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Life is a roller coaster for Ball State football, but the pieces for improvement are there

After two excellent seasons in 2012-13, the Cardinals stumbled in Pete Lembo's final two years.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Things fall apart

There is a road outside of my hometown (and every small town in the United States) where high schoolers go to drive really fast and "get some air" as they crest over a relatively steep hill. I only drove it myself once (hazards of driving a 1989 Chevy Celebrity -- I couldn't get air if I tried, in fact, I couldn't comfortably drive above 65), but I was a passenger, along with about eight other people in a Jeep Cherokee, many, many times. Every person who willingly goes on this trek has earned the right to die in a fiery, gruesome head-on collision, but nobody ever does; every person who does this also knows what it is like to be a Ball State football fan.

"Oh s***. Oh s***. Oh s***. Oh s***. Oh s***. Oh s***. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. Oh s***. Oh s***. Oh s***."

The Ball State Cardinals won a combined 15 games in 1995-96, then won a combined one in 1998-99. They began the 2008 season 12-0, then lost 19 of their next 23 games. That they went 6-6 in 2011 under first-year coach Pete Lembo suggests that we might be approaching another "WHEEEE" stage in Ball State's oft-hilarious recent history.

-- 2012 Ball State Football: The 'WHEEEEE' Stage

Wheeeeeee, indeed. My Ball State previews through the years have been an almost perfect progression of the Cardinals' up-and-down nature. Ball State won nine games but was a little lucky to do so! Ball State won 10 games, and Pete Lembo is a coaching star! Ball State fell to five wins but improved enough that maybe it's a temporary stumble!

Granted, while fortune is always temporary in Muncie, it was probably short-sighted of me to assume a rebound after 2014's stumble. Ball State never rises or falls only once.

The five-year Pete Lembo era goes into the books as three separate stages:

  • Stage 1: A perfect .500 record through the first 18 games.
  • Stage 2: A surge of 17 wins in 21 games.
  • Stage 3: A drought of 16 losses in 23 games.

BSU never managed to reach a MAC title game, but Stage 2 of Lembo's tenure was an unmitigated success. Ball State has won nine-plus games just six times in its 41-year FBS history, and two of them came in 2012 and 2013. But things went south in a hurry.

If I had to pinpoint Lembo's primary issue in Muncie, I would say it was recruiting. For the most part, recruiting in the MAC is laden with parity, but even as Lembo was deep in his recruiting grace period -- the first few years when what you're selling can't be proven wrong (and in Lembo's case, what he was selling coincided with definitive improvement) -- his best class ranked just fifth in the MAC per the 247Sports Composite. His 2012 and 2013 classes ranked just seventh, and following the 5-7 year, his 2015 class ranked 10th. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that his 2015 team basically finished tied for ninth in the conference standings.

Lembo couldn't get the defensive side of the ball figured out, and the offense spent two years in flux after the departure of Keith Wenning and members of his supporting cast in 2013. Without the offensive upside, the flaws were magnified, and BSU went from 19-7 in two years to 8-16 the next two.

Instead of waiting around to get fired, Lembo left to take a job(s) as assistant head coach/special teams coordinator/tight ends coach at Maryland. Both he and BSU got a fresh start, and in response, the university basically hired Lembo's opposite.

Whereas Lembo a) gave a pretty laidback public face, b) brought a decade's worth of college head coaching experience to the table when he arrived, and c) took the job with no previous connections to the university, Mike Neu is the opposite in each regard. He is outwardly intense, he's a Ball State grad, and he's only coached at the college level for two years over the last two decades.

Between 1998 and 2008, Neu coached for four different arena football teams -- the Nashville Kats (offensive coordinator), Augusta Stallions (head coach), Carolina Cobras (offensive coordinator, then head coach), and New Orleans VooDoo (head coach). Since then, he has spent seven years with the New Orleans Saints (player personnel assistant, then QBs coach) with a short stint at Tulane (QBs coach) in the middle.

