Know your Opponent: Illinois State

Ball State kicks off its 2013 Football Season on Thursday night under the lights at Scheumann Stadium against FCS Power Illinois State.

Overview: Coming off a 9-4 record and a trip to the FCS playoffs, the Illinois State Redbirds come in to Scheumann Stadium on Thursday night with great credentials and no lack of talent. The Redbirds are the #10 team in the FCS Coaches Preseason poll and Coach Brock Spack and the gang are poised for another playoff run in 2013.

Positional Breakdown – OFFENSE

QUARTERBACKJared Barnett, a 6-2 210 Junior, will be making his first start under center for the Redbirds, but that doesn't mean he lacks in experience. Barnett, who transferred from Iowa State, was a spot starter for two seasons with the Cyclones and even led them to an upset of then #2-Oklahoma State in 2011. Barnett has a good arm and is also a solid athlete, capable of making yardage with his legs.

RUNNING BACK – Much has been made of the Redbirds big backfield of 6-0 230 RB Cameron Hunt and 6-2 250 FB Jordan Neukrich. Hunt is a bruising runner, who had 313 yards and 2 TDs a year ago, that can also roll off the big run such as the 82 yard burst he had versus Eastern Michigan a year ago. Neukrich is Mr. Versatile for the Redbirds. He lines up at FB, H-Back and occasionally as a second TE and has 35 games under his belt. Despite the size they bring to the table, in reality, it is nothing different than what the Cardinals see everyday in practice (Jahwan Edwards is 228 and Mike Raby is 265).

WIDE RECEIVER – The Redbirds lost their top receiving threat from a year ago, but welcome back their #2 & 4 receivers in Lechein Neblett and Phil Dudley. Neblett had 49 receptions for 667 yards and 5 touchdowns a year ago. Dudley, a former Ball State Cardinal, was a do-it-all kind of guy last year. The Jr. served as slot WR, where he caught 32 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown, as well as carrying to ball to the tune of 46 yards AND completing both passing attempts he made for 45 yards.

TIGHT END – Back at the TE is field stretcher James O'Shaughnessy. The 6-4 245 Jr. caught 19 passes for 403 yards and 3 touchdowns. That is 21.2 yards a catch. Which is pretty impressive. As stated before, Neukirch can also swing over and line up at TE or H-Back where he caught 4 balls that resulted in 2 touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE – The offensive line is big and experienced with 65 total games and 56 starts amongst the group. The group is headlined by massive tackles Josh Aladenoye (6-6 325 Sr.) and Jermaine Barton (6-7 310 Jr). Bath are BCS transfer as Aladenoye played at Oklahoma and Barton at Miami (FL). The least experienced lineman is Jr C Charles Cowley who has only 3 games played under his belt, with no starts.

Positional Breakdown – DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE – All talk about the Redbirds d-line should rightly begin with Sr. DE Colton Underwood. The FCS All-American and Buck Bucnanan Award nominee totaled 10 ½ sacks a season ago with 19.5 tackles for loss and an astonishing 95 total tackles, which was second on the team a year ago and inordinately high for a DE. Also back is 315 Run Plug DT Albert Spark and 270 DT Bradon Prate – who combined for 23 tackles in the middle a season ago.

LINEBACKER – A relatively young unit that returns just one starter in WILL Alex Donnelly, but has a lot of young talent. Donnelly posted 43 tackles and a sack last season, but other projected starter, Brandon Westphal and Pat Meehan, combined for just 25 tackles. A key reserve is So. Ohio State transfer David Perkins, who was a highly recruited prep player out of South Bend (IN) Washington a few seasons ago.

SECONDARY – The Redbirds return three veteran players in corners Mike Banks and Matt Goldsmith and Safety Ezra Thompson that combine for 53 starts. The group boasted 143 tackles and 5 INTs a season ago. They will be joined by Jr. Dontae McCoy in the starting lineup. The group also boasts an Ohio State transfer in Dominic Clarke, a Sr. DB.

SPECIALISTS – Nick Aussieker, a Jr., returns as the incumbent at placekicker, where he connected on 11 of 13 field goal attempts and 46 of 49 extra points. The punter, CJ Laros, is making his first appearance as a Redbird.

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