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Countdown to NIU

OTP Countdown200Hyperbole in sports is one of the most overused things from a journalism perspective and a marketing slant. Every game is a big one. Every game has an angle that makes it must watch. Every player is a star. Seldom does reality live up to the billing, because most times, it’s just that: fiction forced on the public through a clumsily constructed narrative to ensure plenty of eyeballs and channel clicks to the game in question. Tonight, though, in Dekalb hyperbole isn’t needed one bit. This one is massive and everyone knows it. We don’t need Chris Fowler or Kirk Herbstreit to educate us dimwitted simpletons about why we should watch it. We all know the deal.

When BSU and NIU finish up in the late evening hours of Wednesday night, one of two things will have happened. Either it is a coronation and confirmation of NIU being the current class of the MAC and head and shoulders above their conference brethren, or it will signal a changing of the guard in the MAC with an announcement that one BCS bid a year ago does not a dynasty make. No matter who wins, a statement is made, a program cemented or defined, and a coach’s legacy written in ink. It’s not hyperbole. It’s fact.

The underdog Cardinals come in with a loss on the record, a chip on the shoulder, and no ranking in front of their name. The MAC headlines this season have been almost exclusively about the undefeated Huskies and their Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch. With good reason, too, as Lynch has set records left and right while leading the Huskies to a #15 ranking and a spotless 9-0 record, after taking NIU to the Orange Bowl last season. But down the road in Muncie resides a QB that has rewritten his share of records and defined a program along the way as well. For Keith Wenning, tonight’s contest could be the impressive cherry on an otherwise already impressive sundae. He’s led the Cards back from the brink of irrelevance to what will be their 2nd consecutive bowl at the conclusion of this season. A win tonight means the Cardinals clinch the MAC West and will be vying for the MAC Championship in Detroit on December 6th. Suffice to say, tonight is big. Huge. Massive. Insert your favorite adjective. It’s time to count you down to NIU…

5 Things to Know

  • Surprisingly enough, and even with the recent dominance by NIU, Ball State leads the overall series with the Huskies 20-18-2. However, the road team fares quite well when these two match up. The Cardinals have a 11-8-2 advantage in Dekalb and the Huskies lead 10-9 in Muncie.
  • When it comes to streaks, NIU has a few of the most commanding you’ll find. The Huskies have won 22 straight conference games, dating back to 2011 for the longest in-conference win streak in the nation. The Huskies have also won 24 straight home games, dating back to 2009, meaning the current senior class has never lost a game in Dekalb.
  • Speaking of streaks, if the broadcast coverage is any indication it could be a big night for NIU. The Huskies have won 6 consecutive games of theirs televised on ESPN2. The Deuce has coverage tonight as well.
  • Some offenses start slow and close late while others come out of the gate fast and take their foot off the gas once they can. NIU is neither. The Huskies have scored a touchdown in 12 straight quarters and have put points on the scoreboard in 35 of 36 quarters this season.
  • This is the 6th year that this game has a trophy that is given to the winner in The Bronze Stalk. Since the Bronze Stalk has been created and given, NIU is 4-1, winning the last 4 against BSU. The Cardinals did win the inaugural Bronze Stalk in 2008.

4 Players to Know

  • QB Jordan Lynch – Anyone that follows college football has heard of Jordan Lynch. A dual-threat senior QB that has more career rushing yards than anyone else in college football currently. He’s a Heisman candidate, 21-2 as NIU’s starting QB, and has 22 straight games with a touchdown pass. He’s good, we get it.
  • DT Ken Bishop – Bishop has been named MAC West Defensive Player of the Week twice in the 2013 season, and leads all defensive linemen in tackles, and also picked up his first interception this season as well.
  • S Jimmie Ward – Is tied for 6th in the country with 5 INTs this season and is a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back. He also ranks second on the team in tackles behind Bishop.
  • RB Cameron Stingily – Though clearly the second rushing option behind Lynch, Stingily is extremely capable of creating chaos for the BSU defense. Perhaps most troublesome is his ability to remain upright and gaining after contact, getting 563 of his 784 yards after the first hit. He is also capable of shouldering the load, as he did against Kent State, rushing 37 times for 266 yards.

3 Ways We Win

  • Understand that stopping Jordan Lynch is not possible and limiting him may be hard to do – Jordan Lynch is going to get yards tonight. Mobile QBs usually do against this defensive unit, and he’s quite good. So that means stopping him becomes impossible for a lengthy game. However, stopping him in big spots like critical third downs is doable and needs to happen. Not letting him bust an untouched 70 yard TD would be nice as well.
  • Win the turnover battle – Both these teams are top 15 nationally in turnover margin with BSU at +10 and NIU at +9 for the season. In a shootout as this game may become, possessions are critical and wasting opportunities by turning the ball over puts a team behind the eight ball.
  • Limit penalties and let NIU beat themselves – BSU is one of the least penalized teams in the nation and NIU is one of the most. As we talked about on this week’s OTPcast, when two teams are so similarly built and matched up, it’s often the intangibles that mean the difference between winning and losing. BSU has to limit penalties on their end and allow NIU to make their normal amount, extending Cardinal drives and bettering BSU field position in the process.

2 Cardinal Questions

  • Can Rod Carey and the Huskies beat Pete Lembo three straight times? If I’m an athletic director I take Pete Lembo over Rod Carey every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Tonight, Pete Lembo is facing NIU for the third straight time with the first two being losses. Good coaches don’t lose three straight times to a conference rival.
  • Does Keith Wenning take this opportunity to announce his own excellence to a national audience that may not be familiar with him? The eyes of the nation are going to be all over ESPN2 for this showdown. Most will have already heard of Jordan Lynch. This is Keith Wenning’s opportunity to put his name next to Lynch’s in the conversation of Best MAC QB.

1 Bold Prediction

On this week’s OTPcast, I predicted a very specific outcome, and one that I’ll stick with. I think it’s a back and forth shootout throughout the night with ebbs and flows that may see either team up by 10 to 14 at various points. Inevitably it tightens up and the fourth quarter becomes a shootout in every sense of the word. The final BSU drive gets extended by an NIU penalty and that moves the Cardinals into field goal range for a Scott Secor kick as time expires, winning the game for BSU 52-49 and sending BSU to Detroit for the MAC Championship.

No liveblog tonight for the festivities because I’m going to be a nervous wreck, but you can follow along with us on Twitter here. You can also join us and Friends of the Pylon with the official OTP BSUvNIU Drinking Game found here and tweet us with #BSUDrink. We’ll keep you abreast of the festivities with that hashtag as well. 8pm ET, ESPN2, Go Cards!!

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Countdown to CMU

OTP Countdown200I remember 2008 like it was yesterday. The dread, the worry, the nervousness that surrounded that season’s CMU game was at a threshold we haven’t seen since around OTP. Between Dan LeFevour, what that game meant for what we assumed was a walk to the MAC Championship, and the like combined in a perfect storm of awesome. Hell, that game is what spawned the OTP tradition of breaking out Dancing on the Ceiling from Lionel Richie for big wins. So CMU has had a special place in the collective OTP heart for a little while now.

But this CMU team is not the CMU team of old. After Brian Kelly and Butch Jones left, the reigns were handed to Dan Enos, and short of last season’s one-game-above-.500 finish and a Little Ceasars Bowl berth, the Enos era in CMU has been quite different from the two before it. When Butch Jones took over for Brian Kelly, it was assumed that the Chips would fall back to Earth. They didn’t. Then the worry changed that they never would. So thank God for Enos reminding us all that not all coaches are created equal, some are better than others, and it only takes one person to ruin a decade’s worth of success. That might be a good epitaph to remind Bill Scholl of when it comes time to find the next man to steer the ship.

