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Ball State

College Football

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Ball State used a favorable non-conference schedule to get to four wins last season, making them appear slightly better than they actually were. The Cardinals finished with just one win in the MAC and return only nine starters from that group so the rebuild for Mike Neu continues in his second season as head coach.

While the Cardinals don’t return many starters, they return their guys at quarterback and running back so reaching last year’s levels (27 points per game) shouldn’t be difficult. Riley Neal (13 TDs, 12 INTs, 540 rushing yards, 8 rushing TDs) is in his third season as starting QB so one would think he should be even better in his junior year. His running ability combined with stud running back James Gilbert (1,332 yards, 12 TDs) equals one of the best ground attacks in the conference. Behind a line that returns three starters, that’s a good base to build an offense around. The problem for Neal in the passing game is that he sat out spring practices after shoulder surgery (non-throwing) and he lost his favorite receivers. His top returning receiver is Jordan Hogue (170 yards) along with inexperienced Devin Reece and Riley Miller. They can run the ball, but the passing game remains a question.

The defense continues to be an issue for Ball State, but the hope is that new coordinator David Elson can change that. Still, that’s a big ask for a guy that comes over from Western Illinois and Southern Illinois, not to mention he only has three returning starters to work with. The line is actually stout led by end and sack master Anthony Winbush, but there are all kinds of questions with the back seven. Linebacker will be completely new with two underclassmen expected to start and it’s the same case in the secondary with junior Marc Walton the only starter that’s back with the group.

The Cardinals had three wins in non-conference play last season, but with two tough road trips this year, they may only reach two wins. Because of that, it’s hard to see this team reaching a bowl game unless Neal and Gilbert can really get the offense rolling. A string of three-straight road games doesn’t help in late September, while all of their MAC home games outside of Buffalo are against top-of-the-conference competition. In addition to Buffalo, Ball State’s best chances for wins will be road games at Akron and EMU. Considering they lost at home to EMU last season in a shootout, there’s not a reason to expect a bowl from this team.

The Cardinals may have a couple dynamic pieces on offense, but overall that may not be enough, especially if turnovers remain a problem. Throw in a defense that has a questionable outlook and four wins could be the season total yet again. Their +5500 odds (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the conference put them above only two other teams to go with an over/under at 4.5.


2017 Ball State Cardinals Football Schedule

Sept. 2 at Illinois
Sept. 9 vs. UAB
Sept. 16 vs. Tennessee Tech
Sept. 23 at Western Kentucky

Sept. 30 at Western Michigan
Oct. 7 at Akron
Oct. 21 vs. Central Michigan

Oct. 26 vs. Toledo
Nov. 2 at Eastern Michigan
Nov. 9 at Northern Illinois
Nov. 16 vs. Buffalo
Nov. 21 vs. Miami (OH)

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