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Know thy Opponent Takeover 2010: Over the Pylon

One of my favorite things to do at this site is the team previews. As you can see, I have already gotten a jump on the season by writing a preview for all four of our non-conference opponents. Today I wanted to give a voice to one of those opponents, as the fine Ball State blog Over the Pylon had a few things to say about the Cardinals' visit to Ross-Ade. Later on this week my answers to their questions will be posted over at their place. It is the kind of brotherhood that makes the blogging community out there so great. Here is what Alan had to say about Ball State.

Hammer & Rails: The last two seasons have been really up and down. Do you expect things to even out this season?

Over the Pylon: Truthfully, I do. The stats guy in me says every team reverts back to the mean eventually, and after 12-2 and 2-10, middle ground should be where we land. Of course, there's more logic to it than that. Last year was the perfect storm of suck for Ball State. We lost a ton of players through graduation and the NFL, and who we lost was critical. Obviously losing an NFL QB like Nate Davis will hurt, but when you lose four four-year starters on the offensive line and replace with them untested freshmen and sophomores, that's a recipe for disaster for a freshman QB (Kelly Page) no matter how talented he is. On defense, it was the first year without Brady Hoke, who left for SDSU, and took with him his experience, style, and coaching. He was a defense coach, and it showed, not to mention the shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Even the players with significant experience basically started over in a new scheme and a new style. That, with the offensive problems, spelled doom. Fluke luck like injuries, weird plays, turnovers, etc. all seemed to conspire against the Cardinals in 2009.

This year, though, those rookie players from last year have that experience at the college level and within the schemes and plays that may be new to BSU. The O-line returns players that have had a full year now of collegiate conditioning and training, and the defense has a year under their belts in the 4-3. Coach Parrish has been able to adapt from offensive coordinator to head coach, and the fact that many are overlooking is the season closing win against Western Michigan. That game should prove a very valuable jump off point in these players' minds in building a belief that success is possible. With all the fluke luck, bad breaks, and inexperience, we were still able to keep a team out of a Bowl game and beat a team no one thought possible. When all those things are taken out of the equation this year, there is no reason why BSU fans shouldn't expect significant improvement and drastically different results.

H&R: Does a healthy MiQuale Lewis make things interesting, especially since he was surprisingly granted another year of eligibility?

OTP: I would say it certainly makes me feel better, but the RB position at BSU was never one that I was concerned with. Ball State is 3 deep at the RB position with Quale, Corey Sykes, and Eric Williams, the latter two having far more versatile abilities than Quale. All three are fast, but Sykes and Williams are amazingly so. Where Lewis thrives on contact and runs between the tackles, Williams and Sykes are capable of a ton of different looks. The Wildcat, lined up in the slot, jet sweeps, etc. Quale and whether or not he got his medical hardship was never a significant concern to me. The much more significant concern is whether or not the offensive line can step up and make it worth his while to come back.

H&R: Do you expect the quarterback situation to sort itself out?

OTP: Though Stan Parrish is giving the typical coachspeak about an open race and the competition for QB1, most fans are positive that Kelly Page is the man going forward. On the bench for the Cardinals is Aaron Mershman and true freshman Keith Wenning, and both have talent, but Page does as well... along with a major difference of having in-game experience. If Parrish pins Mersh or Keith as the starter, then the bumps in the road we traversed last year with Page and his rookie year are right back in the picture. It's Page's job to lose, and I doubt that he will.

H&R: Will there be much improvement on defense after getting roughed up a bit last year?

OTP: Absolutely. Will it be the dominant bend-but-don't-break turnover generating machine of 2008? Probably not. But it will be vastly improved from 2009, and assuming the offense picks up a bit, that should be enough. A year in a scheme, a year with the new defensive coaches, and some very impressive young talent should be enough to never be outmatched by a MAC school or dominated in conference play. Is it enough to compete against the Purdues and Iowas? That's the $1,000,000 question.

H&R: What are your thoughts on being Punter U.?

OTP: I guess it's nice to be known for something. Granted, it's not like we're Florida or Penn State being the NFL destination for high-caliber talent, but for a MAC school to be known as one of the best NFL pipelines for any position is quite the honor. I'm not sure why that label has been able to be generated... either our special teams recruiting is out of this world or we were so bad for so long that the punter got so much practice. Either way, you take what you can get.

Thank you very much, Alan. I view Ball State as the tougher of our two MAC opponents because of their returning experience compared to Toledo. It will be interesting to see how this game plays out.