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MAC New Media Preseason Poll

MACI remember a time when the MAC New Media group was a small collection of blogs that all varied in degrees of frequency, professionalism, fan-voice, and ad bait. That was back in ’08 when we hung our shingle in the blogosphere, and the group of sites that covers the Mid American Conference has evolved, advanced, and evolved some more. Though some blogs have gone dark, others have sprung up, and Hustle Belt has been pushed to the forefront by the SBNation Death Star, the passion of the group hasn’t waned.

Tomorrow is MAC Media Day in Detroit. You’ll get to see what mainstream media thinks about the coming season of MAC football. But who better to get your information from than the group of people who follow these teams and this conference day in and day out. The great things about getting news and other goings on from blogs is that you’re hearing from someone who doesn’t have a myopic view of just one team, which also happens to be couched in between the local high school goings on, national sports stories, and all the other things that a mainstream journalist has to scramble for. So, the new media of the MAC thought it best to give you what you need, an unvarnished opinion about how the conference is going to shake out in the fall.

Our voters?

For the East…

  1. BG (6) 52 points
  2. Akron (1) 41 points
  3. Buffalo (1) 39 points
  4. Ohio 38 points
  5. Kent State 23 points
  6. Miami 19 points
  7. UMass 10 points

For the West…

  1. NIU (4) 42 points
  2. Toledo (2) 41 points
  3. Ball State (2) 33 points
  4. CMU 25 points
  5. WMU 15 points
  6. EMU 13 points

The group collective picked NIU as the MAC Championship winner, with Terry Bowden claiming Coach of the Year honors and BG QB Matt Johnson taking home Player of the Year.

My reply all response to the above when it hit my email for the group was “You are all high.” and I stand by that. My other thoughts outside of the aforementioned assumption that people are either inebriated, ignorant, or blissfully unaware (or a combination of all of the above):

  • It’s so good to see people expect to see a drop off after good QBs graduate, hence BSU landing in third in the West, 6th overall. What’s that? NIU is still ranked #1 in the west despite losing their All-Galaxy QB Jordan Lynch? Well that doesn’t seem very consistent, now does it?
  • Apparently the slurping of BG can now begin in earnest. Thank God! (That’s sarcasm)
  • This the last year for UMass in the MAC, so next year’s new media poll will have to pick a “zOMG WORST TEAM EVUR!!!!111” to champion. I nominate Buffalo. Or Western Michigan.
  • My ballot was:
    • East: BG, Akron, Ohio, Kent State, Buffalo, Miami, UMass
    • West: BSU, Toledo, NIU, CMU, EMU, WMU
    • My MAC Champion was BSU, Coach of the Year was Pete Lembo, and Player of the Year was Jahwan Edwards

That screams “homer pick” and in theory you could be right given how mine shook out, but you would be wrong in practice, as I also shared my working theory for why I picked the way I picked. I’m of the belief that BSU behind the running prowess of Quake wins the West. That explains why they are tops in that division and why he would be my Player of the Year. I had BG as E1 because of Johnson, and had the Cardinals tossing their second thumping in a month on the Falcons in Detroit. Why Lembo you ask? Because apparently the people “in the know” think BSU is going to have a God awful season with a drop off like no other MAC team. I’d say if CPL can win the conference with those expectations, then he’s a shoe-in for Coach of the Year. The rest of my picks were a mixture of educated guesses and unadulterated hatred. Massholes and boat oars sunk to the bottom of both my divisions and the rest were just a toss-up.

So there you go, boys and girls. If I could walk these down from Mt. Cardinal on two stone tablets, I would, and frankly, given the heat and humidity I wouldn’t mind wearing a flowing robe. And nothing else. HEY O! But yeah, MAC media day is tomorrow, so get yourself ready for some more fun from your friends here at OTP.

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Ball State Football Opens Practice Wednesday, Sets Fan Jam

It won't be long until this is your typical Saturday

It won’t be long until this is your typical Saturday

Thank the Lord. Football is back. The long slow stretch of the offseason from January to August, interrupted only for spring ball and potential bad news is just about over. On Wednesday, the Cardinals open up their fall camp and we begin the countdown to what some are whispering could be a monumentally historic season in Muncie. For the players, it’s all hard work and often double sessions, sprinkled with a nice bit of conditioning and Death-by-Feeley weight training. For the fans, it provides an opportunity to see the Cards in motion in advance of their August 29th home opener against Illinois State as practice sessions are open to the public should you find yourself in the vicinity of Scheumann Stadium with a couple hours to kill. Cell phones are not allowed by visitors or media, so you can go ahead and forget Tweeting/Vineing/Instagraming those sweet Wenning-to-Anyone TD tosses. You can wax poetic after it’s over.

