line right out of the water.

Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I am blinded by fanlust for the Cards. Maybe I’m ignoring things that I’d point to in another team and say, “This is a problem for these guys and why I question their chance of significant success.” But try as I might, that’s not happening with this team. Positives beget positives. Questions have easy answers. Levels of success we only whisper about are starting to pick up in volume, intensity, and potential. This Cardinals team is going to be something special. And it all starts Thursday night with Illinois State.

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