Joey Lynch returns as the starting quarterback after passing for over 1,800 yards and 18 TDs in 2005. A better word for his return may be ‘survived.’ Lynch and the Cardinal quarterbacks suffered 43 sacks last season. Even with so much pressure, Lynch threw just 7 INTs and completed 63% of his passes. BSU ranked #93 last year in passing offense (189-yards per game) – that figure will be much higher this year. A #2 quarterback needs to be developed with Warren Suess and Zach Jones battling for the job. Highly recruited true freshman Nate Davis has a legitimate chance to win the backup role.
Running Backs Charles Wynn graduated leaving BJ Hill and Larry Bostic as the only running backs with significant playing experience. Together they combined to average 58-yards per game. Each is in the 5’7’’ 185-pound range with good speed and proven endurance. Brenton Martin and Jacolby Bond bring much needed size to the position and Brad Sayler is a prototypical fullback. Overall there is more talent and depth in this area. The Cardinals will be much better than their 110-yard rushing average per game of 2005.
Receivers/Tight Ends The Cardinals return nearly 75% of their receiving production. Michael Steinhaus is the starting tight end with Darius Hill and Kyle Cornwell all seeing significant playing time. “Our tight end position is really strong and by far our deepest area” stated Hoke. Terry Moss is the leading returning wide receiver with Bryan Williamson, Louis Johnson, Dan Dunford, John Myles and Donte Love all contributing. Love, a former option QB in high school, is a special playmaker since he lines up as a quarterback or running back in certain formations. Williamson has big-time potential and Johnson, who was superb in the spring game with a 121-yard performance, could be the real surprise of this group.
Offensive Linemen Brady Hoke knew there were going to be some issues on the offensive line when two true freshmen were pressed into starting at Iowa to open the season last year. Hoke said, “that’s not the situation you want against a team like that.” The silver lining is more experience and depth, as all five starters return along with several letter winners. There should be much improvement from a unit that led a rushing attack that averaged only 110-yards per game and ranked #116 in the nation in sacks allowed. Andrew Ramsey, Justin Schneider, Dan Gerberry, Dustin Brown and Robert Brewster will be a more cohesive group this season. The starting O-line averages 6-5 303 per man.
Defensive Linemen Ball State’s defensive turnaround will need to start up front. “We need to be consistent on defense and create more sacks and quarterback pressure,” stated Hoke. The Cardinals recorded just 16 sacks last season which ranked 99th nationally while giving up over 200 yards rushing per game. There is finally some size in the trenches with three players in the 300-pound range. The coaching staff is excited about the ends, Riley Larimore, Cortland Booker, Kenny Meeks and Drew Duffin. The interior line is made up of Tom Kellar, Amara Koroma, Jordan Applegate and William Wise. Overall the defensive line should be much better this year than 2005.
Linebackers The strength of the defense was going to be the three returning linebackers of Wendell Brown, Brad Seiss and Bryant Hayes. Together this trio recorded 216 tackles and 17 tackles for loss. Unfortunately, Seiss was lost for the season when he tore his ACL during spring ball. Anthony Corpuz, Martin Dunbar, Mike Dorulla, Alex Moore and Jason Sieman are all returning lettermen. This is the most athletic LB unit of the Brady Hoke era and should be one of the team’s strength.
Defensive Backs Part of the problem may have been lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks upfront, but there is no denying that the Cardinals ranked 95th in the country in pass defense due to suspect play in the defensive backfield. Each starting cornerback is in the 5-10, 170-pound range, putting them at a disadvantage against bigger receivers. The safety positions are solid behind Erik Keys, the team’s 4th leading tackler in 2005, and Trey Lewis.
Special Teams Ball State has a long history of quality kickers and you can add Chris Miller to that list. Miller led the MAC in punting last season and ranked 12th nationally with a 43.8 yard average. Brian Jackson returns at place-kicker with a 54-yarder to his credit. Dante Love is a splendid kickoff specialist while BJ Hill will handle punt returns.
Final Thoughts Brady Hoke enters his fourth year with what should be his best team to date. Joey Lynch runs the offense well, and there is good speed at tailback and receiver. However, the success of the offense will depend on the continued development of the players up front and having them stay healthy. Protecting the quarterback and generating running lanes for the small and shifty halfbacks is the goal this season. Defensively, there are still question marks since the defensive line put little pressure on opposing quarterbacks and exposed a very average group of defensive backs. Ball State ranked dead last in the MAC in total and scoring defense last year (459 yards and 37.8 points per game). That mark should be significantly reduced this year with more size and athleticism on the defensive line and at linebacker, along with a much softer schedule. Still, the defensive backs will need to make plays after recording just 8 INTs last year, ranking 94th in that category. The Cardinals are blessed with outstanding special teams units which could be worth an extra win or two this year. A non-conference schedule that features home games with Indiana and North Dakota State is a welcome change from the murderers’ row of road games to Iowa, Auburn and Boston College that the ‘Cards faced last year.
Mark it down! Alright, so this publication is not going out on a limb and predicting that the Cardinals will beat Indiana at home on September 9th, but we predicting that this will be the highest attendance ever at Ball State Stadium. Toss in the preseason prediction that BSU will beat NIU for the second straight year – this time in Muncie.
Schedule Analysis After two-straight years of playing most difficult non-conference schedules in the MAC, the Cardinals finally get a break. They open the season with a home MAC game and also host Indiana and North Dakota State. Their OOC road games are Purdue in mid-September and Michigan in early November. The cross over games are very favorable; Buffalo, Kent State and Miami.
Most Important Game Eastern Michigan on August 31. During the whole Brady Hoke era the Cardinals have started off with brutal road schedules. Finally they get a team they match up with in week #1. After winning a 26-25 nail-biter over the Eagles last season, a divisional MAC victory to begin the season is a must for this Cardinal program to have confidence before facing two straight Big Ten teams.