Matt Murschel | College Gridiron 365
1:04 PM EDT, June 24, 2013
The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 62: Ball State
Coach: Pete Lembo (15-10, third season; 94-46 overall)
2012 record: 9-4 (6-2 in Mid-American Conference, tied for second in West)
Look back: Ball State captured only its third winning season in the past decade when the Cardinals won nine games in 2012. The offense saw tremendous growth under second-year coach Pete Lembo as Ball State ranked second in the Mid-American Conference in scoring (33.6 points per game), right behind eventual conference champion Northern Illinois. The Cardinals only two conference losses were to Kent State and NIU, teams that went on to play in the league title game.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: LB Travis Freeman, LB Tony Martin, NT Brandon Newman, FS Jarrett Swaby, C Dan Manick, G Kitt O’Brien, T Austin Holtz, P Scott Kovanda
Top returnees: QB Keith Wenning, RB Jahwan Edwards, WR Willie Snead, WR Jamill Smith, TE Zane Fakes, CB Eric Patterson, CB Jeffery Garrett, DE Jonathan Newsome
Strengths: Ball State had the second-best offense in the Mid-American Conference last season with the group averaging 457 yards per game. As a junior, quarterback Keith Wenning set several career and school marks while completing 65 percent of his passes for 3,095 yards and 24 TDs. … Joining him in the backfield is running back Jahwan Edwards, who rushed for a team-high 1,410 yards and 14 TDs last season as the Cardinals had the fourth-best rushing offense in the conference. Along with Wenning and Edwards, Ball State returns every key position player on offense including the team’s top three receivers: Willie Snead (1,148 yards/9 TDs), Jamill Smith (706/6) and Connor Ryan (357/3) along with tight end Zane Fakes (461/5). … The secondary, which struggled in 2012, returns three of its four starters from last season including corner backs Eric Patterson (61 tackles/2 INTs) and Jeffery Garrett (57 tackles).
Weaknesses: Defense is a concern as the Cardinals finished ranked 102nd in the country in total defense (462 yards per game). Six starters return from last season’s group including three of four front seven led by defensive ends Jonathan Newsome (52 tackles/8.5 sacks) and Nick Miles (54 tackles). The team will have to make up for the loss of its top linebackers: Travis Freeman and Tony Martin, making the middle of the defense a concern. … The Cardinals led the league in fewest sacks allowed (14), but with only one returning starters on the offensive line – G Jordan Hansel – it will be tough to duplicate that type of effort.
Outlook: The program hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 2007-2008 under Brady Hoke. Consequently, that’s the last time the team has played in back-to-back bowl games. The offense will have to carry the load while the defense looks to improve from last season. If everything starts to click, Ball State should compete for a MAC West title.
Aug. 29 Illinois State
Sept. 7 Army
Sept. 14 at North Texas
Sept. 21 at Eastern Michigan
Sept. 28 Toledo
Oct. 5 at Virginia
Oct. 12 Kent State
Oct. 19 at Western Michigan
Oct. 26 at Akron
Nov. 6 Central Michigan
Nov. 13 at Northern Illinois
Nov. 29 Miami (Ohio)
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