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The big 2014 Ball State football preview: Captain Lembo has the Cardinals flying

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

Pete Lembo is one hell of a program pilot, but as he enters his fourth year as Ball State's head coach, he faces a pretty stiff challenge: life without quarterback Keith Wenning. If a quarterback emerges and the defense can stay healthier than it did last year, the Cardinals could again challenge for the MAC title.

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Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. The ascent

It's not hard to analogize head coaches and pilots. You've got hundreds of buttons to push and diverse meters to watch. You (usually) have to put in a certain number of hours before you are eligible to become the pilot, and even more hours before you are allowed to pilot a high-performance aircraft. Failure in one area can doom successes in all others. Et cetera.

Piloting one flying machine can be different than piloting another. Getting a twin-engine Gulfstream into the air and back down is in almost no way analogous to flying an SR-71. To succeed in one job sometimes means you must "unlearn everything you knew about other aircraft," as the Blackbird pilot put it.

We don't know if Ball State head coach Pete Lembo is destined to become a high-performance aircraft pilot one day, and if he reaches that status, we don't know for sure how he might do. But stepping back and surveying his career to date, one can conclude this: if it can fly, Lembo can get it into the air.

I covered all of this last year ...

He inherited a nice Lehigh program from Kevin Higgins, went 11-1 in his first season, and won at least eight games in each of the next four years. At Elon, he inherited a Southern Conference program that was all-potential, minimal-production; the Phoenix had gone just 14-42 in the five years before his arrival. He went 5-6 in Year 1, then reeled off four straight winning seasons and a 2009 FCS playoff appearance. And at Ball State, he inherited a team in serious flux. The Cardinals had gone 12-2 in 2008, Brady Hoke's final year in charge, but they went just 6-18 in two years under Stan Parrish. Lembo engineered an immediate, two-game improvement in 2011, then reeled off a surprising 9-4 season in 2012.

In just over a decade, Lembo has won, and won pretty big, in the Patriot League (northeastern, with mostly need-based aid for players), the Southern Conference (an FCS powerhouse), and the MAC (a midwestern mid-major).

"One stat that one of my assistants threw at me recently: There are only seven head coaches that have won nine or more games at three or more schools," Lembo told me. He's one of them.

... so I'm repeating myself. But it's worth reviewing in the wake of a 2013 season in which Ball State took yet another step forward. The Cardinals won 10 games for just the second time in three decades, came within a quarter of the MAC West title, and ranked in the F/+ top 60 for the first time in six years. The defense is still a work in progress, but the offense arrived. And if it can find a new quarterback, it should thrive again in 2014.

If they could get a washing machine to fly, Pete Lembo could land it. And if he keeps it up in Muncie, he'll be manning a pretty large aircraft in the not-too-distant future.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-3 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 57
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
29-Aug Illinois State N/A 51-28 W 25.6 - 28.6 L
7-Sep Army 100 40-14 W 25.9 - 20.6 W
14-Sep at North Texas 51 27-34 L 46.1 - 28.9 W
21-Sep at Eastern Michigan 124 51-20 W 29.0 - 35.8 L
28-Sep Toledo 62 31-24 W 33.0 - 25.2 W 4.1
5-Oct at Virginia 79 48-27 W 34.8 - 38.5 L 4.0
12-Oct Kent State 106 27-24 W 30.7 - 29.2 W 3.2
19-Oct at Western Michigan 117 38-17 W 29.5 - 33.4 L -1.0
26-Oct at Akron 108 42-24 W 37.3 - 33.1 W 1.2
6-Nov Central Michigan 111 44-24 W 42.2 - 35.0 W 1.0
13-Nov at Northern Illinois 60 27-48 L 37.6 - 35.3 W 2.2
29-Nov Miami (Ohio) 123 55-14 W 43.6 - 33.7 W 3.9
5-Jan vs. Arkansas State 90 20-23 L 23.2 - 27.1 L 3.9
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +4.7% 44 -4.6% 85 +2.1% 25
Points Per Game 38.5 15 24.7 48
Adj. Points Per Game 33.7 26 31.1 94

2. The yards kept piling up, for better and worse

Calling Ball State's defense a "work in progress" is a polite way of saying it isn't very good yet. Lembo inherited a defense that was 109th in Def. F/+, and in three years, it has ranked 109th again in 2011, 87th in 2012, and 85th in 2013. So it is technically improving, but not at the rate of the offense, which also ranked 109th in Off. F/+ the year before Lembo arrived.

