Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • OverThePylon

    OTP covers Ball State University sports from the blog perspective in the most overzealous manner possible, proving that as long as there is someone with enough free time you can obsess over anything.
  • Connect to OTP

  • OTP Messageboard

  • OTPcast on Itunes

  • OTPcast on Stitcher

  • Help the Pylon

  • Donate to OTP

    A donation to OTP helps keep the site afloat and Cards fans connected. 50% of all donations sent to Cardinal Varsity Club as well. Help the Cards and your favorite blog in one fell swoop!

  • Join Our Network

  • Advertisements

Athlon Would Like You to Welcome Your BSU Falcons

It was supposed to be a restful and relaxing Sunday evening at OTP Manor. I had a frosty beverage or three ready to rock for what I consider must watch television on the level of the first night of The Bachelor: the Miss USA pageant. No other television program outside of the premier of The Bachelor has so much of the human condition on display in one block of time. Success, failure, beauty, intelligence or lack thereof. It’s simply magical.

That spectrum of human emotion and fascination got put on hold though last night when friend of the Pylon and former fellow Maryland resident BallUHouston sent this along on Twitter:

Ball State Falcons

Yes, that says Ball State. Yes, that says Falcons. DOES NOT COMPUTE. Either Jo Ann Gora changed the mascot before she left or Athlon had made an egregious error in the publication of its fall preview piece for college football. Far be it for me to criticize someone for spelling or grammar mistakes, as Lord knows the history of this site will show that even the most mediocre of writers (read: me) will make a massive ass ton of them each day. But to my credit, I’ve never switched up the mascot of a team I covered quite so incorrectly.

Twitter exploded because of this, and great fun was had by all, most notably Athlon. To their credit, their college football editor Steven Lassan responded almost immediately apologizing for the error and saying he would pass it up to the right folks. The general Athlon Sports account responded as well and apologetically reminded us they do love Pete Lembo after I suggested he take them off the Lembo family Christmas Card list. Perhaps the greatest response of the night though goes to the Air Force Academy.

After friend of the Pylon Kodie Egenolf said he was a BSU Cardinal and also an Air Force Falcon and preferred Falcons to Cardinals, the Air Force Academy’s official athletics Twitter responded with this jewel:

AFA Ball State

Well played, Air Force Academy. Well played, indeed. In the end, Athlon apologized, I had a good laugh or three, BSU was a buzz on Twitter for a bit and Miss Nevada won Miss USA. All in all, a pretty eventful little Sunday. Go Falcons!

Advertisements

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.

What the Experts Say About the Cardinals

Most fans of major college football programs wait with bated breath as the supposed gurus and preseason publications prognosticate their lot in the college football universe for the coming season. Prognosticating in early summer for the season about to unfold is wildly speculative and usually wrong, but we, as fans, continue to support these endeavors with flashy covers, pages of stats, and usually a page or two of cheerleaders thrown in to make sure the blood doesn’t all pool in our brains.

This year’s crop of preseason magazines found their way into my hot little hands this week, and OTP is proud to share what these augurs of the college football world had to say about our beloved Ball State Cardinals.

The Sporting News College Football Preview 2010
The Sporting News puts out their preview magazine to not nearly the fanfare of the other publications we obtained. To be fair for BSU fans, if you had to skip purchasing one, the Sporting News would be the one I would recommend bypassing. While great for the national angles, the amount of information found in the pages for the MidAmerican Conference is small, at best. Each team gets one column, while other magazines at least devote a full-page to each squad.

I can’t say I blame them, as you have to market to whatever readership is going to purchase the magazine. But to only give a column to a team seems a bit ridiculous. Spring for the extra pages and at least let the MAC/SunBelt/etc feel like they belong at the table, even if they do not. However, if you’re looking for a macro view of college football or want to focus on the power teams, then the Sporting News will suit your needs fine and dandy.

National Ranking: N/A… not a full ranking
Predicted Final Standing: 5th in MAC West
Predicted MAC West Champion: NIU
Predicted MAC East Champion: Temple
BSU Players on All-MAC Teams: Robert Eddins, DE (1st Team)
BSU Players on All-American Teams: None
Of Note:

  • Ian McGarvey named the MAC’s “Best Under Pressure”
  • BSU ranked 9th in MAC for recruiting
  • Named the Western Michigan game the “Game to Watch” on BSU’s schedule.

Lindy’s 2010 College Football Preview
Lindy’s is a step up from the Sporting News, but still not quite the level of respect you’ll get from one particular mag. However, what Lindy’s lacks in information, they at least seem to know a bit about BSU. They don’t simply let last year’s record speak for the Cardinals, and actually honor some of the young men through their All-MAC selections. And that’s a nice change of pace compared to some.