Neu is uniquely qualified as an alum with six years of head coaching experience (and 54 career wins), but he hasn't coached above the Mason-Dixon Line since he was a BSU graduate assistant in 1994, and he's barely spent time at the college level since then. He is an experienced blank slate, and I have absolutely no idea what he's capable of at this level. But knowing Ball State, there will be some extremes one way or the other.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 110 | Final S&P+ Rk: 111
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
3-Sep VMI N/A 48-36 W 46% 95% -6.2
12-Sep at Texas A&M 34 23-56 L 12% 1% -10.7 -3.0
19-Sep at Eastern Michigan 122 28-17 W 47% 75% -4.5 +5.0
26-Sep at Northwestern 52 19-24 L 41% 37% +12.2 +14.5
3-Oct Toledo 20 10-24 L 15% 0% -5.1 -7.5
10-Oct at Northern Illinois 66 41-59 L 17% 3% -8.6 -8.0
17-Oct Georgia State 87 19-31 L 24% 9% -23.5 -27.5
24-Oct Central Michigan 67 21-23 L 29% 13% +5.4 +5.5
31-Oct Massachusetts 100 20-10 W 49% 64% +13.1 +7.5
5-Nov at Western Michigan 51 7-54 L 2% 0% -30.6 -32.5
17-Nov at Ohio 69 31-48 L 21% 5% +1.3 -8.0
24-Nov Bowling Green 25 10-48 L 6% 0% -17.0 -14.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 23.2 103 37.5 114
Points Per Game 23.1 102 35.8 108

2. They never topped the 50th percentile

Because of late-season improvement in 2014, I indeed felt a rebound was possible for the Cardinals last fall, but things just never got off the ground. They were okay in September -- percentile in performance in the 40s three times in four games -- and had a chance to take down an eventual 10-win Northwestern team in Week 4, but that was pretty much the end of it. Injuries and further quarterback uncertainty dragged them down, and only one performance even topped the 30th percentile the rest of the way.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 37% (~top 80)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 8 games): 20% (~top 105)

It bottomed out in November. Following Lembo's final victory, a 20-10 home win over UMass in front of just 4,576 attendees, the Cardinals cratered, losing to three solid conference foes by an average score of 50-16. It was pretty easy to see the writing on the wall at that point; Lembo was going to be hard-pressed to pull off a rebound in 2016, and he left for College Park.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 121 IsoPPP+ 89.2 103
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.8% 90 Succ. Rt. + 92.6 103
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.6 42 Def. FP+ 30.5 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.9 108 Redzone S&P+ 92.6 104
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.0 ACTUAL 15 -9.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 90 101 103 103
RUSHING 91 105 104 104
PASSING 71 92 84 97
Standard Downs 99 111 94
Passing Downs 100 72 111
Q1 Rk 120 1st Down Rk 100
Q2 Rk 74 2nd Down Rk 66
Q3 Rk 98 3rd Down Rk 107
Q4 Rk 72

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Riley Neal 6'5, 217 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8337 228 391 2276 16 6 58.3% 10 2.5% 5.5
Jack Milas 6'1, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7976 35 67 343 1 3 52.2% 1 1.5% 4.9
David Morrison 6'1, 187 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8049
Drew Plitt 6'2, 213 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8092

3. Role reversal

For two straight years, BSU's quarterback situation has been muddy. In 2014, then-sophomore Ozzie Mann began the season as the starter and looked fine against Colgate and Army. But he struggled mightily against Iowa and in an upset loss to Indiana State, and he was eventually benched in favor of then-freshman Jack Milas.

In 2015, the shoe was on the other foot. With Mann transferring to Georgetown (Kentucky), Milas began the year atop the depth chart. But after a decent game against VMI, he began the Texas A&M game just 1-for-8 with an interception. Freshman Riley Neal took over from that point forward.

Neal basically played like a freshman, with high highs and low lows. Against EMU, NIU, and UMass (two wins and a shootout loss), he completed 66 percent of his passes with a solid 144.4 passer rating; meanwhile, against Northwestern, Georgia State, WMU, and BGSU (four losses, two blowouts), those numbers were 53 percent and 96.3, respectively. It took Neal a while to play himself into games (his passer rating was below 105 in both the first and second quarter, then rose to 140.7 in the third), but he gave hints that he could eventually be pretty proficient within Lembo's quick-passing offense.