That said, the defense was pretty close to average at the beginning of the year. But as the offense clicked late in the season, the defense lost its way.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): BSU 31.7, Opponent 28.5 (plus-3.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): BSU 32.0, Opponent 31.6 (plus-0.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 4 games): BSU 40.2, Opponent 34.3 (plus-5.9)

Depth and injuries appeared to take a toll as the season progressed. Three of the eight primary defensive linemen missed at least one game, two linebackers played just about every snap (and one missed a game as well), and while the tackles were well-distributed in the secondary, so were the injuries and missed snaps -- only three of the nine primary defensive backs played in all 13 games. This played a role in the Cardinals' sketchy late-season defense, but it also could have played a role within each of three losses; Ball State was outscored 31-0 in the fourth quarter of two regular season losses and gave up a last-second scoring drive in a sloppy, windblown GoDaddy Bowl.

A team with Ball State's November offense and September defense would have probably won the MAC; alas, the Cardinals fell just short of the title game and gave themselves something more to shoot for despite a high level of overall success.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 44 IsoPPP+ 99.8 62
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 50.5% 7 Succ. Rt. + 106.3 42
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.8 48 Def. FP+ 99.4 66
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 25 Redzone S&P+ 101.8 53
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.1 ACTUAL 19 -4.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 19 45 42 54
RUSHING 79 85 88 107
PASSING 12 31 12 15
Standard Downs 61 59 65
Passing Downs 30 26 62
Q1 Rk 39 1st Down Rk 69
Q2 Rk 41 2nd Down Rk 42
Q3 Rk 79 3rd Down Rk 50
Q4 Rk 94

3. Masters of efficiency

Throw early, throw often. With Keith Wenning behind center, that was Ball State's offensive mantra in 2013. We'll see how much that changes now that Wenning has graduated, but the Cardinals' quick-strike offense was wonderfully effective last fall. Ball State's 50.5 percent success rate was one of the seven best in the country, and while the big plays could have been a little bigger, BSU didn't need many to big gains to move points.

Of course, the relative lack of big plays may have hurt Ball State late in games as defenses found a rhythm against the efficiency passing. Look at the per-quarter rankings above -- BSU was 39th and 41st in the first half, 79th and 94th in the second.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Keith Wenning 319 498 4148 35 7 64.1% 13 2.5% 8.0
Ozzie Mann 6'1, 230 So. 2 stars (5.2) 2 9 29 0 1 22.2% 3 25.0% -0.7
Kyle Kamman 6'2, 180 Jr. NR








Jack Milas 6'1, 199 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)








David Morrison 6'1, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.3)








4. Got a quarterback?

Keith Wenning's progress as Ball State's starting quarterback mirrored the Cardinals' growth as a whole under Lembo. A four-year starter, Wenning was Stan Parrish's last quarterback in 2010; his passer rating improved from 111.3 as a freshman to 125.1 to 134.8 to 154.4. He completed around 64 percent of his passes all three years under Lembo, but the per-completion yardage improved (from 9.7 to 10.3 to 13.0), and the interception rate dropped (from 2.4 percent to 2.2 to 1.4). He took a leap in 2013, and so did Ball State's offense.

Four-year starters don't become fifth-year starters, however. Wenning moves on, and his replacement is far from obvious.

Ozzie Mann took backup snaps last year but did absolutely nothing with them, getting sacked more times than he completed passes. Kyle Kamman was the team's holder on special teams but did not throw a pass. Jack Milas was the highest-rated of the three from a recruiting standpoint, but he's a redshirt freshman. If Ball State can find a quarterback, the offense could shape up beautifully. But that's an enormous "if."

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Jahwan Edwards RB 5'10, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 212 1110 14 5.2 4.0 42.0%
Horactio Banks RB 5'10, 184 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 95 595 7 6.3 8.5 37.9%
Teddy Williamson RB 5'9, 171 So. 2 stars (5.4) 68 224 1 3.3 2.5 32.4%
Keith Wenning QB 32 126 5 3.9 2.1 37.5%
Zane Fakes TE 7 48 0 6.9 2.5 71.4%
Jamill Smith WR 4 33 1 8.3 10.1 50.0%
Darian Green RB 5'8, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Willie Snead WR-X