Your 2013 fall pre-season practice schedule:

Wed., July 31 – 7:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #1)
Thurs., Aug. 1 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #2)
Fri., Aug. 2 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #3)
Sat., Aug. 3 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #4)
Sun., Aug. 4 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #5)
Mon., Aug. 5 – 7:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #6)
Tues., Aug. 6 – NO PRACTICE
* Wed., Aug. 7 – 8 a.m. (PRACTICE #7)
* Wed., Aug. 7 – 7:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #8)
Thurs., Aug. 8 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #9)
* Fri., Aug. 9 – 8 a.m. (PRACTICE #10)
* Fri., Aug. 9 – 7:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #11)
Sat., Aug. 10 – 5 p.m. (FAN JAM)
* Sun., Aug. 11 – 8 a.m. (PRACTICE #12)
* Sun., Aug. 11 – 7:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #13)
Mon., Aug. 12 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #14)
* Tues., Aug. 13 – 8 a.m. (PRACTICE #15)
* Tues., Aug. 13 – 7:45 p.m. (PRACTICE #16)
Wed., Aug. 14 – NO PRACTICE
Thurs., Aug. 15 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #17)
Fri., Aug. 16 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #18)
Sat., Aug. 17 – 2:15 p.m. (PRACTICE #19)
Sun., Aug. 18 – 8 a.m. (PRACTICE #20)
*Two practices in same day

Twenty practices doesn’t seem like a ton, but in reality, it’s those practices that will lay the foundation of the coming season. It’s the first practice sessions where the freshmen can get in official reps and see where they’ll fit into the scheme and system. It’s an opportunity for the coaching staff (and more importantly the veterans) to set a tone for the coming 2013 campaign.

You’ll notice also that Saturday August 10 is Fan Jam at 5pm. I’d go ahead and mark my calendar for that if I were you. It’s your chance to rub elbows and support a team that is on the verge of completing a near 180 degree turnaround, considering the redshirt seniors were around for the 2009 debacle and the non-redshirt seniors’ first season in Muncie was the 2010 dead cat bounce of a program that nearly everyone knew was on the verge of complete demolition on the coaching side of the house. If this season turns out the way I expect it will, you’re going to want to have some photos with players, autographs on schedules, etc. Could be worth a ton sentimentally and considerably more monetarily if what I think  happens, happens.

So mark your schedules and try to make it out to a practice or two. I can promise you that you’ll be in for an eye-opening experience and you will most likely have a new found respect for this staff. Those late game heroics, stellar game management skills and attention to detail don’t just happen. It’s a learned skill and these are the times that it is taught. And you can say you were there. Huzzah!

2012 Preview: Prediction Time

These Cardinals are off and running so time to take wild shots in the dark on how the year will turn out.

The season is finally here. I write posts well in advance but after “male enhancement gate” came to light (miss the days of textbook scams instead) I thought about rewriting this, but I doubt this will have much impact on the season so I’m sticking to my guns. Too bad my guns on preseason predictions are made out of paper like every other blogger/journalist.

August 30, vs. Eastern Michigan

This is a pivotal opener as a bad performance here will open the floodgates of negativity from the skeptical student body. Eastern’s offense is loaded and is looking for redemption from last year’s loss. The Eagles have to replace both safeties so Wenning should carve these guys up through the air. If Ball State can’t protect their home turf here then when can it in 2012? Prediction: Ball State 37, Eastern Michigan 30

September 8, at Clemson

Please do not tell me that a suspended receiver is going to make much of an impact. One is a team looking to play in a BCS Bowl game and the other is Ball State. Just take the paycheck and move on. Wait, did I just make this game sound like Ball State is operating as a prostitute for a week? Well… in a way… Prediction: Clemson 59, Ball State 28

September 15, at Indiana

A win here and the 99 percent chance that IU coach Kevin Wilson is fired goes to a 100 percent chance. I want coaches to have more than two years but Wilson is in the top 10 jerks of current coaches. That is in an incredibly hard list to crack. Although Indiana is tougher out in Bloomington let the IU-three-peat commence. True or False, Indiana is the weakest team Ball State faces all year? True. Prediction: Ball State 36, Indiana 27

September 22, vs. South Florida

A big boy team comes to Muncie! South Florida may not have the reputation of Florida but this is a big deal bringing them into town. If the Cardinals can stay within a two scores by the fourth quarter the Bulls might play tight. I want to pick the upset but the Bulls recruit four and three star players while the Cardinals are happy to sign those with two. Remember, South Florida struggled last season and still beat BSU 35-7 in Tampa. Prediction: South Florida 42, Ball State 24

September 29, at Kent State

Ball State will travel to a well rested Kent State team (10 days) who probably has the best defense in the conference. This will take an “A” game from Wenning to go along with a solid defensive performance.  Doubt the Cards will get both. Ball State won quite a few close MAC games last year, but do not count on such luck again. Have to give the edge to the Flashes at home. Prediction: Kent State 23, Ball State 20