That seems like a useless point -- he could have been good under the last guy! -- until you notice that Neu retained Lembo's offensive coordinator, Joey Lynch. Neu and Lynch are kindred spirits of sorts; both are former BSU quarterbacks, and both rank in the school's top 10 in career passing yards. But in retaining Lynch, Neu seems to be acknowledging that this Lembo-Lynch offense wasn't the problem for Ball State. When the QB position is stable, this quick passing can produce efficiency and offset what has been a general lack of size.

If Lynch and Neu can pick a quarterback and stick with him (and Neal seems like the most likely choice), the offense could get back on track.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
James Gilbert RB 5'8, 191 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8285 152 608 8 4.0 3.9 29.6% 1 0
Darian Green RB 5'8, 176 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959 145 730 5 5.0 6.7 29.7% 0 0
Riley Neal QB 6'5, 217 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8337 78 466 2 6.0 4.9 47.4% 5 4
Teddy Williamson RB 5'9, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 40 136 0 3.4 1.6 30.0% 0 0
Jack Milas QB 6'1, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7976 5 23 0 4.6 3.0 40.0% 0 0
Spencer Gilbert RB 6'1, 204 So. NR NR
Brandon Martin RB 6'0, 245 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7926







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Jordan Williams WR-X 141 73 935 51.8% 31.7% 6.6 60.3% 42.6% 1.51
KeVonn Mabon WR-W 6'1, 219 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7900 113 70 745 61.9% 25.4% 6.6 56.6% 38.9% 1.42
Corey Lacanaria WR-Z 5'8, 165 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7611 64 45 374 70.3% 14.4% 5.8 51.6% 46.9% 1.13
Chris Shillings WR-Z 43 26 186 60.5% 9.7% 4.3 58.1% 44.2% 0.83
Jordan Hogue WR-W 6'0, 178 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8015 26 11 81 42.3% 5.8% 3.1 57.7% 19.2% 1.49
Dylan Curry TE 20 9 51 45.0% 4.5% 2.6 60.0% 30.0% 0.80
Darian Green RB 5'8, 176 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959 16 14 84 87.5% 3.6% 5.3 56.3% 31.2% 1.74
Sam Brunner TE 6'2, 240 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 10 7 73 70.0% 2.2% 7.3 80.0% 60.0% 1.28
Cywettnie Brown WR-W 6'0, 162 Sr. NR NR 4 3 61 75.0% 0.9% 15.3 75.0% 50.0% 3.22
James Gilbert RB 5'8, 191 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8285 4 3 35 75.0% 0.9% 8.8 75.0% 50.0% 1.49
Teddy Williamson RB 5'9, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 2 2 3 100.0% 0.4% 1.5 50.0% 50.0% 0.46
Devin Reece WR-X 6'1, 212 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7783
Aaron Hepp WR-Z 6'1, 189 Sr. NR NR
Ralph Smith III WR 5'8, 173 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7633
Nolan Givan TE 6'3, 236 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8107
Tyler Kirtz WR 6'1, 186 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7855
Dylan Koch TE 6'4, 220 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826








4. A desperate search for play-makers

As important as the quarterback clearly is in a pass-first attack, you could certainly make the case that the Quarterback du Jour didn't have the pieces he needed to succeed either. The run game was drastically inefficient, which is deadly if you're trying to get away with playing a freshman quarterback. Beyond that, though, the receiving corps needed some extra punch.

Ball State is basically why I'm now listing both catch rate and success rate in the receiver tables above. Your catch rate is simply how frequently you catch the passes thrown your way, and it can easily be used as a quick-glance efficiency measure; your success rate is how frequently those passes result in a successful play (50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second, 100 percent on third). It is the efficiency measure.

The Lembo-Lynch system has long been predicated on quick passes to the perimeter, which results in low sack rates and high catch rates. But while KeVonn Mabon, Corey Lacanario, and Chris Stallings combined for a strong 64 percent catch rate last year, their success rate was a miserable 42 percent, far too low for a pass-first attack.

