Ball State football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Cardinals, best players and season prediction.
Really, really, REALLY sorry about this, but it has to be done early to get it out of the way so we can all move on to bigger and better things.
It’s a Neu era in Ball State.
Pete Lembo seemed like he had Ball State on the right track to becoming a MAC power, going 10-3 in 2013, but things started going down with a losing 2014 season and a rough 3-9 2015 campaign with the offense struggling mightily. Losing eight of the final nine games sealed Lembo’s fate, and now the program is going in a different direction.
Head man Mike Neu is a Ball State Cardinal through and through, rising up as a playmaking passing star for the program in the early 1990s, and now he’s getting his chance to take over his school’s team after more than earning his stripes.
Neu made his coaching name in the Arena League as the head man for three different teams before serving as the New Orleans Saint quarterback coach. Drew Brees likes him, he’s a Ball State Cardinal, and he has head coaching experience.
Now it’s time to get the offense ramped up again in Muncie.
Lembo’s attack had experience with seven starters on offense, but it just didn’t mesh. The offense that rolled three years ago with QB Keith Wenning at the helm finished 12th in the nation in passing and averaged over 38 points per game. Last year the O finished 104th in the country in passing efficiency and averaged just 23 points per outing.
Can Neu bring make Ball State dangerous enough to be a player again in the MAC? He’s already in the school’s Hall of Fame for his playing days, and he’ll get every chance to make this his stepping-stone to an even bigger job – if all goes well.
What You Need To Know About The Ball State Offense
Considering his pro coaching experience, and his love of the passing game, expect head coach Mike Neu and offensive coordinator Joey Lynch to start ramping up the air show with a good tempo and pace. Expect a no-huddle attack that spreads the ball all over the field and tries to keep defenses on their toes. The early problem, though, will be the weapons with Jordan Williams and some of the key targets gone and with four starters missing on the O line. Riley Neal and Jack Milas are good quarterbacks to work around, and the running backs are fine, but the backfield will need time to work.
Biggest Key To The Ball State Offense
Can the passing game start to get the ball downfield a bit more? The Ball State offense wasn’t supposed to be dink and dunk, but that’s what it turned out to be averaging under ten yards per completion. The chances will be there to take some more shots down the field, but the quarterback play that was a bit too spotty last season has to be a bit stronger and more dangerous. Last year’s offense tried to operate with a quick pace, but it didn’t really work. This year’s attack should be faster.
What You Need To Know About The Ball State Defense
The defense that was such a disaster will undergo an overhaul. For a long time, the Cardinals were able to overcome mistakes on D with a strong offense, but that didn’t happen last year and the results were awful. Defensive coordinator Tim Daoust will run a 4-3, that should be far stronger based on experience along. The pass rush needs to be better, and there have to be more big plays, but ten starters return led by a promising secondary that can’t be any worse after allowing close to 300 yards per game.
Biggest Key To The Ball State Defense
Defensive coordinator Tim Daoust should make the run defense better right away. It doesn’t hurt that he gets almost everyone back, but on the downside, the same players struggled mightily last year allowing over 1,000 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns over the last three games. There wasn’t much of a pass rush, there weren’t many impact plays, and there were way too many big marches by anyone who tried to pound away. This isn’t going to be a brick wall of a D, but it should be more effective.
Ball State will be far better if …
The defense comes up with a third down stop. The Cardinal D was absolutely abysmal on third downs last season giving up over 51% of the chances and getting roasted way too often. It all tied together. The offense tried to work fast, but was ineffective. The defense was bad against the run, allowing too many easy third down chances. Opposing offenses were able to convert easily, control the clock, and control the games. It starts with the BSU O being better, but the defense has to get off the field faster.
Best Ball State Offensive Player
QB Riley Neal, Soph. – Jack Milas got the call early on last year, but it was Neal who took over and worked his way into the offense as the year goes on. This season, with so much turnover on offense, he has to be over the freshman mistakes – even though he only threw six picks – and he has to become even more of a team leader. He has the 6-5 size the mobility, and now he has the coaching staff who knows how to crank up a passing attack.
Best Ball State Defensive Player
LB Sean Wiggins, Sr. – The best player on a veteran defense, he’s a good pass rusher, was all over the field trying to clean things up, and made plenty of tackles on his way to an All-MAC season. He has the size and the range, and now it’ll be his job to come up with more big impact plays, especially in the backfield.
Key Player To A Successful Season
OT Drake Miller, Sr. – The defense has plenty of veterans, the offensive backfield has upside, and the receivers will come around. None of it matters if the offensive line doesn’t come up with a good year. For all the team’s issues, pass protection wasn’t a problem, but that could be a concern early on with four starters gone and with so many young players needing to play big roles now. The 6-5, 301-pound veteran is good on the outside, and now he has to be the anchor during the rebuilding job.
The Ball State Season Will Be A Success If …
The Cardinals win six games. Can they be three games better? With an experienced defense and a new coaching staff, there might be just enough tweaking and just enough of an improvement to get by Eastern Kentucky and Florida Atlantic in non-conference play, and to get through a not-that-bad year in the MAC to become bowl eligible.
2015 Ball State Fun Stats
– First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 82 – Ball State 28
– Penalties: Opponents 93 for 812 yards – Opponents 44 for 425 yards
– Third Down Conversions: Opponents 95-of-185 (51%) – Ball State 76-of-199 (38%)