October 6, vs. Northern Illinois

Too say this is a big game is to say money is valuable. Will the Cardinals pull this one off is more difficult to determine. The offense should score, but the defense will need to make stops. I am sensing a theme here. With a new quarterback at Northern the Ball State defense should have a chance. A crazy crowd would go a long way too. Prediction: Ball State 34, Northern Illinois 27

October 13, vs. Western Michigan

Would someone please tell why Ball State keeps scheduling difficult opponents for the homecoming game? Picking Western Michigan for homecoming is like yelling “You can’t catch me” to a police officer. It never ends well. You don’t think the Broncos are going to use this after what happened the last time they were the homecoming game. That was 45-16 embarrassment in 2010. Schedule a cupcake or don’t have homecoming at all. Make it for the women’s volleyball team or something. I am sure Coach Steve Shondell would approve of that, but I doubt fans will approve this pick. Prediction: Western Michigan 49, Ball State 30

October 20, at Central Michigan

Plenty of factors are at play here. After playing the two kingpins in the division Ball State may be in for a letdown going to the Christmas tree farms of Central Michigan. Central had the 2011 contest in their hands at Muncie but did everything they could to blow it late. This is an experience team for CMU and Ball State will again have no room for error here. Central will also be fired up after playing a national televised game host Navy eight days prior. The only thing missing is Admiral Ackbar yelling “It’s a trap!” when the Cards take the field. Prediction: Central Michigan 45, Ball State 41

October 27, at Army

Admiral Ackbar and his signature phrase may make an appearance a couple of times for Ball State in 2012.

Army’s unique option offense may give some teams trouble but it plays into the hands of Ball State. Ball State is weakest against the pass so all the power to teams who run the ball. This is a paper beats rock match-up and the Ball State defense can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Too bad most of the MAC is scissors. Prediction: Ball State 38, Army 24

November 6, at Toledo

While the rest of the country will be watching presidential election results we’ll be watching a big college football game for the Cardinals. Toledo is breaking in a new coach and pretty much a new team to boot. The Rockets are still talented but Ball State “should” be more polished in this one in what might be the most impressive win of the season. Prediction: Ball State 48, Toledo 38

November 14, vs. Ohio

A big game that with big MAC implications. Too bad only 500 students will be there because it will be on a freezing Wednesday night in November. Even worse it might be on the channel most fiscally responsible folks do not have in ESPNU. This brings us to the classic question of if Ball State wins a game in a 75 percent empty stadium on a channel few get did it really happen? Allegedly, Ball State lost to Northern Illinois last year on ESPNU as I am still waiting for confirmation on that. Let’s hope this game is moved to ESPN 2. Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton is pretty good and should have his way in this phantom game. Prediction: Ohio 41, Ball State 24

November 23, at Miami

Can this November schedule get any worse? Games on Election Day, a Wednesday night, and Black Friday. That is the holy trinity of a terrible schedule for energizing fan interest. Trying to watch last year’s Black Friday game with Toledo felt more like a chore and I hope this one in Oxford does not have the same fate. Miami is a pass happy offense so it will be up to Wenning again to try to outscore people. He will have to throw four touchdown passes and zero picks to just give the Cardinals a chance. Too bad this is not the only game of the season where that is the case. Prediction: Miami 52, Ball State 37

For those keeping track that is a 5-7 (3-5 MAC) season. Nothing to be happy about but Ball State does not play the three stooges of the MAC in UMass, Akron, and Buffalo and again passed on an FCS team. The 2012 season is nowhere as promising as 2013 appears to be with an experienced team returning a year from now. Instead of the “Rise Up” slogan that has become horrifically ironic the past week I suggest “Keep Fighting.” This is only the second year for Lembo as it took the best coach in the country in Brady Hoke more years than that to turn it around. Those looking for a 10-win year will probably be disappointed. I just want Ball State to beat IU and a couple of MAC teams projected to go bowling. At the very least, get the male-enhancement story out of our minds.

Nathan Pace is a 2012 Ball State graduate and is the new police reporter for the New Castle Courier-Times. If you have a story idea involving Henry county, you can contact him at npace@thecouriertimes.com

2012 Preview: The Faces of the Cardinals

Quarterback Keith Wenning has a great deal of pressure to come up big in 2012 but is there someone in the program with more?

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

But Luke, at the speed will Kelly throw the ball away in time.

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

Jamill Smith is ready to get the 2012 season started.

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 npace@thecouriertimes.com

2012 Preview: The State of the MAC

Ball State football is packing heat in 2012 but most of the MAC is too.

The MAC is where parity happens. Sports writers can make good guesses but in the end few people will expect the unexpected from this conference. We do know the MAC West will be as tough as an overcooked steak while half the MAC East will be as tough as potato soup. Is it lunch time yet? Overall, this conference is stronger than it was a few years ago and should close the gap with low level BCS leagues like the Big East and maybe even the Big Ten. The following predictions will probably be a joke in four months, so for future laughs here we go.