That Ball State could neither run nor pass efficiently meant the Cardinals needed to be bailed out with big plays. They didn't really get those either. Of the eight players who caught at least seven passes, only one averaged better than even 10.6 yards per catch, and that one player (Jordan Williams) is gone.

Assuming for a moment that Neal wins the starting job, improvement from him is likely. But that will only matter so much if these quick perimeter passes don't occasionally turn into long gains.

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 95.4 2.77 3.48 32.9% 67.2% 17.6% 209.2 1.7% 2.5%
Rank 95 84 40 119 56 35 9 9 3
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jacob Richard C 12 40 2015 2nd All-MAC
Jalen Schlachter RG 7 31
Steven Bell LT 6'4, 298 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7833 4 29
Drake Miller LT 6'5, 301 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7935 12 20
Jeremiah Harvey LG 8 20
Nick Plavchak RT 8 12
Vinnie Palazeti LG 6'4, 297 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7956 6 6
Ian Anderson RG 3 3
Pat Maloney RG 6'2, 279 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7833 0 0
Jarrid Lloyd OL 6'5, 279 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7751 0 0
Malik King OL 6'3, 303 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8206 0 0
Alex Joss C 6'4, 288 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7881 0 0
Kadin Booker OL 6'7, 290 So. NR NR 0 0
Grant Williamson OL 6'3, 277 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7854

Chris Beech OL 6'1, 302 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7974

5. A rebuild up front

A quick passing game only works if those passes occasionally go somewhere, but at the least it helps to keep defenders out of the backfield. Ball State routinely produces strong sack rates no matter the quality of the line, but the line actually kept opponents out of the backfield on run plays as well last year.

Unfortunately there are two problems with that:

1. Either the line didn't get any sort of push, or BSU running backs were incapable of taking advantage of the blocks they got. Avoiding losses is great, but you still need actual gains, and aside from when Neal himself was tucking and running, BSU's run game was still dreadfully inefficient.

2. The line basically has to replace four starters. Granted, because of shuffling, it still returns three players responsible for 22 of last year's 60 starts, but turnover is still an issue. Half the two-deep is gone, and BSU is perhaps just one or two injuries away from having to dip into the freshman class to fill the first and second string.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.29 83 IsoPPP+ 85.9 115
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.2% 116 Succ. Rt. + 81.5 125
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.2 57 Off. FP+ 28.1 97
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.9 107 Redzone S&P+ 85.4 119
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.2 ACTUAL 16.0 -3.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 122 119 125 115
RUSHING 115 86 106 77
PASSING 123 127 127 126
Standard Downs 114 122 103
Passing Downs 126 125 124
Q1 Rk 82 1st Down Rk 120
Q2 Rk 126 2nd Down Rk 115
Q3 Rk 125 3rd Down Rk 121
Q4 Rk 111

6. A Tim Daoust defense

Given that Ball State hasn't ranked better than 83rd in Def. S&P+ since 2005, it probably isn't a surprise that Neu decided to bring in some new blood on that side of the ball. The primary addition: defensive coordinator Tim Daoust; Daoust is from the Scott Shafer tree, having spent the last five seasons on the Syracuse staff. And while Shafer didn't really work out as 'Cuse head coach, his brand of crazy-aggressive defense has worked well at times.

Daoust's primary role at Syracuse has been as defensive line coach, and Syracuse almost always had a disruptive line with him in charge. Even last year, as the defense fell from 33rd to 69th in Def. S&P+, it retained its aggression up front, ranking 37th in defensive line havoc rate.

You never know what kind of system a guy is going to create until he gets the chance to create it, but until proven otherwise I'll assume he will be aiming for this same type of up-front aggression. That will be quite a change for Ball State, which for most of Lembo's tenure had a bend-don't-break attack that broke too much. One method is not obviously better than another -- aggression can obviously lead to allowing a ton of big plays -- but at this point, change for change's sake might not be the worst idea in the world.