Tonight, a 3-5 CMU Chippewa team comes to Muncie with hopes of pulling the upset and making some noise in advance of the OH MY SWEET MOTHER OF GOD, BIGGEST GAME EVER next week between BSU and NIU. But hopes are a dangerous thing when traveling to the snake pit known as Scheumann Stadium. Time to count you down to CMU…

5 Things You Should Know

  • Though many fans remember the neck and neck feeling that BSU & CMU had in 2008, since then, the Cards have owned the Chips. The overall series the Cards lead by one (12-11-1) but BSU has one four of the last five against Central. The only loss was in 2009 as CMU was en route to a MAC Championship and BSU was in season one of the Parrish era.
  • CMU will certainly be well-rested at kickoff. The Chips haven’t played since October 19th. Their bye week was the Saturday before the off Saturday before mid-week play started and that calendar oddity means that the Chips will either be rusted or rested, or perhaps a combination of both.
  • Home may be where the heart is but CMU may have forgotten that fact. Tonight’s BSU contest is the 4th road game in a 5 game stretch for the Chips. Though the MAC footprint isn’t huge, they also had a trip to NC State thrown into trips to Oxford, Athens, and now Muncie. Hope they got frequent flier points for all that travel.
  • The Chips may have three wins, but could easily have lost them all. Central Michigan’s three wins this season include an FCS victory and were by a cumulative total of 18 points. Their FBS wins (Miami and Ohio) have a combined record of 6-12 with all 6 of the wins belonging to Ohio who just got bludgeoned on national television last night against Buffalo.
  • CMU’s staff and roster is all about the mitten. 73 of their players hail from the state of Michigan, and 7 members of their coaching staff went to college in the state. It does raise an interesting question of how CMU has fallen off so quickly after the departure of Butch Jones. Dan Enos did go to the Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl last year with a 7-6 overall record, but his first two seasons were 3-9 debacles and this season is off to a 3-5 start. With a recruiting base like Michigan you’d think the Chips would at least be somewhat better on a more consistent basis.

4 Players You Should Know

  • RB Saylor Lavallii – Normally, I’m skeptical of people with consecutive multiples of the same letter in their name. With Lavallii it’s back to back so clearly we need to BURN THIS WITCH AT THE STAKE. Saylor is filling in for Zurlon Tipton who  broke his ankle earlier this season and has done so admirably well. He’s 11th in the country in carries and 6th in the MAC and 27th nationally in yards. He’s sort of a poor man’s Quake Edwards capable of 100 yards+ and multiple scores.
  • WR Titus Davis – Everyone remembers (or should) former Chip Antonio Brown who now suits up for the Steelers and their handsy QB, but Davis should pass Brown this season on the all-time scoring list at CMU. He’s a deep ball threat and is capable of torching BSU’s secondary if special attention is not paid to him.
  • QB Cooper Rush – Apparently the next version of Dan LeFevour without the legs, Rush is a passing threat that as a freshman has already put up a 300 yard game this season. He’s fourth in the MAC in passing for 2013 and considering the names above him, that’s impressive.
  • S Kavon Frazier – Frazier made a name for himself and earned MAC West Defensive Player of the Week honors in the process when the Chips upset Ohio. On two consecutive Bobcat possessions, he forced a fumble and an interception respectively, stopping the OU drives and allowing CMU the upset opportunity that they capitalized on. It would seem to me for CMU to pull a similar upset this evening, Frazier and the CMU defense will have to put the brakes on BSU’s offensive onslaught via the same sort of way.

3 Ways We Win

  • The offense plays like the offense usually plays – Though it sounds eerily simplistic, if the offense performs as it has all season with limited errors and virtually no penalties, the opportunities to pull an upset go down dramatically. Central isn’t a team that can go toe to toe with BSU, both at their best, and come out on the other side. Factor in the anticipated weather issues, and BSU cannot let CMU think they have a chance.
  • Pressure Rush and hope he cracks – I don’t think it’s a significant secret that BSU’s defensive unit can be a bit porous at times. As is often the case in the MAC, give receivers enough time to get open and QBs enough time to find them and pretty points ensue. It’s the definition of MACtion. How that’s stopped is pressure up front. The defensive front of BSU should have their chances tonight to create ill-timed and ill-advised throws from a redshirt freshman QB, one whom may find himself introduced repetitively to Messrs Newsome, Ollie, Cox, and Miles.
  • The weather gets ugly – I’ve heard fans today talk about how the poor weather impacts the passing game, and I don’t disagree with that. However, if it’s a slobber knocker of a mudbowl, that means rushing is the only way to move the ball with any sort of consistency. I’ll take the BSU offensive line and Edwards/Banks/Williamson over CMU any day of the week. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s a good one all the same.

2 Cardinal Questions

  • If the passing game becomes a viable option tonight, which receiver steps up? Each game this season it seems like a different receiver has had a monster game, highlight catch, or statistical break out. Willie Snead is the easy choice, and Jordan Williams and Zane Fakes have had their moments recently, so tonight, I’m looking for Jamil Smith to blow the doors off via a punt return or a busted coverage deep route. Smith has been quiet for a bit, and it’s time he announce his presence with authority. Don’t write off the fact that CMU has a strong legged punter in Richie Hogan, who with the wind may outkick his coverage. Big chance for Jamil to bust one.
  • Who on defense is going to capitalize the most on an inexperienced QB with less than ideal conditions? Whether the front seven records sacks and tackles for loss or the secondary capitalizes on rushed throws or wet balls, someone on this defense has got to step up tonight for the Cardinals to avoid the upset. I’ll go with Ben Ingle having a monster night, as the offensive line for CMU will be so concerned with the defensive line he may get several free shots from the weakside.

1 Bold Prediction

On this week’s OTPcast, I predicted 48-30 and I’ll stick with that spread, but significantly reduce the total points. The rain isn’t going to help the MACtion get turned up to 11, and Jason’s prediction of 26-17 seems a bit more likely in terms of the points scored. I would expect the Cards to adapt quickly to whatever mother nature may throw on them, and utilize one of the many gameplans that Lembo and Skrosky have thought through given variables like wind and rain. If the weather truly does limit an offense’s attack, that benefits BSU’s defense considerably, as they can key on just the run. So given the deluge of cats and dogs it may dump in Muncie tonight, I’ll scale back the score but not the optimism. 35 – 17 Cards and isn’t really that close.

No Cardinal Liveblog tonight as it is a homegame, but you can follow our pithy commentary on the game via our Twitter feed, which you should be following already. It’s the best Twitter feed around. About Ball State football. Follow us here.

Countdown to Toledo

OTP Countdown200The term “must win” gets thrown around an awful lot in the sporting world, and most times those “must win” moments are being oversold. I struggle to say the Ball State versus Toledo showdown on Saturday is a must win game for the Cards, but I would say it’s awfully important in the grand scheme of this season if the Cards are to have a chance at the MAC Championship. When 2013 opened, I said there were two games that would ultimately define the season and keep the title hopes alive for this season, those being Toledo and Northern Illinois. And lo and behold, Toledo is this weekend, now less than 24 hours away. NIU is what people are talking about and what the experts are pointing to, but Toledo is as important and up first. A win and the NIU game may very well be a de facto MAC West Championship game. A loss and it’s not lights out for the championship hopes, but it’s certainly on life support. Time to count you down to Toledo…

5 Things You Should Know

  • In somewhat surprising news to me, Toledo and the Cardinals are historically neck and neck. The Rockets hold a 19-18-1 record over the Cards but have won three of the last four. The good news is Pete Lembo is .500 against the Rockets, and his win over them in 2012 snapped a three-game series win streak for Toledo. The other bit of good news is that the Rockets trail the series when it is in Muncie, with an 8-11 record.
  • Toledo certainly keeps their QB’s jersey clean. The Rockets are 2nd in the nation in sacks allowed at just two total on the season. And that’s after having opened their season against two SEC schools (Florida & Missouri) on the road. The offensive line for Toledo, coupled with QB Terrance Owens’ escapability and mobility, make the Rockets a difficult challenge for the d-line of the Cardinals.
  • Toledo’s run game should worry you as much as their protection. Rocket running back David Fluellen gained 197 yards and two scores last week against Central Michigan as the Rockets picked up their first MAC win. He’s a shifty back that in some respects reminds me of a poor man’s Quale Lewis. Not quite as contact seeking as Quale, but violent cuts and following his blockers do remind me a bit of Lewis.
  • In a bit of good news in terms of what the BSU offense will be lining up against, the Toledo defense is talented but relatively unproven. There are 13 freshmen or sophomores in the 22-man two-deep roster for Toledo and as they cycle in to the game in spot relief, BSU will need to take advantage of their inexperience. As we’ve seen in games before, Wilie Snead and Jamil Smith create matchup nightmares for untested and unproven secondaries. Let’s hope it continues Saturday.
  • If you’re at all close to Muncie, this is a game you should be moving heaven and earth to get to in person. In the two games at the Scheu, attendance dropped by 8% from the season opener to the second game, and considering the first game was a Thursday that’s surprising. The weather in Muncie this weekend is supposed to be absolutely picture perfect, and a large crowd is needed. For those that want a championship product on the field it’s time to have a championship product in the stands. My hope is we see around 18k. I’m optimistic that happens.