The Punching Bags

Massachusetts

Welcome Minutemen! Enjoy life as a small FBS school where wasteful athletic budgets reign and insufficient revenues are generated. Is it too late to go back to FCS? We previously covered if UMass should even been allowed in the MAC and experts are hinting they will be in the Big East eventually. It is interesting that UMass suckered Indiana to be its first home game as an FBS school. Would not be surprised if the Minutemen knocked off the Hoosiers in what should be a wild atmosphere. But in all honesty, if a 5-7 FCS team wins more than two MAC games then it is time to move the league down. Prediction: 1-11 (0-8 MAC)

Akron

Akron landed Terry Bowden as their new head coach as the Zips are banking on the Bowden name. Bowden can fix this mess eventually but it will take years. This team was last in the conference in offense and defense in 2011. Not only did the Zips go 0-8 in conference but six of those losses were by 17 points or more. The goal for this season is to just keep games close, but the Zips should handle the Minutemen at home. Akron only returns five starters to their pulverized defense making the Zips the MAC’s version of Poland in World War II. Things could be worse Akron fans. Penn State is exhibit A. Prediction: 2-10 (1-7 MAC)

The Hot Seats

Buffalo

It is getting warm for the Jeff Quinn era at UB after going 5-19 in his first two years. Even Stan Parrish had a better record in his two years in Muncie. To turn things around the Bulls had former Colts executive Bill Polian give a pep talk to the team. The Bulls return the MAC’s leading rusher in Branden Oliver but will also start a new quarterback. Combining a new quarterback with a coach on the hot seat is like hiring an intern to run a pyrotechnic team. The difficult schedule includes the top three of the MAC West to go along with Georgia, Connecticut and Pittsburgh. That is six losses right there. Even though UB is in the East, beatable Akron is left off the schedule due to the unbalanced divisions. Good luck Coach Quinn, you are going to need it. Prediction 3-9 (2-6 MAC)

Central Michigan

Another team with a coach who struggled in his first two seasons is Dan Enos at Central Michigan. Central brings back the bulk of their team and plays SEVEN HOME GAMES! MAC teams are lucky to play to six. Playing Akron and UMass will provide Central a chance to stay competitive in conference. Ball State could have a tough time at Mt. Pleasant as Central’s homecoming game. The team with the offensive nickname to the Native American community should be dangerous in 2012 but 3-9 teams rarely make the jump to a bowl game. Central has to prove it can win games against the loaded MAC West. I think Enos is better off than Quinn but he will probably be gone too. Prediction: 5-7 (3-5 MAC)

The Wild Cards

Eastern Michigan

Is this the year Eastern finally has a winning season since the Clinton administration? Better question is how did the Eagles afford new uniforms?With a dual-threat quarterback in Alex Gillett they will have a shot to make a bowl game to the delight of their 500 fans minus the band and cheerleaders.

He’s a wonderful mascot, but he makes up 10 percent of the EMU fan base.

Eastern, like Ball State, is coming off a 6-6 season and lost most of last year’s defense too. The season opener in Muncie will have a big impact on both teams. The Eagles have a good offense but the bulk of the MAC West does too with better defenses. Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 MAC)

Miami

Among the harder to predict teams is Miami. Quarterback Zac Dysert is breaking some records Ben Roethlisberger made at the school. The RedHawks return most of their starters and avoid the top three teams in the MAC West a year ago. Phil Steele picked Miami to tie for first in the MAC East leading to what might be the most pointless press release an athletic department can make. Since when did athletic departments care about preseason publications? Miami will make a jump but their lack of a running game may hinder a MAC title run. Sounds like plenty will be at stake when Ball State comes to Oxford on “Black Friday.” Nothing like a rivalry game to end the season. Prediction: 6-6 (5-3 MAC)

Kent State

Life is great at Kent State, whose athletic department is basically giving the bird to the rest of the MAC. You can do that when your baseball team makes it the College World Series. Kent is a great example of how good things can happen when athletic departments focus in sports other than football. As for said football team even that looks good coming off of a 5-7 year and most of the team back. The Flashes won four of their last five to close out 2011 and with Temple gone the Flashes may have the best defense in the MAC. The offense struggled in 2011 but it should improve. The big problem is cupcake UMass is not on the schedule. Their non-conference slate is manageable with winnable games at Kentucky and at Rutgers. If there is a “sleeper” team this is it. The Cards will be lucky to win on the road here. Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 MAC)

Bowling Green

No one was happier to see Temple go off to the Big East than Bowling Green, who avoids the tougher MAC West. The Falcons appear to be on the rise with 10 starters back on defense and new helmets. Sure, they will have their dignity taken away at Florida and Virginia Tech, but Idaho, Rhode Island, Akron, UMass, and Buffalo should produce wins. BG hosts Miami and Kent State providing an edge in the division race. If the Falcons can survive the two BCS teams I think they will tear it up in conference play. Maybe have a chance to win the division at Ohio. It is great to be in the MAC East. Prediction: 8-4 (6-2 MAC)

Ball State

How ironic is it that the team we follow the most is the hardest one to predict? Not much I can say that we have not previously covered, and this is the team that continues to defy predictions. Fans point to the offense being the best it has been since 2008, but the 2008 team did not have a schedule that was born from the fires of Mt. Doom. The weakest opponent is a garbage dump Big Ten team in Indiana. With just five starters back on defense the doubters have reasons to be critical, but we doubted Ball State a year ago. Can you count out the Cards again? Prediction: Sorry, that is for a latter column.

