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Ball State didn't do many good things last year, finishing worse than 100th nationally in scoring on both sides of the field. The Cardinals won three games, with all of those coming against competition that finished with fewer wins than them. And so, they decided to mix things up when Pete Lambo left and brought in new head coach Mike Neu, a former QB coach at Tulane and the New Orleans Saints.
Neu, a former quarterback at Ball State, expects to help the offense immediately. As a bonus, he gets to work with Riley Neal, who was the Cardinals best quarterback as a freshman last year. Neal threw for 16 TDs and 6 INTs, while also rushing for 399 yards and a couple more touchdowns. Most of his top receivers return with KeVonn Mabon (70 receptions, 745 yards) and Corey Lacanaria (376 yards) in tow.
The running game was the best part of the offense a year ago and they return all starters to the mix with Darian Green (730 yards, 5 TDs), James Gilbert (608 yards, 8 TDs) and Teddy Williamson all expected to see touches.
The main question comes along the offensive line, most notably the right side where all three starters are gone including the center. Drake Miller is one of the best in the MAC at left tackle, but the pieces around him are unknown.
But to be better, the defense has to take a step after being one of the worst in the conference last year allowing 35.8 points per game. They return nine starters, so that should help somewhat. Neu brought in Tim Daoust to coordinate the group, having previously coached at Syracuse and before that, multiple MAC teams.
Daoust is bringing in an attacking 4-3 scheme that almost mimics what Michigan State does. Of course, without the same talent level, that also opens to giving up a lot of big plays, even something MSU does. The good news is that there are a bunch of seniors in the group and that starts at linebacker. Sean Wiggins, Aaron Taylor and Zack Ryan are the strength of the unit in the middle and should help the defense to do plenty of positive things. That means allowing end Joshua Posley to go after the quarterback early and often with John Whitman and Kevin Willis at tackle.
The secondary will be relied upon often, considering how much this team is going to blitz. They expect a lot from these guys, so having four returning starters in the mix will only help.
The first goal for Ball State will be to surpass three wins, which is definitely do-able. The Cardinals travel to Georgia State in the opener and then host Eastern Kentucky before travelling back south to Florida Atlantic. As long as travel doesn't affect them, that could turn out to be three wins if all goes well. Their opening and closing MAC schedule is a bit difficult, but wins against teams like Akron, Buffalo and Eastern Michigan are all possibilities.
Of course, none of those are certain things and the Cardinals could end up with three wins again. But there's no reason why this team can't improve. Four or five wins is a good starting point for Neu and definitely a possibility with an experienced sophomore leading the way at quarterback.
2016 Ball State Cardinals Football Schedule
Sept. 2 at Georgia State
Sept. 10 at Indiana
Sept. 17 vs. Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 24 at Florida Atlantic
Oct. 1 vs. Northern Illinois
Oct. 8 at Central Michigan
Oct. 15 at Buffalo
Oct. 22 vs. Akron
Nov. 1 vs. Western Michigan
Nov. 8 vs. Eastern Michigan
Nov. 16 at Toledo
Nov. 22 at Miami (OH)
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