4 Players You Should Know

  • QB Terrance Owens – Though Toledo’s run game causes a bit of worry, their passing attack is their bread and butter and Owens is what makes that possible. He’s third all-time on the Toledo passing touchdown list, and will finish his career in second barring some sort of freak injury.
  • WR Bernard Reedy – This senior is currently fifth in receiving yards in UT history and could feasibly be in second by the time he graduates. He’s also 8th all-time in receptions and is a favorite target of Owens. At 5’9″, he isn’t tremendously taller than the defensive backs he’ll be facing, but his speed and hands make him a dangerous weapon, a la Jamil Smith.
  • RB David Fluellen – We mentioned Fluellen above, thanks largely to his monster game last week against CMU. I think most everyone would agree that even with our defensive struggles early this season, the Cards’ defense is significantly better than the Chips. So while a 200-yard performance may not be the goal, Fluellen will be just enough of a threat to keep the defense on their toes and facing a balanced attack.
  • DT Jayrone Elliott – Anchoring that young and inexperienced defense is this senior defensive tackle who has made life challenging for opposing offenses in this young season. Through only four games, Elliott already has five tackles for loss and three sacks and has surpassed his season total for tackles from last year. If there was a Toledo defensive player capable of making the day go poorly for Keith Wenning and the offense, Elliott is the guy.

3 Ways We Win

  • Force Toledo to pick either run or pass, not both – The defense for the Cards is serviceable when it can force an opponent to pick their poison. The teams that are balanced and methodical are the ones that have given BSU fits over the years. Throw in the big play capability of Owens and his receivers and that’s an issue.
  • The offense has a few long and sustained drives – The quick scores are great and they are great fun, but they don’t allow the defense much time to catch their breath and may very well be the lion’s share of the reason why the defense drops off a bit in the second half. The one thing missing from the BSU battle plan so far this season has been an ability to just march it down the field a little at time and punch it in. Those kinds of drives grind a defense down, and to do it against Toledo is big.
  • Capitalize on scoring opportunities when they present themselves – First and foremost, the special teams need to be special. No missed extra points, no missed field goals. Speaking of field goals, when BSU hits the red zone it needs to be for 6, not 3. This game doesn’t seem like one that will come down to whoever scores 50 first or whoever has the ball last, but if it does, those points matter. Make ’em count.

2 Cardinal Questions

  • Which BSU defense is going to show up? Is it the defense we saw against Army or the defense we saw against North Texas? I’d even settle for something in the middle a la Illinois State.
  • Who turns the ball over? As turnovers go, so will go this game. Both teams are capable of creating turnovers, so whoever does it more and capitalizes most will be in the driver’s seat.

1 Bold Prediction

I would be lying if I said this game didn’t at least make me a little nervous. Part of that is because of what it could mean for this program and its future. A victory means the Cards are one step closer to the MAC West title and the opportunity to play for the MAC Championship in December and that is an exciting and scary thought all at the same time. Could it be that in just year three under the leadership of Pete Lembo the Cardinals are title contenders? Yes, they are. The first step of that contending comes Saturday, where I think the Cards use a raucous crowd to drive them onward to victory. Another 300 yards for Keith, another 100 for Quake, another W for BSU. 31-21 good guys.

Countdown to Eastern Michigan

OTP Countdown200To me, the most interesting thing in the college football world is the case study of a fanbase after the first loss of the season. In my mind, there’s no better barometer to tell you how fans self-evaluate the importance of their football program than their reaction after the first “L” goes on the books in a young season. The pessimists will gather their angry mobs on messageboards and radio shows and demand that the coach be beaten, fired, then beaten again. It matters little to those people who beat them, just that a loss occurred, and by God, someone had better pay for it (See: Georgia). There’s the Eeyores of the bunch who trudge away from a loss with their collective heads held low, feet shuffling, and a “Well, we knew that was going to happen” (See: Kentucky). Then there’s the conspiracy theorists about how the officials screwed them, the locker room was too hot, the other team played dirty, etc. (See: Indiana). It takes a special program to combine all of them into one fanbase for a week, but that’s exactly where BSU has found itself.

But you know what cures those ills better than anything else? Alcohol. But if that’s not an option because it’s Friday morning and you have to work, then the next best thing is a beatable opponent to take the focus on the bad and back on the good, of which there is plenty. Because of that, it’s time to Countdown to Eastern Michigan!

5 Things You Should Know

  • Eastern Michigan does have a 1-2 record, but that record wasn’t earned against schmucks. EMU’s two losses were on the road, against Rutgers and Penn State, and neither were blowouts. I’m wary of using the margin of victory against a team to somehow justify a loss, but the fact remains that though this EMU team may very well be awful, their record (and statistics) just don’t show it conclusively.
  • The storyline for this game from some will be former BSU head coach Stan Parrish now serving as EMU’s offensive coordinator. While troubling, what’s even more so is the connection between BSU and EMU GA Michael Switzer. Whereas Parrish and offensive line coach Brad Wilson simply worked/played at BSU, Switzer is perhaps the most dangerous connection when it comes to counterintelligence. Switzer is well-versed in Lembo’s schematics and was a 2012 captain for BSU. If there was ever anyone who knew the ins and outs of the Lembo/Skrosky offense and how to beat it, it’s him.
  • In some respects, EMU’s defense is feast or famine. The Eagles run a blitz heavy defensive package that either allows for opportunities for the opposing offense or creates sack opportunities for EMU. The Eagles are 9th nationally in sacks, so suffice to say, keeping Keith Wenning protected is a fairly big bullet point on the Cardinals’ to-do list.
  • Parrish’s impact is being felt almost immediately as EMU has suddenly drifted away from the power running game they were known for and instead now air it out. Last week saw the Eagles throw for 335 yards against Rutgers which certainly kept them in the game. The Parrish offense is reliant almost entirely on a QB capable of airing it out and making plays. Whether Tyler Benz is capable of that on a consistent basis remains to be seen, but doing it against Rutgers would seem to indicate he is.
  • Like last week, OTP will be running a Liveblog for the contest beginning at 12:30 Saturday. It’s a good time to discuss the goings on of the game with fellow Cardinal fans, and if last week was any indication, critique our student media. It’s a hoot and a half and kicks off at 12:30 here at OTP.

4 Players to Know

  • QB Tyler Benz – As mentioned above, Benz is in the driver’s seat of the Parrish system and it’s made a big difference for him through three games. He’s certainly capable of airing it out, but the question is whether he’s capable of doing it consistently and accurately. His completion percentage would say that’s the case, as he’s yet to have a game under 60% but he’s also thrown two INTs. Truthfully, the game Saturday may very well come down to Benz and whether or not he can beat the Cards through the air.
  • RB Bronson Hill – For a team that’s long been known as a run first football program, no one has to be more flummoxed by the shift to a pass first spread than Bronson Hill. With only 169 yards through three games, that’s not the kind of output EMU or Hill is used to. His average yards per carry is a shade north of 3, so he is someone BSU needs to be aware of.
  • LB Hunter Matt – Matt certainly announced his presence with authority at Penn State, as the sophomore recorded two sacks, forced a fumble, recovered it, and then scored with it. Not a bad day at a giant office.
  • TE Tyreese Russell – Russell caught nine passes on Saturday against Rutgers, so Jay Bateman may want to let his defense know about this fella. As we saw when Parrish was here as our offensive coordinator, the tight end position is a vital one to the success of his offense. As Benz gets more familiar with it, that position and Russell’s impact will only grow.