The Bowl Winners

Toledo

The Rockets live up to their name through an explosive offense that produced a ridiculous 47.8 points per game in MAC play last season. With that type of offense I imagine one could get away with a point shaving scheme at Toledo. Too soon? EA sports has Toledo as the best team in the MAC, but it has a young offensive line and only four starters back on defense. Toledo has a strange schedule starting off with at Wyoming and at Arizona. Not sure why the Rockets want to go west like they are playing “Oregon Trail” but playing at Wyoming may be the dumbest game a MAC team could schedule. Wait, I forgot Ball State will play at FCS Illinois State in 2013. Crap. Toledo’s home date with Ball State will fall on Election Day, so get your remote ready. Everyone loves the offense but I think their inexperienced line combined with a new head coach will cause problems. Can a MAC team truly be overrated? You bet. Prediction: 6-6 (4-4 MAC)

Ohio

The defending MAC East champs will have a manageable schedule avoiding the three teams in the MAC West who appeared in bowl games last year. If you want to see the Bobcats it should be easy as tickets are going for the whopping price of $4.50. Ohio’s non-conference schedule caught a break playing at chaotic Penn State to make an interesting opener. The Bobcats return a quality defense that was able to hold their ground in 2011 and have what some believe to be the best MAC quarterback in Tyler Tettleton. The only question mark on the team is at receiver and that should not be much of an issue. With Temple gone the MAC East is Ohio’s to lose. Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 MAC)

The King

Northern Illinois

The Huskies have had the MAC West under control the last two years and should have won back-to-back MAC Championships if it were not for a choke job against Miami in 2010. Northern has been to a bowl game the last four years winning the last two. NIU’s throne may be in jeopardy having to replace Quarterback Chandler Harnish, but the defense is still a major b- I mean bright spot. The non-conference

Looks like someone brought a knife to a gun fight.

slate is winnable with Iowa in Chicago and home vs. Kansas. The MAC did NIU a huge favor scheduling Akron, UMass, and Buffalo form the East. Those three easy wins alone will provide Northern a chance to win the West again. It is good to be the king. Prediction: 8-4 (5-3 MAC) 

The Favorite

Western Michigan

In a conference where schools go through head coaches the way NBC goes through sitcoms it is truly amazing Bill Cubit is entering his 8th year at Western. The Broncos have had solid teams in Cubit’s tenure but have not won the MAC West yet. With a senior quarterback in Alex Carder and most of last year’s team returning it is now or never for Western. This team should be hungry after blowing their bowl game to Purdue last year. So to recap,

  • 1. Best QB in the MAC.
  • 2. Experienced head coach who players buy into.
  • 3. Returns the most starters out of the MAC teams that went to a bowl game last year.
  • 4. Seeking redemption from the Purdue loss.
  • 5. Under no pressure after MAC media members went belly up picking Toledo first.

That is a perfect five for five. My only concern for Western would have been the pressure from being picked to win the conference in the preseason. Not an issue anymore. The Broncos face beatable Big Ten foes in Illinois and Minnesota, and lure Big East Connecticut to Kalamazoo. Even the MAC schedule is boosted having NIU, Toledo, and Eastern at home. The toughest road game in conference may be Ball State on Oct. 13. The road to the MAC title will go through Muncie no matter what. For Ball State fans that is something to be excited about. Prediction: 9-3 (6-2 MAC)

Now if Akron wins the conference you never read this.

Nathan Pace is a 2012 Ball State graduate and will be joining the staff at the New Castle Courier-Times.

MAC Media Says Cards 4th Place in Chaos Filled West

One of the joys of the yearly traveling circuses known as college football media days is the release of the conference media polls. I’m sure you’ve seen them. The pack of media members gather together in their flowing hooded robes amidst warm glowing candlelight and chant their media mantra as they pick the projected order of finish for whatever conference they have gathered to celebrate. At least, I assume that’s how it works. I have not had the opportunity of attending the MAC’s preseason media bonanza, as a career in higher education that actually pays the bills means the late summer is probably the absolute busiest time for me. But dammit, I can hope and wish that the scenario described above is the case. I just can’t imagine that gathering regional sportswriters in an NFL press box for such an important task would be as mundane as paper scraps or an emailed vote.