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 91.1 2.92 3.84 39.2% 69.6% 17.8% 62.2 2.4% 5.8%
Rank 101 75 123 76 92 93 120 120 92
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Michael Ayers RUSH 12 48.5 6.5% 4.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Joshua Posley DE 6'1, 252 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8457 12 42.0 5.6% 9.0 2.5 0 1 2 0
Darnell Smith (2014) DT 5'11, 275 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7800 12 26.5 3.6% 5.5 4.0 0 0 2 0
John Whitman III NG 6'1, 298 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7511 12 22.0 3.0% 2.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Kevin Willis DT 6'2, 305 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8174 12 18.5 2.5% 3.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Winbush RUSH 6'1, 228 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8067 11 12.0 1.6% 5.5 5.0 0 0 1 0
Julian Jackson NG 12 10.5 1.4% 0.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Osazuwamen Igbinosun DE 12 10.0 1.3% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Kevin Thurmon DT 6'0, 282 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8167 10 8.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Carlutorbantu Zaramo DT
8 5.5 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Keenan Noel NG 11 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 4 0 0
Kenny Knight Jr. DE 5'11, 247 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759
John Swisher DT 6'2, 277 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667
Reggie McGee DE 6'2, 230 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7444
James Jennette III DE 6'3, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8144
Chris Crumb DT 6'1, 260 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8067
Donald Manning DE 6'2, 225 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ben Ingle WLB 12 74.0 9.9% 6.0 1.0 1 4 1 0
Sean Wiggins MLB 6'3, 228 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300 12 71.5 9.6% 4.5 2.0 2 4 1 0
Zack Ryan MLB 5'11, 224 Sr. NR NR 12 50.0 6.7% 3.0 0.0 0 2 1 0
Avery Bailey LB 10 14.5 1.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Damon Singleton SLB 6'2, 234 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7948 9 10.0 1.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jeremiah Jackson ILB 5'11, 219 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 12 7.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Julian Boyd LB 10 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Stu Stanley MLB 6'1, 229 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7845 12 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
AJ Jaffal OLB 6'0, 208 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8109
Jacob White LB 6'1, 232 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) NR
Jaylin Thomas LB 6'1, 212 Fr. NR 0.8000








7. Aggression could be a good look in the front seven

Ball State ranked 122nd in Havoc Rate, 120th in Adj. Sack Rate, and 93rd in stuff rate. To say the least, the Cardinals weren't disruptive enough in 2015. But the good news is that among this year's returnees are those who were most successfully aggressive. End Joshua Posley had 6.5 non-sack tackles for loss, rush end Anthony Winbush had five sacks, and linebacker Sean Wiggins had 4.5 TFLs and six passes defensed. And the return of tackle Darnell Smith gives Ball State a unique, quick (read: undersized) weapon in the middle.

There's a chance that a more attacking approach will look good on this personnel. And hey, it would be hard for this defense to do any worse than it did last year.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Martez Hester FS 6'3, 207 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7500 12 60.5 8.1% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Dedrick Cromartie SS 5'10, 179 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7859 11 51.0 6.8% 1.5 0 1 2 0 0
David Moore CB 5'9, 171 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7711 12 47.0 6.3% 2 0 0 3 1 0
Lamont McPhatter NB 5'10, 183 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 12 32.5 4.4% 1 1 0 3 1 0
Darius Conaway CB 6'1, 189 Sr. NR NR 10 29.0 3.9% 2.5 0 0 6 0 0
Aaron Taylor NB 5'11, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7200 12 23.0 3.1% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Tyree Holder CB 6'1, 170 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7400 10 21.5 2.9% 0 0 2 2 1 0
Marc Walton CB 5'9, 177 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7644 11 13.0 1.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rontrell Peyton FS
11 9.5 1.3% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Corey Hall CB 5'9, 189 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7300 1 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Terin Solomon SS 5'11, 179 Jr. NR 0.8307 8 6.0 0.8% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Armani McNulty CB 5'10, 181 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8028
Romero Wade DB 5'11, 212 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7959
Lamar Anderson DB 5'10, 179 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8174








8. Experience in the back, at least

The Ball State secondary desperately needed help from the pass rush and didn't get any. Left to its own devices, it bombed. Opponents completed an incredible 71 percent of their passes (worst in the country by more than two percentage points) with 26 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. BSU allowed a passer rating of 160.7, which basically means that the Cardinals turned every opposing passer into Jared Goff (161.3 in 2015).