3 Ways We Win

  • The mistakes of last week turn out to be a one-week anomaly. Suffice to say, the easiest way to win would be to limit things like injuries, penalties, and turnovers. Perhaps that simplicity is why I never made it as a football coach. Though “Don’t turn the ball over, don’t get hurt, don’t make mistakes” always seemed like a solid gameplan to me.
  • The defense forces EMU to either run it or pass it, preferably run it. The thing that BSU’s defense seems to struggle with, like most teams, is versatile teams that don’t necessarily have a tendency or a trend. Teams that you can pinpoint what they’re doing (like Army), BSU does well against. They also struggle with versatile QBs, not that Benz is one of those, so slanting the opposition’s production to one particular method would be awesome.
  • BSU plays like BSU and EMU plays like EMU. At its most basic point, this is a game between a good football team and one that isn’t. Some Saturdays, that doesn’t matter as upsets are known to happen, but when the rubber hits the road, if this game is played 10 times, BSU wins 8 of them easy. If both teams play to potential then the Cards win going away. But that’s a massive qualifier at the front of that statement.

2 Cardinal Questions

  • With Jahwan Edwards back does the BSU offense change all that much? In the games that Quake sat out, Horactio Banks was certainly productive, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that BSU seemed more pass heavy than normal against the likes of North Texas and Army. Once an offense establishes an identity it’s hard to reboot mid-season, but I would think a return to the balanced attack of years past is coming and I am tremendously grateful for that. The offense has slowly gone done in production from 51 to 40 to 27 and this will be arguably the best defense they will have faced.
  • What kind of aggression will we see at the line of scrimmage? This EMU team has made its bones so far this season making life difficult for opposing QBs. The BSU offensive line has performed well this season, but not necessarily dominant. That has to change on Saturday. Same goes for the defensive front. At times, the likes of Ollie, Cox, Newsome, and Miles have looked like a formidable group. Other times? Not so much. The line play on both sides has to improve.

1 Bold Prediction

On the OTPcast this week, I said that there was something about this pending contest that was giving me a bit of the willies for no particular reason. After some significant hemming and hawing, I picked the Cards to win by a point. One single solitary point against the EMU Eagles. I can’t do that again, and like Lee Corso, I’m about to drop a “Not So Fast My Friend” on myself. For two games this season, BSU looked like world beaters. Even if that was a combination of their talent and an overmatched opponent, they still looked like a significantly good football team. Last Saturday, that wasn’t the case, for three quarters. Finally this season, the coaching staff has had a week full of learning opportunities and the players’ attention. Throw in that it’s the conference opener and against some familiar faces in EMU that stir up some considerable emotion in some players, fans, and staff and I think the intangibles are just too much. Call me nuts, but I’ll go with BSU 42 EMU 21, and that’s with Lembo being gracious and taking his foot off the gas midway through the 4th.

Countdown to North Texas

North_Texas_LOGO360They always say the first road game of the season is when a team can define themselves and what is possible for the remainder of the year. It was only a few years ago when that “first road game” was a foregone conclusion and that an eminent beatdown at the hands of a top-tier program left us all wanting an injury-free game as we took our payday shellacking at the Michigans, Nebraskas, and Floridas of the world. The last few seasons’ first road trips have been a bit different as the Cards have made winnable trips to the likes of Indiana, Army, etc. and this season’s first road trip sees the Cards take flight to Denton, TX to battle the North Texas Mean Green. It’s time to countdown to UNT!

5 Things You Should Know

  • Normally, the first bullet point on the list is the most important thing to know. This week, the most important thing to know is that not much is known at all about the Mean Green from UNT. Their first contest against Idaho was, in my mind, a completely unusable point of evidence. Not only was it the first game, it was against arguably the worst team in the FBS division. The next week they went on the road (their first road game) and lost to Ohio. Closely. After coming back and making it a game. Are they a team capable of competing in the MAC and thus capable of giving a game to BSU? Was it a fluke comeback because Ohio took their foot off the gas? I don’t know. You don’t either. And that’s what’s infinitely worrisome about this contest.
  • This is the first time the Cards will travel to UNT, but not the first time they will play the Mean Green. Remember 2009? If you have blocked it out as I advised you to do, you may have forgotten that North Texas beat the Cards at the Scheu to effectively whip the fanbase into an angry mob directed at everyone associated with the program. But, as I always say, there is no dish quite like revenge, served in your own kitchen. Coach Lembo has been cleaning up the last regime’s stench for the last couple years. Might as well take care of this, too, while he’s at it.
  • Ball State may be Punter U, but North Texas could make the claim they’re Punt Returner U (at least for this season). Brelan Chancellor leads the nation in punt return average at 34.5 yards per return. So there’s that.
  • It will be a match of wills when the Cards hit the red zone as it is one of those strength-versus-strength situations. BSU is #1 in the nation in red zone efficiency for the offense and North Texas is 4th in the nation on defensive efficiency when their opponents hit the red zone. As we mentioned, the opponents they have played may have had a bit to do with their stats being a tad misleading. This weekend that 4th-best ranking can be put to the test.
  • Even though it’s on the road, BSU fans still have plenty of ways to feel connected to the game. To match your viewing experience on the television, we’ll be running a trademark OTP Liveblog tomorrow for this game. The game kicks off at 4:00 on Fox Sports Net and our Liveblog will be up and running an hour before at 3:00. For those that have been a part of the Liveblog experience, it’s always a ridiculous good time and this one is sure to meet those expectations as well.

4 Players You Should Know

  • QB Derek Thompson – A three-year starter, he’s the engine for the offense. He’s five completions and 51 passing yards away from being in the Top 5 in eight different offensive categories. Talented North Texas quarterbacks scare me as Riley Dodge still gives me nightmares after 2009.
  • OL Cyril Lemon – This space eater has started all 24 games of his freshman and sophomore years. That’s rare. Which means, he’s also pretty good. Really, the whole offensive line is experienced with three of the five starters having 25+ starts under their belt. Lemon just gets the nod because of his awesome nickname of “Rev”.
  •  MLB Zach Orr – For a CUSA player to be named to the Lombardi Award Watch List is decent. To follow that announcement with two games with double-digit tackles, that’s solid. Orr’s bloodline is a good one, the son of former Washington Redskin Terry Orr, and he is of utmost importance for the offensive line to keep an eye on.
  • S Marcus Trice – Second on the team in tackles, Trice is also capable of picking off passes and looking for the end zone after he does. He will likely have the unenviable task of being the deep protection for Willie Snead go routes and how he is able to perform will ultimately lead to BSU offensive success or retooling.

3 Ways We Win

  • Start with our foot on the gas pedal and never remove it – North Texas in each of their last two games has allowed an opening drive TD for their opponent and has trailed before their offense has even touched the ball. If Idaho and Ohio can do it, then this BSU team is certainly capable of it as well. For BSU, in similar fashion, they have allowed their opponents to score first in each of the first two games. So someone’s streak is getting busted. Unless it’s a 0-0 tie that goes on forever. And boy, would that suck.
  • Avoid the need for defensive adjustments and gumption midway through the game – The hallmark of the first two wins was a porous defense to start and adjustments made to it after the bloodletting. In the season opener, it was after halftime. Last week saw a defensive improvement after only one drive. How sweet it would be for the defense to come out guns blazing and have no need for the in-game adjustments that led to this 2-0 start?
  • Leave no points on the field – Pete Lembo has made a habit of excelling in special teams and penalties during his time in Muncie. I’d say when you’re playing your first road game, that’s even more important. BSU cannot afford to stall drives with penalties or create unfavorable down and distances of their own accord. That’s obviously a bullet point every week, but doubly so on the road.

2 Cardinal Questions

  • What is the injury situation with Jonathan Newsome and Jahwan Edwards? Both are listed as questionable on the depth chart this week and both are extremely needed. Newsome more so than Edwards if only because that NT offensive line is experienced and talented. If both are out, then it becomes critical for Horactio Banks to turn in another solid performance and open up the passing game for Wenning and company.
  • What kind of environment will BSU face in Denton? Unlike BSU teams of years past, this team hasn’t had an experience like a Michigan or Nebraska to make everything else pale in comparison. The seniors had Auburn, but that’s a small number of the team. At the season opener, UNT drew 22,000 to Apogee Stadium and that was for Idaho which has approximately 38 fans and none of them travel. It’s entirely possible that 27,000 people could be there for this game, most of them Mean Green faithful, and based on the few Texans I know they take their football rather seriously. Remember Lance Harbor’s dad?

