Picked near the bottom of the Mid-American Conference's West Division and with a mighty schedule that boasted 3 BCS opponents, most prognosticators and fans figured another 6 win season and visible progression to a total rebuild of the program was about all that could be expected out of the Cardinals in 2012 – think again.
Ball State climbed to a second place finish behind only BCS-busting Northern Illinois and completed the season with a 9-4 record and a birth in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. Add to that a first of defeating two of those BCS programs (Indiana & South Florida) along with an upset over then top 25 team Toledo. Consider those expectations for the season exceeded.
So focus now changes to the expectations and goals for 2013 – and this time, those goals are going to be a bit loftier.
For starters, that beast of a 2012 schedule will be slightly less ferocious. The Cardinals have home games with FCS Illinois State and a capable Army team; add to that fellow "mid-major" North Texas and the lone BCS level opponent in a beatable Virginia school on the road and a chance for big things is possible.
Another factor in favor of lofty expectations for these Cardinals – almost everyone is back – especially on offense.
Think about this – QB Keith Wenning, RBs Jahwan Edwards and Horatcio Banks, WRs Willie Snead, Jamill Smith, Kevonn Mabon, Connor Ryan, Chris Shillings and Jordan Williams, TEs Zane Fakes and Dylan Curry and Offensive Linemen Jacob Richard, Jordan Hansel & Matthew Page all return, each having played at least 6 games this past season. This means that an offense that was already one of the best in the MAC, has an opportunity to be one of the best … in the nation next season.
The Achilles heal for the Cardinals in 2012 was a defensive unit that, despite improvement over the year, still gave up points and was gashed in the bowl game loss to Central Florida.
Back for that unit are playmakers Jonathan Newsome at DE, Nathan Ollie at DT, Jeff Garrett and Eric Patterson at DB and Safeties Jarrett Swaby and J.C. Wade. The unit most ravaged by attrition is the LB corps which lost its top three tacklers to graduation.
But for the first time in memory, a ton of youthful talent and depth will be bubbling up from the scout team a year ago as well as some stout commitments that have been picked up that may prove to be impact players from day one. Included in this list are: DTs Carlu Zaramo, Darnell Smith & verbals Blake Dueitt and William Lee; DEs Wes Johnson, Keenan Noel, Osa Igbinosun and verbal commits Anthony Winbush and Daniel Garces, LBs Ben Ingle, Trent Toothman and Julian Boyd; DBs Tyree Holder and verbal Desmond King; and Safeties Aaron Taylor, Dae'Shaun Hurley and Martez Hester.
Whether or not the injection of youthful talent and athleticism will prove major dividends right away remains to be seen, but the list above proves that things are moving the right direction for a unit that has struggled since 2008 and proves that the overall landscape for Ball State football is continuing to improve and Rise Up.
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