13 Teams/13 Days Countdown: Ball State Cardinals

Updated 8/15/2013

Conference: MAC, West Division
Location: Muncie, Ind.
Nickname: Cardinals
Returning starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
2012 record: 9-4 (6-2 MAC)
Aug. 29 -- Illinois State, 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
Sept. 7 -- Army, 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Sept. 14 -- at North Texas, 4 p.m. (Fox Sports Net)
Sept. 21 -- at Eastern Michigan, 1 p.m.
Sept. 28 -- Toledo, 3 p.m.
Oct. 5 -- at Virginia, TBD
Oct. 12 -- Kent State, 3 p.m.
Oct. 19 -- at Western Michigan, 2 p.m.
Oct. 26 -- at Akron, Noon (ESPN Regional)
Nov. 6 -- Central Michigan, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Nov. 13 -- at Northern Illinois, 8 p.m. (ESPN2/ESPNU)
Nov. 29 -- Miami, TBD (ESPNU/ESPN3)
SOCIAL MEDIA (Accounts to FOLLOW on Twitter if you are a Ball State Fan)
Media Coverage/Beat Writer: @tstmyer@bsudailynews
SEASON BREAKDOWN & PREDICTION (courtesy of USA Today's Paul Myerberg)
In a nutshell: Ball State needs to be taken seriously not just as a MAC West contender – which the Cardinals have been for two years running – but also as a Kent State-like breakthrough team, one that could parlay an easier schedule and two high-profile league dates into a push to double-digit wins and a national ranking. Such a step seems entirely possible: BSU won nine games a year ago, after all, and shows no sign of regression heading into Lembo's third season with the program. In a word, BSU's coaching is fantastic.
And the Cardinals' offense is good enough to score on every team on this schedule. It's the offense that makes Ball State so dangerous – and makes this team so promising. No MAC team can match the Cardinals' options at the skill positions, from Wenning and Edwards in the backfield to Snead, Fakes and Smith on the outside. The line is a concern on paper, true, but I think the situation is far less dire than one must suppose; much is riding on the new starters, but several were prepared for their new roles during the course of last season. I have no doubt that BSU will exceed last year' scoring output (437 points) and challenge for the school's single-season scoring record (489 points in 2008, achieved in 14 games). I'd tell Toledo and Northern Illinois to pay attention, but it'd be a waste of time – the Cardinals already have the MAC's undivided attention.
So why third in the West? I think the Cardinals are fairly even with Toledo, for one, even if both teams are lagging behind NIU. The biggest issue is this defense, which has experienced its fair share of ineffectiveness since 2011 and must rebound with a more consistent, week-by-week performance to take home the division. Here's my take: BSU will win at least eight games and likely nine during the regular season, but unless the defense takes a step forward the Cardinals will not land the wins they need to earn the national recognition this program and its coaching staff deserve. And what if this defense exceeds expectation? Then you're looking at a potential monster. I can't say enough about the work Lembo and his staff have done remaking BSU's place in the MAC's pecking order.

READ MORE of USA Today's Preview (courtesy of Paul Myerberg) by CLICKING HERE