Lindy’s gives a full-page to each MAC squad and also a bit of information about last year. For your run of the mill national publication, Lindy’s isn’t bad. Quale gets some love also with a nice color photo. They also give a shout out to Keith Wenning as a “top newcomer” and point to an apparent “lack of strength” at the QB position as an indicator that Keith Wenning could come in and contribute right away. Time will tell, I reckon.

National Ranking: 113
Predicted Final Standing: 5th in MAC West
Predicted MAC West Champion: Central Michigan
Predicted MAC East Champion: Temple
BSU Players on All-MAC Teams: TE Madaris Grant (1st); RB Quale Lewis, DE Robert Eddins, DB Sean Baker, LB Travis Freeman, LB Davyd Jones (2nd)
BSU Players on All-American Teams: None
Of Note:

  • Quale Lewis not listed as one of the Top 25 running backs in the country
  • Their call: “The Cardinals will top last year’s two wins”

Athlon Sports 2010 Preview
When it comes to the preseason pubs, Athlon is the second in command in our view. Information beyond the basics, and usually something gimmicky that is at least entertaining. For example, this year, they rank every coaching job in the nation from best to worst. I’ll let you guess which end of that scale BSU was closest to. Hint: It isn’t the best. That’s all I’m saying.

Similar to those above, Athlon focuses on a macro view without paying a lot of attention to midmajor programs not in a BCS conference, though Boise State does receive quite a bit of attention. Being a national title contender will do that for you. If you’re a fan of Alabama or Ohio State, then Athlon should appeal to you. For the smaller conferences, there’s still adequate coverage and enough information and perspective to at least warrant browsing a bit at your local bookstore.

National Ranking: 108
Predicted Final Standing: 5th in MAC West 4-8 (2-6 MAC)
Predicted MAC West Champion: NIU
Predicted MAC East Champion: Temple
BSU Players on All-MAC Teams: DB Sean Baker, K Ian McGarvey (2nd)
BSU Players on All-American Teams: None
Of Note:

  • Ranks Ball State the 114th best coaching job in the nation. Hey! At least we’re not dead last!!
  • Unit rankings in the MAC for BSU: QB-9, RB-4, WR/TE-10, OL-12, DL-11, LB-8, DB-12
  • BSU ranked 9th in MAC for recruiting
  • Quale Lewis ranked the 46th best RB for fantasy college football and the 119th best overall player

Phil Steele’s 2010 College Football Preview
If you’re a hardcore fan of college football you know who Phil Steele is and you know all about his publication. If you don’t, then you need to get out more. Simply referred to as “The Bible” by most fans, Steele spends all year putting together a preview magazine worthy of the people who will obsess over it.

The bottom line is if you buy only one magazine, it should be this one. There is no other publication that can carry Steele’s jock when it comes to knowledge, information, and dedication. It is truly a sight to behold and something I look forward to each and every summer. This year, Steele is extremely complimentary of the Cards and expects them to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2010 season. That’s music to my ears as Steele has an amazing track record of picking those teams that no one saw coming. Positive omen for the Cards? It’s about time if it is considering the horrendous run of luck they had to endure last season.

Steele covers it all, from position rankings to unit rankings to recruiting, to prognosticating improved teams, declining teams, and his award finalists for the coming year. It is your one stop shop for information and take a walk through a pressbox on any given gameday and you’ll see at least a couple Steele mags poking out of sportswriters’ briefcases or laptop bags.

National Ranking: 88
Predicted Final Standing: 3rd in MAC West
Predicted MAC West Champion: WMU
Predicted MAC East Champion: Temple
BSU Players on All-MAC Teams: DE Robert Eddins (1st); RB Quale Lewis, K Ian McGarvey (2nd); TE Madaris Grant, LB Davyd Jones, P Scott Kovanda, OG Michael Switzer (3rd); WR Briggs Orsbon, LB Travis Freeman, CB Charlie Todd, DB Sean Baker, KR Eric Williams, PR Charlie Todd (4th)
BSU Players on All-American Teams: None
Of Note:

  • BSU a “darkhorse MAC West contender”
  • Unit rankings for the MAC: QB-7, RB-2, REC-6, OL-5, DL-6, LB-8, DB-5, Special Teams-7, Coaching-7
  • 112th toughest schedule
  • Quale Lewis named 60th best RB
  • Kelly Page ranked 52nd best QB
  • Davyd Jones ranked 69th best OLB
  • Sean Baker ranked 10th best SS
  • MAC rated 11th best conference
  • BSU named 6th best in MAC recruiting
  • BSU has 4th highest returning experience in the country
  • BSU ranked #118 in 2009’s attendance figures
  • Ball State projected to be #2 most improved team of 2010.

