2010 record: 4-8 (3-5 in the MAC)
Coach: Pete Lembo (first year, 0-0)
Series: Indiana leads 4-1
TV: 7 pm September 3, ESPN3
Blogs: Over the Pylon
This is the first of twelve preseason previews of the Indiana Hoosiers' 2011 football opponents, in the order that they appear on the schedule.
IU begins the 2011 season with an evening matchup against the Ball State Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This game will be a milestone in a number of respects. Of course, Kevin Wilson will be coaching his first game as the head of IU's program. Ball State coach Pete Lembo also will be making his debut at Ball State. Also, this will be the first FBS football game played at Lucas Oil, which opened in 2008. As far as I can tell, the only college football games played at the new stadium have been part of the Circle City Classic, which features teams from historically black colleges and universities, which generally are FCS programs.
This will be IU's first game in Indianapolis since 2000, when IU lost to Penn State 27-24. When the Hoosier Dome opened in 1984, all four of Indiana's Division I-A teams played there in the inaugural season: Notre Dame and Purdue played the first-ever football game in the new facility (Purdue won); IU lost to Illinois; and Ball State lost to Indiana State, which then was a I-AA powerhouse. IU routinely played games in Indianapolis from the 19th century through the mid-1920s, but IU's last win in the state capital was a 7-6 decision over Northwestern in 1923 (I believe, but can't confirm, that these neutral site games generally were played at Washington Park on the east side of Indy). Ball State played the Sycamores at the Dome from 1984 through 1989, but it appears that the Cardinals have not played in Indy since. For those of you who still aren't happy with the decision to play last season's IU "home" game against Penn State in Landover, Maryland, rest assured that this is Ball State's home game and BSU decided to move the game to LOS. IU traveled to Muncie once, in 2006, and escaped with a one-point win in what was Kellen Lewis's coming-out party.
IU football is known for its low moments, but the 2008 season was full of them, and perhaps none was lower than the 42-20 loss to Ball State. That Cardinal team, which went undefeated until losing the MAC championship game to Buffalo, was the best in that program's history, so the loss wasn't shameful, but IU had not lost to a MAC school since the 1970s, and BSU thoroughly outplayed the Hoosiers, to a degree not reflected in the already-lopsided final score. IU's seniors were around for that game and hopefully they remember it well.
When IU and BSU last played in 2008, there was a fair amount of back-and-forth among the two schools' fans about the fortunes of Bill Lynch. Ball State fans, correctly predicted, based on his less-than-stellar record in Muncie, that Lynch would not succeed as IU's coach. Nevertheless, those same fans watched their school hire Stan Parrish, then the Cards' offensive coordinator, but who had a FBS record of 2-30 at Kansas State. Parish, after a record of 6-19 in two seasons, was fired, and Pete Lembo, who previously coached FCS teams Lehigh and Elon. Lembo holds a 79-36 record in ten years as a head coach and made three I-AA/FCS playoff appearances.
The Cardinals, just three years removed from an undefeated regular season, appear to be in rebuilding mode, but not from ground zero. The Cardinals return quarterback Keith Wenning, who played in 11 games as a freshman last season. Wenning completed 54 percent of his passes and threw 14 TDs and 14 interceptions. These aren't exceptional numbers, but really aren't bad for a freshman thrown in to a starting role in his first season. Ball State, ranked #106, had one of the worst offenses in college football, but in addition to Wenning, Ball State returns its top two receivers. Jack Tomlinson gained 484 yards and caught 6 TDs in only 7 games, and Briggs Orsbon, a senior, has 1595 career receiving yards. The running game, which was Ball State's offensive strength last year, if the Cards has one, is a different story. Miquale Lewis is gone to graduate, and Eric Williams, who led Ball State with 580 yards and 5 rushing TDs last season, recently quit the team because of a conflict with Lembo. That leaves David Brown (a sophomore who ran for 338 yards and 5.5 YPC last season) and senior Cory Sykes (1242 yards and 5.7 YPC for his career, 255 yards last season) as the Cards' most seasoned runners. On defense, I'll break down the unit more thoroughly when the season arrives, but BSU returns 7 of 11 defensive starters from a unit that ranked #79 in total defense nationally).
In the last 33 seasons, IU has only two losses to MAC schools. Both came in 2008 (one to Ball State, one to Central Michigan). The Hoosiers' non-conference schedule is manageable, but not a guaranteed 4-0. In addition to the Ball State game, the Hoosiers play Virginia and South Carolina State at home and North Texas on the road. With a first year coach and a first year quarterback (presumably either Dusty Kiel or Edward Wright-Baker, maybe freshman Tre Roberson), a bowl bid may be too much to ask of the 2011 Hoosiers, but any path to six wins requires a win over Ball State. Hopefully, the talent differential, the neutral site, and some revenge-minded upperclassmen will help IU avoid the upset.