Assuming Daoust is at least a little bit more successful at generating pressure, the onus will be on the secondary to take advantage. And the Cardinals do have more experience this time around. The secondary that was so frequently torched featured two freshmen, two sophomores, and no seniors among the top eight contributors. The top eight are therefore all back, as is senior Corey Hall, who missed the final 11 games of last year. With help, corner Darius Conaway could be a particularly disruptive option.

You can only improve so much after allowing what Ball State allowed last year, but experience alone should result in lopping off some of that dreadful passer rating.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Kyle Schmidt 6'2, 215 Sr. 58 39.7 0 15 20 60.3%
Alex Egan 8 39.0 0 2 2 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Kyle Schmidt 6'2, 215 Sr. 39 61.4 14 3 35.9%
Morgan Hagee 5'11, 158 So. 14 51.0 0 1 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Morgan Hagee 5'11, 158 So. 31-32 14-15 93.3% 2-6 33.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Darian Green KR 5'8, 176 Jr. 25 25.7 0
KeVonn Mabon KR 6'1, 219 Sr. 19 27.2 1
Corey Lacanaria PR 5'8, 165 Jr. 11 10.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 84
Field Goal Efficiency 60
Punt Return Success Rate 1
Kick Return Success Rate 36
Punt Success Rate 121
Kickoff Success Rate 81

9. Better coverage is a must

Though it produced only one touchdown, Ball State featured an efficient overall set of return games last year; this shouldn't be a surprise, as Lembo teams frequently turned special teams into field position advantages during his tenure.

That said, the coverage units were dreadful. The Cardinals allowed 10.5 yards per punt return (94th), and while their kick return average was better (18.0 per return, 10th), Kyle Schmidt and Morgan Hagee didn't produce much depth, which meant opponents didn't need great returns to get out past the 25.

When you lack play-makers in both the receiving corps and secondary, that hints at problematic athleticism, which could bleed over into special teams coverage. Regardless, improvement here is mandatory.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
2-Sep at Georgia State 105 -2.4 45%
10-Sep at Indiana 56 -15.4 19%
17-Sep Eastern Kentucky NR 15.0 81%
24-Sep at Florida Atlantic 100 -3.9 41%
1-Oct Northern Illinois 79 -4.4 40%
8-Oct at Central Michigan 85 -8.9 30%
15-Oct at Buffalo 109 -0.3 49%
22-Oct Akron 97 1.8 54%
1-Nov Western Michigan 65 -7.1 34%
8-Nov Eastern Michigan 121 3.4 58%
16-Nov at Toledo 58 -15.2 19%
22-Nov at Miami (Ohio) 107 -0.8 48%
Projected wins: 5.2
Five-Year F/+ Rk -13.4% (87)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 111 / 108
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 1 / -4.7
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.4
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 82% (78%, 87%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 3.0 (0.0)

10. The right schedule for a rebound

Because success isn't that far in the rear view, and because Ball State is returning quite a bit of last year's production (or, if you prefer sarcastic air quotes, "production"), the Cardinals are projected 101st in S&P+. That would represent decent improvement. Obviously a coaching change makes projection quite a bit harder, but experience really could lead to a forward step or two if Neu's changes take.

The schedule could also help. Ball State not only plays eight teams projected 97th or worse, but the Cardinals get three of those teams in the first four games. Granted, two of those three are on the road, but in all, BSU is given between a 41 and 58 percent chance of winning in seven games; that means that a bowl isn't completely out of the question.

Ball State now bears the burden of proof, and we have no idea what kind of coach Mike Neu will be. But after a two-year stumble, the Cardinals at least have something to shoot for in Neu's first year. And if a play-maker or two emerges, the Cardinals could be in business. This might be the start of another roller coaster ride.