So What Have We Learned Boys and Girls?
Reading through the above, either one guy is right and three magazines are wrong or three magazines are right and one guy is wildly off base. Given Steele’s track record I’ll take my chances on him. So start booking those Motor City Bowl trips now, Cardinal fans!!

Perhaps that’s a bit premature, but the fact remains that as locked down as the MAC East appears to be in everyone’s mind with Temple, the MAC West is the exact opposite. NIU, WMU, and CMU all got nods as potential West champs, and Steele went so far as to say that even BSU has an outside shot at the West. I take from that this fall is going to be just as nutty as last year, which I’m not quite sure my heart can take.

What the “Experts” Say About the Wildcats

Most fans of major college football programs wait with bated breath as the supposed gurus and preseason publications prognosticate their lot in the college football universe for the coming season. Prognosticating in early summer for the season about to unfold is wildly speculative and usually wrong, but we, as fans, continue to support these endeavors with flashy covers, pages of stats, and usually a page or two of cheerleaders thrown in to make sure the blood doesn’t all pool in our brains.

This year’s crop of preseason magazines found their way into my hot little hands over the weekend, and OTP is proud to share what these augurs of the college football world had to say about our beloved Kentucky Wildcats.

The Sporting News College Football 09 Preview Magazine
The Sporting News has put out preview magazines for years, but for whatever reason is not considered to be one of the premier publications of the season. The information contained within is good enough, and it makes for at least something to fill the days before August, but for the most part, as one would expect with such a large national following like SN, the focus is on the top-tier teams and not on the ins and outs of the lower-tier BCS schools, the midmajors, or really any school that is not competing to win a national title or a BCS conference crown.

For Kentucky, they don’t get near the sort of evaluation or examination that a team like Oklahoma or Florida receives, but the Cats do get a write up that is borderline infuriating. Despite picking the Cats as potential participants in the Papajohns.com Bowl, SN makes it a point to really pick apart the Cats potential offensively, lack of what they believe to be impact players, and relying instead on the approach that Kentucky must simply avoid mistakes and not beat themselves.

SN takes special care with Trevard Lindley, certainly making no hidden evaluations of his talent. They even suggest that Lindley should get the ball on offense since they believe he is the only true special playmaker on the roster. Overall, the future looks borderline mediocre to grim for the Wildcats if you believe what SN has to say.

Predicted UK Final Standing: 5th in SEC East
Predicted SEC East Champion: Florida
Predicted SEC West Champion: Mississipppi
UK Players on SN All-SEC Team: Trevard Lindley
UK Players on SN All-American 2nd Team: Trevard Lindley
Of note: Given a grade of “C”… Kentucky rated 11th in SEC for recruiting… Uga named conference’s best mascot, Alabama the best fans, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium the best stadium, and LSU the best home-field advantage… Kentucky projected to go to Papajohns.com Bowl… Lists the “Game to Watch” as Alabama, saying that confidence gained by competing admirably will translate well for road games at SC and Auburn… names Alfonso Smith “The Next Big Thing”… only Mississippi State and Vanderbilt not projected to be Bowling in the conference.

Lindy’s Football 2009 College Preview
Lindy’s is actually a decent option for anyone looking for a national publication with adequate coverage of the midmajor programs throughout the land in addition to the national power BCS conferences. Unlike the Sporting News, Lindy’s prides itself on being insightful and detailed, while still prognosticating and opining page after page.

Being a member of the SEC is advantageous for UK in this publication, as the lower tier conferences and midmajor schools don’t get nearly the same sort of coverage.

For the Wildcats, Lindy’s dedicates an entire paragraph in the conference overview regarding the Wildcats. They admit that this may be Rich Brooks’ most talented team from top to bottom since his arrival in Lexington, but point to the lack of talent surrounding an “average quarterback” to make their 4th consecutive Bowl appearance a probability. Additionally, Lindy’s points to Kentucky’s early schedule as potential disaster for Bowl eligibility.

Overall, Lindy’s points to the obvious, focusing on Kentucky’s defense over their offense, and recognizing the need for the Wildcats to find some sort of identity on offense to match their stout defense. According to Lindy’s they have evaluated UK’s defense as capable of playing with any team in the SEC, but for the defense to be consistent and game changing, the offense must keep them off the field to avoid tired stretches at the conclusions of games.

UK National Ranking: 50
Predicted UK Final Standing: 5th in SEC East
Predicted SEC East Champion: Florida
Predicted SEC West Champion: LSU
UK Players on Lindy’s All-SEC 1st Team: Trevard Lindley
UK Players on Lindy’s All-SEC 2nd Team: Ineligible Jeremy Jarmon, Michah Johnson
UK Players on Lindy’s All-American 1st Team: Trevard Lindley
Of note: Trevard Lindley named the conference’s best cover corner and best corner in nation… Michah Johnson named 7th best inside linebacker in country… Kentucky ranked #6 in the country for their QB unit recruiting… Trevard Lindley named #4 in the conference for NFL talent… Kentucky ranks 11th for recruiting in the SEC.