1 Bold Prediction

These are the games that worry me. Not that I trust Las Vegas or people who bet there, but usually strange things are afoot when my heart and head are so different from what the “experts” who make the books deem to be a viable point spread. When the line opened at -3.5 for the Cardinals, I was shocked. I expected at bare minimum a double-digit favorite status for the Fighting Football Cards in the face of the Meanness and Greenness from UNT. North Texas is a relative unknown, having beaten a terrible Idaho team and losing to Ohio but making a game of it. That was also on the road. But at some point, unlike 2009, talent and skill has to win out, and it does this Saturday. BSU handles North Texas thanks to another stellar afternoon by Keith Wenning en route to a 38-17 victory moving the Cards to 3-0 before they open conference play next week.

Countdown to Illinois State

OTP Countdown200It’s the season opener in Muncie, one of about six days (all football gamedays) per year I long to be back in Muncie. But just because physically I’m not in East Central Indiana doesn’t mean my mind hasn’t been there all day. Finally, it’s time. It’s time for Ball State to take the field for what could be a ridiculously special season. It’s time for Keith Wenning to put his stamp on the program’s record book. It’s time for Pete Lembo to cement his reputation as “The Man” to hire when rebuilding is needed at your major program. It’s time for all that and more. But now, it’s time to Countdown to Illinois State.

5 Things You Should Know

  1. Illinois State and Ball State have met quite a few times before. BSU topped ISU 45-30 at Scheumann Stadium before it was named Scheumann Stadium in 1993 in the most recent meeting of the two squads. Overall, BSU leads the series 11-5 and has won seven straight.
  2. ISU is not your run of the mill bottom feeding FCS program. They are currently ranked 10th in the FCS Coaches Poll, were a FCS quarterfinalist last season, and they also beat an FBS program on the road. (Though in fairness it was EMU, so that’s a borderline FBS program at best) Either way, it means this isn’t a program struggling to find matching cleats and shoulder pads without missing straps. They know what they’re doing.
  3. This an extremely experienced ISU team. Out of the starting 22, only 4 are sophomores and none are freshmen. The rest are juniors and seniors and many have FBS experience after transferring into ISU. The schools from which those players came range from powers like Oklahoma, Michigan State, and Ohio State. There’s even a former Ball Stater in WR Phil Dudley, who is expected to start tonight.
  4. ISU head coach Brock Spack should be familiar with BSU. Spack, who came to ISU in 2009 is a Purdue alum and former Boilermaker coach. He’s 28-18 at ISU and each year has landed at least four players on the first team Missouri Valley Football All-Conference Team.
  5. In 2012, the Redbirds were road warriors. ISU was 6-1 on the road last season, including the aforementioned victory over Eastern Michigan. Grain of salt though: FCS road crowds have a tendency to be not as rabid as even a mediocre BSU crowd.

4 Players You Should Know

  1. Colton Underwood, DE – The rockstar of the Illinois State defense. Named to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List, the Senior Bowl Watch List, First-Team All-American by the Sports Network, Phil Steele All-America First Team, and the First-Team Missouri Valley. Underwood is certainly capable of creating an impact, as he rang up career highs last year in single game tackles (15) and single-game sacks (3).
  2. Jordan Neukirch, FB – Named first team Missouri Valley, Third-Team All America by the Sports Network, and Second Team All-America by Phil Steele. Fullbacks gonna fullback, y’all.
  3. Chris Highland, LS – Named third team All-American by the Sports Network. Is there a real impact here? Probably not. But he is on an All-American team and since BSU is Specialist U, I have love for the long snappers.
  4. Jared Barnett, QB – A transfer from Iowa State, Barnet started nine games for Iowa State, leading them to upset victories over #19 Texas Tech, #2 Oklahoma State, and Kansas. He’s replacing the Missouri Valley Conference’s career passing leader in graduated Matt Brown, but does have the chops to continue the passing success.

3 Ways We Win

  1. Score, score, score some more – That seems sort of cliche in terms of outscoring your opponent, but ISU is capable of putting points on the board. Combine that with a relatively unknown quantity in the defensive secondary and I have a sneaking suspicion that ISU is going to put up points.
  2. Establish the run game early to open the passing game late – Or vice versa, but the more dominant the run game is early, the less of a chance the ISU defense pins their ears back and comes hard after Keith Wenning. Colton Underwood is a threat, and keeping him neutralized is of top priority.
  3. Control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball – Against an FCS team, even one with notable players on the offensive and defensive fronts of your opponent, BSU simply has to control the line of scrimmage. If that doesn’t happen, then the rushing game doesn’t get rolling, the passing game has to deal with pressure, and the Cardinal defense can’t force favorable down and distance situations. It’s imperative that this game look like an FBS team vs FCS team.

2 Cardinal Questions

  1. Can this Ball State team dominate the game with a killer instinct from minute one? This BSU team unlike years past has sizable expectations, buzz, and attention. In many respects, there’s more pre-season buzz about this team than the 2008 version. How that translates to the field is that opponents will always see this Cardinal squad coming and look at each game as an opportunity to take down one of the headline grabbers in the MAC West. Good teams survive pressure. Great teams thrive in it.
  2. What can we expect from an offensive line that is one of the only offensive questions? It isn’t that the BSU offensive line isn’t a skilled unit or an inexperienced unit, it’s that it’s just an unproven unit. Each player has experience, just not a lot of starting experience. How they react to this new role and how they play within it will be the deciding factor on the successfulness of the BSU offense this season. With holes for Jahwan Edwards and protection for Wenning, all of a sudden the defense no longer becomes a question mark as the offense is capable of just outscoring anyone when needed. But to get to that point requires an offensive line that exerts its will on command.

1 Bold Prediction

It’s games like this that in some respects worry me. It has all the makings of a trap game for the Cardinals, but if I’ve learned anything from the Pete Lembo regime it’s that the little things matter. Little things like living in the present, taking one game at a time, and understanding just how easy it is to take a loss if you are unprepared. The old quote from salty sports curmudgeon Bobby Knight seems like the underscore of the Lembo approach: “Everyone has a will to win, few have the will to prepare to win”. That’s really the Lembo Plan in its most basic form, that preparation to win. From special teams to warm ups, I find it hard to believe that CPL hasn’t already run over every possible permutation of gameplay in his mind and passed on the most valuable lessons to his team. Because of that, my worry for the Cards coming out flat and overlooking a potentially dangerous team just because of their classification is mitigated considerably. I think the outcome is contingent on the crowd and the atmosphere of Scheumann Stadium crazily enough. If the Cards come out of the Fisher Complex for kickoff with a loud and proud student body, that sort of energy transfers to the team and a beat down ensues. If it’s a mediocre turnout, the game starts slow, but talent ends up trumping the Redbirds. With a good crowd… BSU 42-17. A mediocre crowd… 35-21. BSU starts off 1-0 and has a week-plus to prepare for the tricky triple option of Army.