172 106 1516 61.6% 34.6% 69.5% 8.8 203 9.1 201.1
Jordan Williams WR-X 6'2, 216 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 108 72 1050 66.7% 21.7% 52.5% 9.7 193 9.1 139.3
Jamill Smith WR-Z 97 67 911 69.1% 19.5% 70.8% 9.4 127 8.7 120.8
Zane Fakes TE 70 41 410 58.6% 14.1% 67.7% 5.9 -111 4.2 54.4
KeVonn Mabon (2012) WR-X 6'3, 208 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 30 23 335 76.7% 6.4% 73.3% 11.2 N/A 10.7 34.4
Connor Ryan WR-W 13 10 68 76.9% 2.6% 72.7% 5.2 -43 6.6 9.0
Jahwan Edwards RB 5'10, 225 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 12 7 31 58.3% 2.4% 58.3% 2.6 -58 2.7 4.1
Dylan Curry TE 6'5, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 6 4 39 66.7% 1.2% 40.0% 6.5 -9 4.8 5.2
Teddy Williamson RB 5'9, 171 So. 2 stars (5.4) 3 2 4 66.7% 0.6% N/A 1.3 -20 0.0 0.5
Efe Scott-Emuakpor WR 6'3, 183 So. 3 stars (5.5) 2 1 12 50.0% 0.4% N/A 6.0 -2 0.0 1.6
Horactio Banks RB 5'10, 184 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 2 1 7 50.0% 0.4% 100.0% 3.5 -7 1.9 0.9
Aaron Hepp WR-W 6'3, 186 So. NR 2 2 29 100.0% 0.4% 50.0% 14.5 9 13.9 3.8
Sam Brunner TE 6'2, 237 So. 2 stars (5.2) 2 2 44 100.0% 0.4% 100.0% 22.0 24 12.2 5.8
Calvin Blank TE 6'4, 234 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)









Roy Denson WR 6'0, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)









Jordan Hogue WR 6'0, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)









Devin Reece WR 6'1, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)








5. The new guy will have weapons

Wenning's favorite target, X receiver Willie Snead, declared for the NFL Draft a year early, and Nos. 3 and 4 targets Jamill Smith and tight end Zane Fakes each ran out of eligibility. These are reasons for concern, but it's difficult to get too worried about Ball State's skill position unit. The Cardinals still return Jordan Williams, who averaged nearly 10 yards per target over eight-plus targets per game. They get big-play threat KeVonn Mabon back after he missed most of 2013 with injury. They have an exciting three-star redshirt freshman tight end in Calvin Blank, and three interesting freshmen will vie for playing time.

Meanwhile, in the backfield, the nameless starting quarterback will line up with one of two promising backs -- either grinder Jahwan Edwards (minimal explosiveness, strong efficiency) or home-run hitter Horactio Banks. Ball State was awful in short-yardage situations last year, and that will need to improve to do the new QB a few favors, but there is a wealth of quality options in the skill position unit as a whole.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 95.8 3.25 3.24 39.6% 48.6% 18.2% 245.6 1.6% 3.7%
Rank 87 21 68 63 123 53 7 5 16
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jordan Hansel RG 38 1st All-MAC
Matthew Page LT 16
Jacob Richard C 6'1, 285 Jr. NR 16
Steven Bell RT 6'4, 290 So. 2 stars (5.2) 13
Jalen Schlachter LG 6'6, 317 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12
P.J. Scott LG 6'2, 293 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 2
Jeremiah Harvey LT 6'2, 300 Jr. NR 0
Taylor Hoke C 6'1, 296 Sr. NR 0
Nick Plavchak RG 6'4, 301 Jr. NR 0
Drake Miller RT 6'4, 289 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Tyler Rayburn LG 6'3, 296 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Haris Vrabac OL 6'7, 337 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Pat Maloney OL 6'2, 274 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Vinnie Palazeti OL 6'4, 284 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Alex Joss OL 6'4, 295 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Malik King OL 6'3, 285 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

6. The line held up

My biggest concern for the offense heading into last year was a dreadfully inexperienced offensive line. Granted, the lack of short-yardage success was indeed a concern, but for the most part the line held up. It kept defenders out of the backfield on both run and pass (and yes, the quick, short passing helped, too), and while BSU's is a pass-first offense, when the Cardinals tried to run on first down, they were pretty good at it.