Athlon Sports College Football Preview
Athlon Sports is consistently one of the well-written, well-researched, and well-thought out preview publications in all of college football. They provide fantastic coverage of national, regional, and local storylines, and do so without the glaring oversights and mistakes of other national publications.

Athlon, much like the two other aforementioned preview magazines focuses on Kentucky’s defense as the stand out unit and the offense as the proverbial question mark for the coming season. Athlon makes the point of Ryan Mossakowski and Morgan Newton able to challenge Mike Hartline for the starting QB job come fall.

Special attention is paid by Athlon to the Randall Cobb situation and making him a full-time receiver. There is an anonymous quote from an SEC assistant coach that says, “Randall Cobb is not a bad passer, but if you want a guy who makes his living passing the football, you would probably put Cobb somewhere else.”

Attention is also paid to the special teams of the Wildcats, where they make mention of the need for a reliable punter to replace Tim Masthay and a kicker who can deliver consistently. Also getting a mention is the “atrocious” protection schemes in the Florida game last year where two punts and a field goal was blocked.

The unit rankings for the Wildcats in relation to the conference: QB-8, RB-10, WR/TE-12, OL-9, DL-8, LB-11, DB-8

UK National Ranking: 56
Predicted UK Final Standing: 6th in SEC East
Predicted SEC East Champion: Florida
Predicted SEC West Champion: Alabama
UK Players on Athlon All-SEC 1st Team: Trevard Lindley
UK Players on Athlon All-SEC 2nd Team: Ineligible Jeremy Jarmon, Micah Johnson
UK Players on Athlon All-American 1st Team: Trevard Lindley
Of note: Kentucky ranked 11th in the SEC and 44th nationally for recruiting… Kentucky cheerleader Randi Bishop gets a page dedicated to her in the Spirit section.

Phil Steele’s College Football Preview 2009
By and large, there is no better preview magazine available than Phil Steele’s Football Preview. Most who cover college ball in some capacity call it simply “The Bible” and truthfully, even that is putting it mildly. Steele focuses on statistical analysis and simply loading the most information possible in a preview magazine. If you’re a casual fan or just looking for college football reading material, this is the ONE magazine to purchase.

Steele takes special care and time to point out just how overwhelmingly unbelievable the SEC will be this year. Steele believes teams like Florida and Ole Miss will compete for the SEC Title, and with that, a shot at the National Title.

For Kentucky, Steele takes the standard stance of an offense that needs improvement if the Cats are to be successful, and a defense that may be the best under the Brooks regime at Kentucky, most notably led by two players on Steele’s 1st and 3rd team All-American selections (Trevard Lindley and Micah Johnson).

Overall, the tone of the article is positive while tempered with the sheer talent that will line up against Kentucky in their conference. Steele does make note that it is not out of the question that Kentucky will be Bowling again, this time, he predicts, in the Liberty Bowl against UNC. The number of other SEC teams going Bowling according to Steele? 10. Impressive if true.

UK National Ranking: 58
Predicted UK Final Standing: Tied for 5th in SEC East
Predicted SEC East Champion: Florida
Predicted SEC West Champion: Mississippi
UK Players on Steele All-SEC 1st Team: Trevard Lindley
UK Players on Steele All-SEC 2nd Team: Micah Johnson, and the now ineligible Jeremy Jarmon
UK Players on Steele All-SEC 3rd Team: Zipp Duncan
UK Players on Steele All-SEC 4th Team: Corey Peters
UK Players on Steele All-American 1st Team: Trevard Lindley
UK Players on Steele All-American 3rd Team: Micah Johnson
Of Note: Kentucky predicted to be Bowling against UNC in the Liberty Bowl… Derrick Locke #38 draft eligible Running Back nationally… TC Drake #28 draft eligible Tight End nationally… Kentucky has 30th best defensive back unit in the country… SEC rated #1 toughest conference… Kentucky the 23rd highest average attendance last season… Kentucky’s Unit Rankings for 09 (out of 12) QB-5, RB-10, REC-9, OL-7 , DL-10, LB-12, DB-8, ST-7, Coach-6

So what does all this tell us about the upcoming year for the Wildcats? If the preseason magazines tell an accurate story of the Wildcats, the offense simply needs to play well enough to not cost their team games and allow the defense enough time to remain rested and well-performing. With the assumption, and it is a sizable one, that Kentucky wins its out of conference games and the offense matures and finds itself, then Kentucky is poised to go to its 4th consecutive Bowl game, a feat that is impressive considering the way the Brooks tenure at UK began.