Countdown to Army

Photo credit: Kurt Hostetler, The Star Press

Keith Wenning's stat line Saturday will tell you everything you need to know about BSU-Army

On Saturday, Ball State will compete in its third non-conference game of the season with the opportunity for their 2nd nonconference win. It will be tough sledding to be sure as Army’s option attack often times befuddles, confuses, and otherwise wears out opposing defenses. On offense, the Cardinals will face a defensive scheme that they haven’t faced yet, but the upperclassmen on both sides of the ball were present for the Army victory in West Point over the Cardinals two years ago, hopefully providing a burning desire for retribution. With a victory, the Cards notch their third win of the season and are assured of at least a .500 record in their nonconference games, a feat that many thought difficult to achieve when the schedule was finalized for the 2011 season. In my mind, this game is the jump ball of the season. A win and the Cardinals may very well be in a great position to go bowling at the close of the season. Kickoff is at 2pm at Scheumann Stadium and we count you down to kickoff…

5 Things You Should Know

  1. Army beat itself the first two games
    It’s easy to look at the schedule for Army and feel confident considering they’re 1-2, with their two losses coming at the hands of Northern Illinois and San Diego State. Of course, you’d be forced to overlook the fact that they also defeated Northwestern. Statistically, the Black Knights dominated the offensive attack against SDSU and NIU, racking up 700 yards of rushing, but negating that advantage was three turnovers in each game. Turnovers kill any offense, but it’s especially disruptive when you run the triple option. Aside from just moving the ball, the option attack and the blocking schemes with it simply wear out a defense. Turnovers mean they’re off the field and the defense gets a breather. Those games end up with fewer turnovers and it’s highly likely the Black Knights are 2-1 at worst, with a good chance at 3-0.
  2. QB Trent Steelman is an experienced talented leader
    Remember the advantage the Cardinals had with one Nate Davis under center? Experienced leadership manning the reigns of your offense is a benefit that is almost immeasurable. Steelman comes into Saturday’s contest with 28 starts under his belt and the person responsible for scoring Army’s last six touchdowns. As he’s shown this season, though, ball security and hanging on to the football can be an issue. However, when he’s on, he’s solid and Army is a considerable threat. See: Northwestern.
  3. Army dominates the ground and the time of possession
    As mentioned above, Army isn’t a flashy team or someone who will catch anyone by surprise. Their trickeration is really what side is the option going to go to. Army is second in the nation in rushing yards, at a smidge over 360 per game, and they lead the country in time of possession even with their six turnovers through their two opening games. When they do pass (averaging around 10 attempts per game) it’s usually lethal as we saw two years ago. Because of the commitment to the run often receivers are played soft and the help isn’t as quick as it usually is. Complicating the passing game is the mobility of Steelman, who is entirely comfortable tucking and running if there isn’t a wide open receiver downfield.
  4. Keith Wenning has the chance of a lifetime to strike the Army defense, if the offensive line holds
    Army’s defensive strategy isn’t some sort of blanket coverage that is difficult to find the open man. Often times, there is single coverage on the outside and a single safety playing high. Seems simple, right? Hardly. They rely on pressure and various pushes up front to create not only a mismatch for the offense attempting to run, but disruption for the QB attempting to throw. If Wenning has the time in the pocket to let the play develop and exploit the single coverage opportunities, it could very well be his best passing day as a Cardinal.
  5. Beware of Malcolm Brown
    Trent Steelman gets the publicity in the Army attack, as most QBs who run the option do, but running back Malcolm Brown is impressive in his own right. The junior averages 82 yards per game and a staggering 9+ yards per carry. Of course, it stands to reason that he only gets the pitch when the defense has committed to Steelman, that’s still impressive. Suffice to say the Cardinal defense may have played more high-powered offenses this season (South Florida) but I would say this Army attack will certainly be the most difficult one to contain.

4 Players You Should Know

  1. Trent Steelman, QB: Multi-dimensional and experienced and the one with the responsibility of ensuring the option works.
  2. Malcolm Brown, RB: Playing the option requires assignment football, and whoever is assigned to Brown has their work cut out for them.
  3. Steven Erzinger, LB: Army’s team leader in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. Containing him when the Cards have the ball is critical.
  4. Jared McFarlin, WR: While the Black Knights may not pass much, McFarlin is a 6’5″ target for Steelman when they do and the team’s leading receiver.

3 Ways We Win

  1. Bend but don’t break against the option
    As we saw in the Hoke years when Navy was a frequent opponent, stopping the option outright is almost impossible to do. What isn’t impossible is stopping it in critical situations to create favorable down and distance opportunities for the Cardinal defense. Army averages just under 6 yards per carry and it’s safe to say that number will need to be lower on Saturday. Perhaps most importantly, when Army doesn’t run the option the defense can’t be beat for a big play. That was the downfall in 2009 and simply cannot happen again.
  2. Take advantage of the chances that we have
    When a possession heavy team that has the ball for so much of the game, it is absolutely imperative to take advantage of whatever opportunities the offense gets, however infrequent they may be. BSU has shown extreme spurtability this season, as well as dry spells of ineffectiveness. On Saturday the Cardinal offense has to maximize their possessions and make each drive effective, efficient, and time for the defense to catch their breath. A multitude of three-and-outs, turnovers, or possessions that don’t come away with any points plays right into Army’s hands and would make a victory difficult.
  3. Force the Black Knights to cough up the football
    The best way to keep the defense fresh as well as give the offense short fields to work with would be to force Army into similar kinds of mistakes that they made in their first two losses this season. If BSU can hold onto the football as well as force some takeaways, then it could be a very enjoyable night in Muncie.

2 Cardinal Questions

  1. Can Keith Wenning exploit the opportunities afforded to him by the Army defense?
    For the most part this season, Keith Wenning has simply taken what the defense has given him and played mistake free football. This Saturday may afford him the opportunity to take chances downfield and stretch the defense, opening up the possibilities for the Cardinal rushing attack. If the play by play reads like a passing clinic, it’s a good day for the Cardinals and a great day for Wenning.
  2. Will the fans actually show up to Scheumann Stadium on Saturday?
    The home opener only generated a crowd of slightly under 9,000 to the Scheu. Will this week be any different? This team and this program has done yeoman’s work in the offseason and preseason to generate interest in this program and this team. If the local area won’t support them now, then I will begin to wonder if they ever will. Here’s to hoping that a large student contingent is generated by an exciting outcome last week.

1 Bold Prediction
For the Lembo-led Cardinals, this season has been a case study in how to win ball games. The Indiana game was a domination at the line of scrimmage in a contest that wasn’t as close as the seven-point margin would indicate. Against Buffalo last weekend, the Cardinals had a gritty come from behind win that showed exactly what kind of strides have been made in the mental toughness and resiliency of this team. On Saturday, I look for a much better crowd to energize the Cards, the defense to adequately contain the option attack, and capitalize on Army mistakes. I expect a quick start from the Cardinals and a 31-21 Ball State victory.

Countdown to Buffalo

AP Photo/Chris O"Meara

Jahwan Edwards looks to run over, around, and through the Bulls

Not all Saturdays were created equal. In fact, I can’t remember a Saturday I looked forward to as much as this one for a while now. Sure, the season opener makes me giddy. Last week’s trip to South Florida set my heart aflutter. But this weekend is big. Gigantic. Enormous, I would dare say. It’s the chance for Pete Lembo and his team to show that last week was the fluke and not the Lucas Oil beatdown. It’s the chance to win his first MAC game and be one step closer to a Championship in Detroit. But it isn’t all a one-way street for the team. It’s the chance for the Cardinal fans and students to show up, in force, and make their presence known. It’s the opportunity to prove that the work being done by the football staff and players to surround the program with interest and attitude wasn’t for not. So yeah… it’s big. Time to count you down to kickoff for the home opener, MAC opener, and Muncie premier of the Pete Lembo show…

5 Things You Should Know

  1. Buffalo (and more importantly their fans) expects to win this game
    No one ever knows the inner workings of a team and their mental attitude about a game besides the players and staff. But if the fans are any indication, then we shouldn’t even play the game. This is a contest BSU cannot win, we don’t deserve to step on the field with the mighty Bulls, and to be truthful, we should simply cower in the corner in a puddle of our own urine. More on this in #5 of this section. Oh… and in case you have forgotten, Buffalo beat Ball State in the 2008 MAC Championship Game. If you have forgotten, you’ll be reminded of it within three minutes of interaction with a Bulls fan. So they’ve got that going for them… which is nice, I guess.
  2. The records may be the same, the opponents are far from it
    Both teams open MAC play at 1-1, but any fan that looks at both records as equal isn’t quite grasping what’s going on. Buffalo’s wins came against FBS Pitt and FCS Stonybrook. The Cards have played FBS Indiana and top-20 ranked South Florida. Anyone that looks as those two teams the same as Buffalo’s doesn’t have a grasp on reality. Yes, Indiana is bad… we know this. But they aren’t FCS bad. Yet.
  3. Buffalo’s had a bit of a problem against the rush this season but their defense is not that bad
    In Buffalo’s two games, they’ve given up 415 rushing yards, including 201 yards to Pitt’s Ray Graham. Far from defensive stalwarts against the run, if the Cardinals can abuse that fact then the passing game opens up. They have defensive weapons up front in Khalil Mack and Steven Means, but they also have a redshirt freshman converted wide receiver at a corner spot that seems ripe for the picking on.
  4. The Bulls are actually a versatile offense
    The first game of the year against Pitt, the balance between pass and rush was staggering. 49 attempts through the air, 44 rushes. Against Stony Brook, it was 24 each. This isn’t a one-dimensional team that you can simply shut down one area of the offense and coast to a win. Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman has his work cut out for him, but the BSU defense has outperformed expectations so far this season.
  5. Their fans are the epitome of classless delusional assholes
    See: #1. For the most part, I take opposing fanbases with a grain of salt. However, even I have my limit. The constant referencing of the MAC Championship Game, the treatment of Muncie and Ball State, the potshots at players and BSU fans… it’s all just ridiculous. When your team is a traditional power, you can be a douchebag and get away with it. When the only relevant moment your team has had in decades was more about what your opponent failed to do than what you did, it makes you an unrelenting bag of hot air. As a disclaimer, Tim runs Bull Run and he’s measured and good at what he does. When he busts chops, I write it off as good-natured. And granted, I may be letting a small but vocal minority of the fanbase characterize my opinion, but so it goes.