In 2014, Ball State must replace its two most experienced linemen, including all-conference guard Jordan Hansel, but the 43 career starts it returns in 2014 is a much greater number than last year. And a lot of Ball State's more highly touted recruits in recent years are linemen.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.08 35 IsoPPP+ 93.8 96
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.4% 79 Succ. Rt. + 89.3 101
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.5 16 Off. FP+ 100.5 55
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.8 20 Redzone S&P+ 100.8 57
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.6 ACTUAL 31.0 +9.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 78 101 101 114
RUSHING 93 98 98 87
PASSING 44 104 103 121
Standard Downs 101 92 107
Passing Downs 94 110 65
Q1 Rk 87 1st Down Rk 107
Q2 Rk 97 2nd Down Rk 87
Q3 Rk 117 3rd Down Rk 96
Q4 Rk 95

7. Now fix the defense

Kevin Kelly's been around. In 30 years as a football coach, Kelly has taken up residence at Southern Connecticut State (1984-85), Syracuse (1986-87, 1999), Bowdoin (1988), Northeastern (1989-90), Dartmouth (1991, 1995), Tulane (1992-94), Marshall (1996-98, 2000-01), and Navy (2002-05). Like Lembo, Kelly has coached in a lot of states for a lot of different types of programs. He spent the last eight seasons fighting an uphill battle as Georgetown's head coach, going 5-38 in his first four seasons but building an 8-3 team in Year 6.

Kelly will be taking on a difficult task in 2014: making something of the Ball State defense. Now, by MAC standards, the Cardinals weren't bad in 2013, but by "potential top-50 team" standards, it was an anchor. Ball State allowed far too many big plays in the secondary, and the run defense wasn't good enough to make up for that.

Kelly inherits an experienced unit overall, but he'll have some work to do up front. The pass rush was a strength, but end Jonathan Newsome, tackle Nathan Ollie, and linebacker Kenneth Lee, the blitzer of choice, are all gone; they combined for 14.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss in 2013. Ball State's 2014 line will be built around sturdy end Nick Miles, scrubs, and newcomers. If it fares as well as last year's line (or better) against the run, the back seven should have enough pieces to thrive.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 90.5 3.20 3.78 40.3% 67.8% 15.8% 109.9 4.5% 6.4%
Rank 102 98 109 78 70 103 42 60 71
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nathan Ollie DT 13 51.0 6.5% 10.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Newsome DE 12 44.0 5.6% 11.5 8.0 1 1 2 0
Nick Miles DE 6'2, 265 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 28.5 3.6% 8.5 5.0 0 1 0 0
Joel Cox NG 13 26.0 3.3% 2.0 0.5 0 1 0 0
Michael Ayers DE 6'1, 218 Jr. NR 10 9.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darnell Smith DT 5'11, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 12 9.0 1.1% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 1
Tracy Key DE 6'2, 232 Sr. NR 13 8.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
Carlutorbantu Zaramo NG 6'3, 301 So. 2 stars (5.2) 12 2.5 0.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Ian Anderson DT 6'3, 282 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Osazuwamen Igbinosun DE 6'2, 245 Jr. 2 stars (5.2)
Daniel Garces DL 6'1, 223 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Anthony Winbush DE 6'1, 207 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Bruce Heggie
(Notre Dame)
DT 6'5, 275 Sr. 2 stars (5.2)








Kevin Willis DT 6'2, 295 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ben Ingle WLB 6'0, 224 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 79.5 10.1% 3.5 0.5 1 0 1 0
Zack Ryan MLB 5'10, 212 So. NR 13 67.0 8.5% 8.0 2.5 0 1 2 0
Kenneth Lee SLB 12 32.0 4.1% 4.5 2.5 1 2 0 0
Sean Wiggins MLB 6'2, 226 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 26.5 3.4% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Avery Bailey SLB 6'0, 216 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 11 14.0 1.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Trent Toothman WLB 6'0, 236 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 10.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Julian Boyd WLB 6'2, 220 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 9 4.0 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Stephan Martin LB 5'11, 226 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 10 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Stu Stanley LB 6'0, 207 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Damon Singleton OLB 6'2, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Jacob White LB 6'0, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)







Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Brian Jones SS 5'10, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 76.5 9.7% 5.5 1.5 0 6 2 1
Dae'Shaun Hurley FS 6'0, 198 So. 2 stars (5.2) 12 59.0 7.5% 1.5 0 0 1 2 1
Eric Patterson CB 5'10, 193 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 52.5 6.7% 1.5 0 1 7 1 0
Jeffery Garrett CB 13 45.0 5.7% 7.5 1 5 5 1 0
J.C. Wade (2012) SS 5'10, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 41.5 5.5% 0 0 0 5 1 0
Martez Hester S 6'2, 188 So. 2 stars (5.2) 7 24.5 3.1% 0 0 2 2 0 0
Quintin Cooper CB 5'7, 184 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 23.5 3.0% 2.5 0 1 0 0 0
Aaron Taylor S 5'11, 191 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 22.5 2.9% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Joseph Fazio FS 13 13.5 1.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Christopher Calloway FS 5'11, 202 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 4 13.0 1.6% 2 0 0 0 1 0
Tyree Holder CB 5'11, 163 So. 2 stars (5.3) 13 7.5 1.0% 0 0 1 2 0 0
Darius Conaway CB 5'11, 180 So. NR 13 7.5 1.0% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Chris Pauling NB


11 4.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dedrick Cromartie S 5'10, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Quentin Turner CB 5'10, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)
Matt Johnson CB 5'11, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4)

8. Depth? Check

Lee was a decent blitzer, and Jeffery Garrett made enough big plays to forgive some of the big plays he allowed. They could be missed, but they're the only losses for the Ball State back seven. Stalwart linebackers Ben Ingle and Zack Ryan are back, as are starting safeties Brian Jones (another aggressive piece, with 5.5 tackles for loss and six pass break-ups) and Dae'Shaun Hurley, who at least survived as a freshman. Senior nickel back Chris Calloway returns from injury, as does J.C. Wade, and senior corners Eric Patterson and Quintin Cooper are back, too.

Ball State has options, in other words. Experience is only a good thing if there's talent involved, and it does appear that there are enough disruptive stats among the returnees to suggest potential. We'll see if a new defensive coordinator is able to engineer a bit more improvement overall.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Kyle Schmidt 6'2, 228 So. 45 40.9 2 7 15 48.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Scott Secor 5'8, 166 Sr. 77 56.7 17 4 22.1%
Kyle Schmidt 6'2, 228 So. 18 58.7 2 1 11.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Scott Secor 5'8, 166 Sr. 60-62 16-18 88.9% 3-6 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jamill Smith KR 26 26.0 0
Jahwan Edwards KR 5'10, 225 Sr. 5 17.6 0
Jamill Smith PR 10 8.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 25
Field Goal Efficiency 28
Punt Return Efficiency 87
Kick Return Efficiency 17
Punt Efficiency 80
Kickoff Efficiency 14
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 73

9. Field position? Check

Jamill Smith was a decent receiver and an excellent return man. He will be missed in special teams, but the bones of this unit are still pretty strong. Scott Secor was good as both a place-kicker and a kickoffs man -- he didn't boot many touchbacks, but Ball State was 15th in opponents' kick return averages, which suggests that Secor was excellent at kicking them high and landing them around the 5. Meanwhile, Kyle Schmidt wasn't awful for a freshman punter. If a semi-competent return man emerges, Ball State should be adept at playing the field position game once again.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Colgate NR
6-Sep at Iowa 40
13-Sep Indiana State NR
20-Sep at Toledo 53
4-Oct at Army 101
11-Oct Western Michigan 113
18-Oct at Central Michigan 106
25-Oct Akron 118
5-Nov Northern Illinois 51
12-Nov at Massachusetts 123
22-Nov Eastern Michigan 122
28-Nov at Bowling Green 60
Five-Year F/+ Rk -11.4% (90)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 101
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 12 / -1.5
TO Luck/Game +5.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (6, 6)

10. It all hinges on quarterback play

It does bear mentioning that Ball State appeared to have quite a bit of turnovers luck (plus-5.2 points per game) in 2013. The Cardinals somehow recovered 18 of 20 opponent fumbles; plus, opponents picked off only eight Ball State passes while breaking up 61. Typically, the INT-to-PBU ratio is closer to 1-to-4, not 1-to-8. So with worse breaks, BSU easily could have been in the 8-5 range.

That said, the efficiency of the offense was not lucky. The skill positions are still stocked, and the line is more experienced than last year, and if the secondary can stay healthy, the defense might be able to improve a bit more in 2014. The schedule cooperates -- and by that, I mean it features eight games against teams projected 101st or worse -- and the foundation of the program should ensure that the Cardinals reach a third straight bowl game.

Whether they compete for the MAC title or not, however, will depend on the quarterback. It's not a guarantee that Ball State actually has one ready to play well in 2014. You don't get very far doubting Pete Lembo, but BSU could take a step backwards this fall depending on what happens behind center.

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