Regardless of how they gathered or the various shenanigans that occur while they are circled together, today’s opening salvo of MAC Football Media Days means that the press poll was released to the <insert Rock voice> MILLIONS….. AND MILLIONS </Rock voice> of MAC fans the world over. And much like every year since I’ve been covering the Cardinals, you do have to scroll a bit in the MAC West standings to see the cardinal and white listed.

In true MAC fashion, and as I alluded to on the BlackHeartGoldPants podcast a couple of weeks ago, the MAC West is a virtual dealer’s choice. Toledo got the official nod as the projected MAC West champion, but there are three teams within eight points of each other at the top as the Rockets are joined by Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Ball State comes in 4th, 37 points behind 3rd place WMU, but only ten points separate BSU, Eastern Michigan, and Central Michigan. I would like to site here and bemoan the projected finish for the Cardinals or even use this as a springboard to a much larger and exhaustive barometer of how mainstream media just doesn’t do enough homework, but frankly, I can’t. I think 4th is low for how BSU will finish, but I can’t give you a specific reason why I think that’s the case. I spoke a bit on the podcast about how I have a hard time picking WMU for anything, but that gut feeling isn’t quite the concrete rationale one would need to crucify others for a perceived lack of foresight.

The fact remains that there are issues with every team in the front of the MAC West pack. Toledo has a brutal schedule, traveling to both NIU and WMU and has new coach Matt Campbell at the helm. Northern Illinois does get the Rockets at home, but has to travel to WMU, Ball State and Eastern Michigan. No easy feat. Oh… and Chandler Harnish is gone. Replacing Nate Davis worked well for BSU record-wise in 2009. There’s the aforementioned WMU Broncos and their seemingly annual rite of fall of building expectations and then taking a tinkle all over them. BSU is still relatively young and unproven and we’re in only year two of the Lembo era. EMU is EMU, and Central is their centrally self. So yeah, that parity may have less to do with balance and more to do with the virtual crapshoot that is the MAC West.

The most curious thing out of all that is not that the there is a split of first place votes between the three front-runners, but that a 4th team also garnered a first place vote. And that outlier was so in the truest sense of the word, as Central Michigan, projected MAC West finisher, received one lone first place vote for the division and also a lone vote as the MAC Championship game winner. Whether that was a CMU alum and/or beat writer who pulled a Spurrier and cast a solidarity vote with his favorite or whether someone has some inside knowledge that seemingly no one else in the known universe has remains to be seen, but I’ll go with the former rather than the latter. My guess is it was the CMU student newspaper, which further sets BSU apart as a leader in undergraduate journalism that’s realistic and not eye-rolling. But I digress.

The MAC East was sort of a status quo of expected results, as Ohio received all 17 first place votes and UMass finished last. Considering all the chaos and general sliminess and uncertainty of football the last day or so, it’s nice to see some order restored to the universe by way of the MAC. MAC East? Business as usual as stoic and steadfast Frank Solich leads the Bobcats to the front of the field. The MAC West? The usual dumpster fire of chaos and trap doors that leave all of us excited and ultimately satisfied at season’s end. Welcome back, MAC.

50 Shades of Worthless: Preseason Publications

Regardless of what you may think of the book, the windsor knot is impressive.

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.

Preseason Predictions are Hard on Cardinals

Welcome to June, the most depressing month for sports in central Indiana. After the 500 and the Pacers playoff run the sports scene is in hangover mode. Now we enter the season with heat waves, overhyped movies, and the best shows on television are about pawn shops and storage units.

Thankfully there are people who understand the dire situation. They are the writers for college football preview magazines. June is the month where college football goes from the back burner to the anticipation of the new season. It is three months away, but the predictions can start now.

The “experts” are forecasting plenty of “Ls” headed to Muncie in 2012. The season calls for partly cloudy skies with a 100 percent chance of no one knows what they are talking about.

These preview magazines are a great way to gear up for a season, but few are a good buy for Cardinals fans. Most magazines go heavy on the BCS conferences and perform tiny summaries for schools like Ball State.

Lindy’s magazine even misspelled quarterback Keith Wenning calling him Henning.

If you want a magazine that is easy to digest I suggest Athlon, Sporting News, or USA Today. For me I want all the information I can get, especially on the MAC.

The most info on the MAC and other small schools is in Phil Steele’s College Football Preview. His magazine is typically twice as thick compared to the others and every inch is filled with text. Photos are kept to a minimum to make room for more info. The pages are not exactly attractive to look at but the information makes up for it.

Recently, a stat from Steele has been circulating about Ball State’s offensive line having the most career starts. Steele’s is the only magazine that would go into that sort of detail to produce that info.

Which leads us to what Phil Steele thinks of your Cardinals and it is not encouraging. The offensive line stat is about as positive as it gets.