4 Players You Should Know

  1. Branden Oliver, RB
  2. Khalil Mack, LB
  3. Steven Means, DE
  4. Chazz Anderson, QB

3 Ways We Win

  1. The offensive line keeps Wenning’s jersey clean and opens holes for the RB attack
    If the Cardinals can limit the penetration of Bulls like Mack and Means, the passing game should be able to get rolling. Once that happens, the rushing attack can begin, where UB is vulnerable.
  2. The defensive front seven shuts down the run
    If Oliver is contained and the UB rushing attack is contained up front, then the linebacking crew can help in coverage and allow our secondary to ball hawk, a position that Sean Baker is quite comfortable in if I do say so myself.
  3. We don’t turn the ball over
    We all know what happens when we turn the ball over against Buffalo. But much like last year, in a game changed tremendously by turnovers, holding onto the football in conference play is absolutely critical. BSU looked extremely sharp in this regard against the Hoosiers, not so much against the South Florida Bulls. As the turnover battle goes, so will go this game.

2 Cardinal Questions

  1. Which running back will be “The Man” in the home opener?
    As referenced above, Buffalo has had a bit of a problem defending the rush this season. Lucky for BSU there’s a slew of talented backs just itching to bust it loose. Whether that’s Jahwan Edwards, Barrington Scott, Dwayne Donigan or someone else, someone needs to step up, announce their presence with authority, and serve notice to the Bulls and the rest of the MAC that the BSU rushing attack wasn’t a byproduct of IU’s awful defense.
  2. What sort of crowd are we going to see at the Scheu?
    After a successful showing from the BSU faithful in Indianapolis for the season-opener, a large turnout is expected with anything less a bit of a disappointment. If Scheumann Stadium isn’t rocking and rolling for the MAC home opener and the first Muncie showing of the Lembo-led Cardinals, that could be a stumbling block for the Cards.

1 Bold Prediction
I know the old adage is to be humble and respectful, fear no one, and see the good in the opponents and fanbases that you face. Build up those you expect a win from so as to make that victory look all the more impressive. I know that’s what I should do. I know it deep down inside. But after spending the last hour or so checking out the various UB fansites and messageboards and watching them invade the little BSU corner of the internet, that ain’t happenin’. My prediction? Pain. Immense amounts of it for the UB faithful that make the trip to Muncie or stream the game online. Failure to admit truth doesn’t make it any less valid, and unfortunately for Buffalo, the facts don’t add up. Last year’s BSU team was short on momentum and in the midst of chaos, and despite all that defeated the Bulls on their home field. This year? Long on momentum, long on belief, long on talent. A home opener, an engaged student body, and a swagger amidst the program I haven’t seen in years. I’ll go with 35-14, Ball State and in the words of Sean Payton in The Boys of Fall, “They’re a faceless opponent. They just happened to draw the short straw tonight. Now get your asses ready to play. Win on three.”

Countdown to USF

Pete Lembo is off to a bang up start. Can it continue in Tampa?

On Saturday, Cardinal fans the nation over get the chance to be a witness to what could be arguably the biggest win in program history. A victory means the Cardinals have defeated a nationally ranked team. It means the Cardinals have added another tombstone in the graveyard of BCS automatic qualifiers to fall at the hands of Ball State. It means that the last few years are about to be long forgotten if the first two games of 2011 are any indicator. It means that Pete Lembo could probably run for governor. Of course, that gigantic megahuge tremendous win would be quite the surprise to the oddsmakers, the pundits, the South Florida faithful, and probably a large percentage of BSU fans. But if last weekend taught us anything it’s that this BSU team isn’t the BSU teams of the last two seasons. It taught us this roster is chock full of talent and skill. It taught us to once again believe in the Cardinal and White. Time to count you down to kickoff at USF…

5 Things You Should Know

  1. South Florida isn’t the typical Big East team
    The Big East has gotten quite the bad rap in recent memory as a conference loaded with paper tigers who have no business being considered among the nation’s elite, and for the most part they would be right. But USF is different. For a program that has only been playing football since 1997, South Florida has done it well and done it consistently since their inception. Now they have a tried and true winning coach in Skip Holtz, who is perhaps the most unappreciated and underrated coach in the country.
  2. If there was ever a time to catch USF in letdown mode, this is it
    One of, if not the, biggest wins in program history came last Saturday for the Bulls. By beating the Fighting Irish in South Bend, the Bulls have launched themselves not only into the polls, but the national conversation. How this team responds to the sudden interest by the talking heads and media types could make a significant difference in their preparation for Ball State.
  3. USF is trying its damndest to get people to this game
    The sports marketing department is working overtime to pub and sell this game. Tickets are available for just $6.20 per seat, there are fireworks after the game,  and judging by the choose your own seat application on their website, there isn’t a lot of tickets left. After last Saturday, it’s probably safe to assume that interest in the Bulls in the Tampa area is at an all-time high.
  4. There’s no place like home (openers) for the Bulls at Raymond James Stadium
    To call USF’s home stadium the friendly confines is not even adequate. The Bulls are 14-0 in Raymond James Stadium in home openers, with the average margin of victory at a staggering 32 points per game. Their closest home opener in the last five years was the 2007 contest against Elon, a 28-13 win, when Elon was coached by one Pete Lembo.
  5. Don’t be fooled by the low number of returning starters for USF
    The numbers of returning starters for the Bulls is only 11 across both units, but the number of starters and backups that saw game action and earned a letter last season leads the Big East. USF may not have a mass quantity of starters back, but they are a deep experienced team that is capable of rotating serviceable backups in without a dropoff in production.

4 Players You Should Know

  1. QB B.J. Daniels
    Daniels is a mobile QB capable of beating a team through the air or on the ground. Remember Dan Lefevour? The Cards have struggled with dual threats in recent memory.
  2. WR Evan Landi
    The leading returning receiver for the Bulls from last season, Landi was limited to just three catches against the Irish. One of those, however, was a TD, and Landi is a sure-handed tall target for Daniels.
  3. LB DeDe Lattimore
    The Bulls’ #2 tackler last season, Lattimore presents a key matchup for the BSU o-line. Capable of penetration, QB pressure, and tackles for loss, Lattimore may be the biggest hindrance to establishing a running game.
  4. SS Jon Lejiste
    Similar to Sean Baker, Lejiste is a hard hitter who has a nose for the football. A 3rd team All Big East selection last season, you’ll see Lejiste sent on blitz packages as well as playing coverage against the pass.

3 Ways We Win

  1. Follow the Notre Dame blueprint, without the weather or the turnovers
    The Fighting Irish held USF to 126 yards on the ground and 128 yards through the air. They also held the USF offense touchdown-less until early in the 4th quarter. Along the way, ND ran up over 500 yards of offense and held the Bulls to just 2-14 on 3rd downs. Notre Dame also averaged 4 yards per rush, a stat that I wouldn’t mind seeing repeated from the visiting team on Saturday.
  2. Minimize mistakes and turnovers
    The Fighting Irish learned the hard way that no matter how dominant the box score looks, five turnovers will kill you nearly every time. Making mistakes or turning the ball over at any point against any opponent is a bad thing, but doing it on the road against a ranked opponent takes an upset off the table and brings the dreaded blowout into play.
  3. Contain B.J. Daniels
    If Daniels breaks containment and runs unimpeded throughout the Ball State defense, that’s bad. Mobile QBs inherently present problems for the defense and open up the options for the offense. The Cardinal defense doesn’t necessarily have to  stop him, they just have to bend more than they break.

