Ball State Cardinals
Head coach Mike Neu took over at his former school last fall, and as could be predicted, had some issues getting things off of the ground for the Cardinals. The start of the season was promising, as the Cardinals started off 3-1, but then the wheels came off late, with Ball State losing their final five games. We can probably expect a bit more in terms of program building from Neu this season, but how much can we expect to happen, and how fast?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Riley Neal did not play at all in spring ball as he recovered from non throwing shoulder surgery. He should be ready to go in fall camp, and should be all in on opening day. He is a gifted two way threat at QB, but he has got to cut down on his turnovers and increase his ability to make big plays, which he has the propensity for. He passed for 13 TDs last fall, while throwing 12 INTs, but he did rush for eight more scores.
James Gilbert is one of the best backs in the MAC, and returns for more work in 2017 after rushing for 1332 yards and 12 scores last fall. He averaged 5.31 yards pr carry and 11 yards rushing per game. Darian Green and Malik Dunner will add depth in the run game as well.
Three starters will return on the line in LT Pat Maloney, LG Vinnie Palazeti, and RT Alex Joss.
Morgan Hagee is one of the better kickers in the MAC after hitting 15/19 FG attempts last season as a sophomore.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
If Neal cannot stay healthy, Jack Milas gets the call, and he only completed 20/38 passes last fall. The other issue in the passing game is that the Cardinals have to replace each starting WR, and the starting TE. Riley Miller, Jordan Hogue, and Devin Reece have the inside tracks to start at WR, but they don't bring a ton of experience with them. Danny Pinter gets first shot at the TE job.
The interior line has some holes at C and RG. A pair of sophomores are up for the jobs in Andrew Poenitsch at C, and Zac Ricketts at RG.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
There is not a ton of early hope on defense at all, as just three starters return in DE Anthony Winbush, DT Kevin Willis, and CB Marc Walton. Winbush finished with 10.5 TFLs last fall, and Willis added 4.5. Walton was a star at CB, finishing with 11 PBUs on the year.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The entire defense is in some state of disarray as we head into fall camp, with the line being the only area that is at least half resolved. Sophomore Chris Crumb will step in at NG, while freshman Frank Burton III is likely going to win the open DE job.
The entire LB corps will be new and very young. Brandon Martin is getting a look at OLB, and is a freshman, while junior Damon Singleton, a junior, is likely to line up on the other side. MLB candidate Jacob White is just a sophomore.
The secondary needs three new starters to line up with Walton. Josh Miller could get a look at CB, while Armani McNulty (SS) and Romero Wade (FS) are also starting candidates.
The Punter job is a bit of a problem as well, as Hagee may have to handle that job after averaging just 36 yards per try last fall.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 at Illinois, 9/9 UAB, 9/16 Tennessee Tech, 9/23 at Western Kentucky, 9/30 at Western Michigan, 10/7 at Akron, 10/21 Central Michigan, 10/26 Toledo, 11/2 at Eastern Michigan, 11/9 at Northern Illinois, 11/16 Buffalo, 11/21 Miami (Ohio)
This is a process for Neu and his staff, and things may take a step back before taking a step forward this fall. The early schedule lends itself to a potential fast start once again, but by week four, things get real with the schedule, and the Cardinals also suffer three straight road games from the end of September into October. The defense is a royal mess, and the offense has questions in the passing game, so to expect anything better than another four win season would be unreasonable at this point. All you can do is watch the development happen, and expect to see some growth here and there. Expect nothing more.