He picked Ball State to finished dead last in the MAC West. So much for staying positive.

Steele’s not alone as all the magazines I have seen placed the Cardinals dead last or in the bottom half of the MAC West. Anytime I see Eastern Michigan ahead of Ball State it can ruin a day.

His main reason is the schedule as Steele labeled Ball State’s the 58th toughest in the nation. May not sound bad but that is the toughest of any MAC school as the favorites went cupcake (No. 121 Western Michigan, No. 122 Northern Illinois, and No. 123 Ohio). There are 124 teams in FBS so those three have an easy route while the Cardinals are taking on the gauntlet.

So far that’s nothing personal but then Steele comes out with his defense numbers. For the 2012 season he has Ball State’s defense ranked 122 out of 124. The only teams lower are Kansas and UAB. Even FCS schools that made the jump to FBS like UMass, UTSA, South Alabama, and Texas State were higher.

Phil Steele would advise to dress warmly at Ball State games because he predicts the defense is going to get burned.

Steele’s projections take into account the opponents a defense plays so it is not a straight up power ranking. He is projecting the Cardinals will surrender an average of over 34 points per game in 2012 given the level of competition.

Steele labeled the Cardinals defensive line and defensive backs as 12th out of the 13 teams in the MAC. The linebackers were slightly better at 10th. If those rankings hold true even some local high schools could score a touchdown or two on Ball State let alone Western Michigan.

Another shot to the Cardinals was how Steele valued the team’s recruiting class ranking it 12th in the MAC. Only ahead of Akron (1-11 last year) and behind UMass (5-6 in FCS).

Offensive predictions were brighter with the story being the running back corps ranked third in the conference. Running back Jahwan Edwards made Steele’s second team All-MAC. I am not even sure if he is going to be the starter next season.

Steele has the offensive line tied for second in the conference. Wenning was tied for fifth in MAC quarterbacks as I am sure Ball State fans will say he should be higher.

The most discouraging number remained in Steele’s Power Poll of all 124 FBS schools. Ball State was No. 103 but only two teams on its schedule were lower. Through this logic Steele has Ball State headed for a 2-10 season in 2012. Someone find grandpa his blood pressure medicine now.

Sure, these are not the things fans want to hear three months till the regular season but with all statistics there are flaws. Phil Steele is no different.

The biggest hole is Steele’s philosophy of teams that win multiple close games the year before come up short in those contests following season. Since Ball State won five games by a touchdown or less in 2011 its 6-6 record was an exaggeration.

Steele is big on patterns and his close win philosophy is a pattern, nothing more. This does not mean your Cardinals are a lock to follow the trend.

Steele wrote that Ball State will have a stronger team this year. Having a stronger team may not translate into more wins but it rarely results in a 6-6 team going 2-10 or 4-8 a year later.

Another note is that the MAC is one of the toughest conferences to predict. Steele may be the most accurate magazine but he had Ball State in the MAC basement last year too. Parody is the biggest trait in this conference where teams that make it to the championship game one year can have a losing season the next. Ball State fans have found that out the hard way.

What I am taking away from Steele’s preview are the key issues that will define the conversation about Ball State going into the season.

Can the Cardinals find enough winnable games in their schedule?

Is the defense as bad as some are making it out to be?  I previously demonstrated how last season’s negative statistics were fishy.

Was the 2012 recruiting class really at the bottom of the MAC?

Those are the big questions right now about this team.

Typically it is the job of sports writers and bloggers to be critical but Phil Steele and other preview magazines beat me to the punch with the 2012 season.

The good news is all this talk will not matter in three months. Now that is staying positive.

Catching Up on the Cardinals

Credit: BSU Daily News/Bobby Ellis

"Forget about offense and defense. I have a wonderful stock tip for you, friend!"

Remember that time you were told something and then it didn’t actually happen? You know… that time your parents told you that you would get a new bike for Christmas and you ended up with a GI Joe you already had. Or that time your friends told you they wouldn’t get you wasted and you woke up in a seedy hotel with a terrible headache and a missing kidney. Or that time your girlfriend told you she’d love you forever and then decided to play Who’s In My Mouth with everyone she came in contact with. But I digress… Sometimes you’re told things that don’t actually come to fruition. But let the record show that OTP at least delivered on our promise to get back to normal eventually. Off we go…

Fall camp opened on Thursday for the Cardinals. And that’s important because without fall camp, the Cards would probably suck something fierce in the fall. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it gets you a hell of a lot closer than you’d be otherwise. Some random practice thoughts, commentary, etc.:

  • Doug Zaleski at The Star Press recaps the first practice. Of note: Lembo clearly watches the news and references stock market drops in practice. This man is a mutitasker of epic proportions.
  • The BSU media relations folks are again recapping each of the practice sessions. This was actually a very insightful way to learn about the goings on and was far from the general no-info kind of “updates” we’d had to suffer through in years past. Practice 1 here, practice 2 here.
  • Maybe the highest potential item, at least for us, is the fall camp photo gallery. Expect some LOLposts from these. Check them out before for yourself… though they aren’t nearly as humorous as they could (and will) be.
  • Not really camp report related, but Doug Z also put out some content about the installation of the playbook under Coach Lembo and how some of it likely won’t be in by the season opener. The pessimists will say that will make it hard to win. Optimistically, I will say Coach Lembo agrees that we don’t even need to have a full playbook to beat the Hoosiers.