2 Cardinal Questions

  1. Can the offensive and defensive lines dominate their Big East counterparts like they did the Big Ten?
    Dominance was the word of the day as the offensive and defensive lines had their way with the opposition all night last Saturday. Now granted, the Hoosier lines aren’t your typical Big Ten space eaters, the will of those two Cardinal units was impressive and probably the biggest reason for the win. If the push on the line and the battle of the trenches is lopsided again, that’s a great chance for the Cardinals to shock some folks.
  2. Which wide receiver will be the go-to target for Wenning when the Cards take flight through the air?
    Irish receiver Michael Floyd burned the Bulls for 154 yards and 2 TDs last weekend, and there’s no reason to think that this Cardinal receiving corps can’t find similar opportunities and chances. If Briggs Orsbon  or Tori Gibson get loose for big numbers, then it could be a long night indeed for the Bulls and their fans.

1 Bold Prediction
After last Saturday, I was careful to not got swept up in the emotion of the moment and throw all caution to the wind in terms of my expectations and hopes for this season. Had you asked me last Saturday night after the IU victory and more than a few Fat Tires at Scotty’s, I would have told you that South Florida has no chance. Rationality took over after a greasy breakfast and some Gatorade, but it wasn’t the gloom and doom that seems to have surrounded the program as recent as 9 months or so ago. USF is quite beatable, and in fact, had the Irish not turned the ball over five times, they wouldn’t have walked out of South Bend with a victory. The IU game was virtually mistake free for the Cardinals and to expect that sort of perfection to continue may be a bit much. The Cardinals keep it close, and well within the spread, but walk out of Raymond James a 34-28 loser on Saturday evening. I’ve always said that not all losses are created equal, and with a result like that the passion and fire in this program continues unabated as the Cardinals become the prohibitive favorite for the MAC.

Countdown to CMU

Could Quale lead the Cardinals to victory?

It’s time once again for OTP to rock out our official prediction of Saturday’s contest. The Cardinals look for something positive to build the rest of the season on, the Chips are in search of yet another successful run through the MidAmerican Conference. Read on for all you need to know…

5 Things You Should Know

  1. This isn’t the CMU of recent memory, but they’re still damn good.
    Gone of course is the Rust Belt Tim Tebow, or Dan Lefevour as his parents named him, but unlike many MAC programs, the drop off for the Chips hasn’t been nearly as staggering. Take a look at the Miami’s or the Ball State’s to see just how quickly a MAC contender with a stellar star can suddenly get snapped back to reality. The Chips lost Lefevour, several offensive weapons, and considerable defensive talent, along with head coach Butch Jones, and all they’ve done is not miss a beat. It’s really quite impressive.
  2. CMU may be looking past the Cardinals, but they shouldn’t be.
    Up next for the Chips is a very beatable BCS automatic qualifier in Virginia Tech. I’m sure with the recent pronouncement by most of Ball State’s football program flatlining on the table it would be easy to take for granted this game. That, of course, would be a dangerous thing for CMU to do. Aside from having the talent and skill to hand them a loss, which of course would be painful enough in and of itself, another MAC loss would drop the Chips to 0-2 in conference play and virtually eliminate them from the MAC West race. Perhaps the Chips focus a bit too much on Blacksburg and forget about what’s needed to make Detroit. Not saying it’s likely, just saying it’s possible.
  3. CMU has had no trouble with the Cards in recent years.
    Central Michigan has won five of the last six versus the Cardinals, with only the  undefeated season in 2008 standing as the Cardinals’ lone W. BSU was just as dominant in the early 2000s, though, but football is predominantly a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of culture. Even in years where BSU was talented and deep, Central Michigan was often the thorn in the side of the Cardinals.
  4. October is made for the Chippewas.
    CMU is 18-2 in October over the last six years. That’s stellar, and it isn’t like they are beating up on weakened competition. That’s the start of the MAC season most every year and it’s further proof of the Chips’ dominance in conference play.
  5. The Chips may be the most talented 2-2 team you’re likely to find.
    Their two losses have come at the hands of MAC favorite Temple (in overtime, no less) and against Northwestern, both games that CMU could have very easily won had several key plays went a different way. This team is more 4-0 than 2-2 in my mind, and when coupled with the talent that they have on both sides of the ball, despite actual game experience at several spots, this is a very dangerous team capable of very good things for several years to come.

4 Players You Should Know

  1. Ryan Radcliff, QB
    Despite the fact that Dan Lefevour is no longer in Mt. Pleasant, the Chips seem to have found their next great signal caller. While Radcliff brings a different dynamic, as he isn’t a runner, his passing ability put’s St. Dan’s to shame. Through his four games this season, Radcliff is already over 1000 yards, and he set career highs last week against Northwestern for attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns. Radcliff isn’t unstoppable, but he is certainly capable of turning the tide for the Chips.
  2. Paris Cotton, RB
    This 5’9″ junior from Miami has certainly showed moments of greatness this season, rushing for over 200 yards against Eastern Michigan, but has also had his share of questionable efforts. Cotton only managed 4 carries and -1 yards last week against Northwestern, and another effort like that certainly could bode well for the Cardinals.
  3. Nick Bellore, MLB
    This 6’1″ senior has started every game in his career at CMU and also leads the nation in total tackles. For the Cardinals to have a viable running attack, Bellore must be accounted for in the blocking schemes and protection. If Bellore has a good day, it’s a virtual certainty that the Cardinals won’t.
  4. Cody Wilson, WR
    By far the most popular target in the CMU passing attack, Wilson leads the team with 20 grabs for 376 yards and 2 TDs in 2010. The 5’10” sophomore doesn’t pose a significant height threat for the Cardinals, but he does provide the Chips with a sure-handed option that is capable of making big plays. Wilson has gone over the century mark twice this season, including 153 against Temple.

3 Ways We Win

  1. Score When We Reach the Red Zone
    The Chips have made their bones this year by holding teams to no points when they hit the red zone. Only 57% of the time do CMU’s opponents hit paydirt. At that kind of clip, the Cardinals will have a long day. Maximize opportunities and make the most of red zone chances and the Cards have a chance.
  2. Pressure the CMU Passing Attack
    Radcliff is only a sophomore, and has clearly been the straw that has stirred the Chips’ drink this season. With pressure up front, and Radcliff unable to easily find the open men, the passing attack for the Chips is neutralized. Easier said than done, but certainly a needed component of a Cardinals’ victory.
  3. Win the Turnover Battle
    Both teams come into their contest at +1 in turnover margin, and with a road conference battle, the Cardinals must take care of the football. Forcing mistakes, creating turnovers, while limiting their own makes the Cardinals a likely victor.

2 Cardinal Questions

  1. Will the Cardinals come out firing from minute one?
    The Chips are 2-0 when scoring first and 0-2 when not. The Cards have struggled with coming out and setting the tone early. Get the kickoff? Go down and score. On defense first? Hold the Chips and give the offense an opportunity to take control. With slow starts for the Cards, a fast start is an absolute must lest this game get away from the Cardinals. The longer they are “in it”, the better their chances of forcing mistakes and bringing home a W.
  2. Who in the secondary will make the plays that need to be made?
    Ultimately the premiere matchup of this contest is Ryan Radcliff versus the BSU passing defense. The likes of Sean Baker, Charlie Todd, Kyle Hoke, Jay Pinkston, and Koreen Burch may very well hold the secret  to a BSU upset in Mt. Pleasant.

1 Bold Prediction
The Cardinals head into their MAC opener at 1-3 on the season but with the unique opportunity to turn the tide of the entire season through just one game. With a victory over CMU, a team the Cards have struggled with, the entire tone of the season gets changed. It will take a significant amount of effort, performance, and a little bit of luck, and frankly, it seems as though this hurdle is a bit steep for the Cardinals to climb. As much as it pains me, I’ll go with 38-17 Central, and it will certainly suck.