There’s also been some significant roster moves, some impacting the fall, some impacting the years ahead.

  • With the departure of Eric Williams, the tailback spot looked to be a bit of a problem. With the ding ups of David Brown and Cory Sykes, I began to wonder who would be switching positions to even fill out the offense during camp. BSU announced though that former walk on RBs Barrington Scott and Dwayne Donigan have been awarded scholarships for the fall.
  • Reports came last week that the 2012 edition of the Cards may have a little bit of Buckeye all up in ’em as LB Jonathan Newsome is apparently transferring from Ohio State to Ball State if his Twitter account is to be believed. OSU hasn’t confirmed it, but he has been removed from the online roster.

Normally, we don’t delve into recruiting much. The biggest and dominant reason is that my life is already football-centered enough without the 24/7 watching of where a 17-year old wants to spend the next four years. I admire those that make their bones on the recruiting trail, because frankly, I avoid it until they’re signed for my sanity. Having said that, I cannot let this small piece of news slip by:

  • BSU has received a verbal commitment from yet another Cleveland prospect, but this one takes the cake. And then eats it. All of it. Lineman Carlutorbantu Zaramo has verbally committed his 6’4″ 300-pound frame to Ball State and I for one am already giddy at the many many many satire posts he can be a part of.

In Cardinal opponent news…

  • The first coaches poll got released Thursday and the Oklahoma Sooners were deemed the #1 team in the country by the coaches. That’s important because OU shows up on the Cards’ schedule on October 1. I’d like to make some sort of smarmy comment but I’ll just be over in the corner rocking back and forth and sobbing. Don’t mind me.
  • This bit of news has nothing to do with 2011, but our season opening opponent Indiana got a seismic piece of news this past week when Gunner Kiel committed to them. Kiel is the nation’s top-ranked QB and is from Columbus, IN, but the overwhelming response from this commitment has been, “WHY?!?” and it’s a valid question. Granted, the Hoosiers have rid themselves of the Lynchian anchor that they had, but top-ranked QBs don’t go to awful programs, Tim Couch not withstanding. And let the over/under gambling begin for how long it is until Kevin Wilson gets popped for recruiting violations. Put me down for the day after Kiel actually signs a Letter of Intent.

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Awesomness

I assume what is creating the delay in debt ceiling talks is the constant refreshing of OTP to see where we were.

There are certain blogs I read on a fairly regular basis that occasionally go dark for a while and/or have some technical or other problems that necessitate a time away from posting. Usually when that happens, it pisses me off no matter the reason because I consider my need of humor, information, or other assorted blogtacular type things to trump pretty much everything else in the world. What further pisses me off is when the wide array of cheerleader photos, athlete Twitter dong, or Mike Leach fishing trip recaps get cluttered up with the inevitable post that explains in great detail what happened, what went wrong, apologies, etc. That isn’t what this post is either, lest I come across as a hypocritical douchebag. What this post does though is let folks know that the site is back to its normal operating schedule going forward, albeit a bit more behind than we’d like to be at this point. You can read about what said issue was on the site, thanks to RV, and for the folks who commented, emailed, tweeted, or texted, your sentiments and thoughts were appreciated.

Going forward, here’s what you’ve got to look forward to as we start to inch closer to preseason camp and then the start of the season on September 3:

  • We’ll be recapping the moves that BSU has made since I had to step away. Some scholarships given, depth chart implications, recruiting, and other Cardinal funness.
  • The Know an ’11 Opponent series focusing on BSU’s nonconference schedule will kick off this week. In some respects I’m a little bummed that IU is the first game of the season, as that Know an ’11 Opponent piece will not only be the most informative, there’s a good chance it will be the most inflammatory as well. Starting out on a high note.
  • The normal preseason stuff we give to all of you that isn’t Cardinal-centric will be condensed down and a bit smaller than normal. We’ll still do our preseason previews and Prelude to a Season pieces, but perhaps not the deep drilling that we used to. RV and I (and perhaps Edge if you’re lucky) will get out our conference predictions as well.
  • What I’m most looking forward to is the return of the OTPCast, premiering in late August for all your IU fun-poking as well as some info about the ’11 season on the college football macro-level.
Of course, all of that could change given some huge piece of news but that’s at least the gameplan now. We’re back and ready to rock, and the number of Saturdays to be productive members of society are growing smaller. Get it on…