Indiana made it through the first 110 years of its football history without playing intrastate adversary Ball State even once, but Saturday's game against the Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be the sixth meeting between the schools in fifteen seasons. That means that since 1997, Ball State has been IU's most common non-conference opponent other than Kentucky. IU holds a 4-1 advantage in the series, but the most recent memory, a 42-20 Ball State win in 2008, remains one of the lowest moments in the history of a program that doesn't have a shortage of low moments. That game was Ball State's first win against any member of one of the six major conferences, and ended a 20-game, 31-year winning streak for IU against MAC schools. Here's a rundown of the series, with video where available:
September 15, 1997: Indiana 33, Ball State 6 (credit to the invaluable Doug Yeskie for the box scores): Cam Cameron earned his first win as a head coach with a thorough beating of Bill Lynch and the defending MAC champions. IU Quarterback Jay Rodgers, who would be displaced as IU's starter a year later by Antwaan Randle El, played an excellent game, completing 27 of 39 passes for 408 yards and 5 touchdown passes. Rodgers held IU's single game passing yardage record until Ben Chappell threw for 480 years against Michigan in 2010.
Jay Rodgers against North Carolina in 1997. Photo via Getty Images subscription.
September 4, 1999: Indiana 21, Ball State 9. This was the first loss for Ball State in what turned out to be an 0-11 season, and was one of the few bright moments for the 1999 Hoosier defense. IU allowed at least 30 points in 9 of its 11 games in 1999, and allowed at least 40 in 5 games. As it was, the powerful IU offense scored 21 in the first half and coasted in the second. Antwaan Randle El threw for 154 yards on 9-12 passing, including two touchdowns, and ran for 118 yards and IU's other score.
Good player, bad uniform. Photo via Getty Images subscription.
September 8, 2006: Indiana 24, Ball State 23. The series resumed seven years later, with many changes to both programs. Cam Cameron was long gone, and Gerry Dinardo, too. Bill Lynch, who was head coach when BSU lost to IU in 1997 to 1999, was then IU's assistant head coach. One of Lynch's son's, former BSU football and basketball player Billy Lynch, was with his dad on the IU sideline, while younger son Joey Lynch was starting at QB for the Cardinals. This game was something of a beginning for IU and an end. It was the beginning of the Kellen Lewis Show. IU QB Blake Powers missed the game with an injury, and with backup Graeme McFarland both dinged up and ineffective, IU turned to Lewis, who led IU back from a 23-7 deficit with 228 passing yards and 91 rushing yards. The most spectacular play, however, which came after BSU had pulled ahead 17-0, was Marcus Thigpen's 100 yard kickoff return:
Unfortunately, that Ball State game was on the last day that any IU fan could feel secure about Terry Hoeppner's health After that game, Hep took a two-game leave of absence for a follow-up brain surgery. IU lost the two games he missed (to a mediocre UConn game and against I-AA Southern Illinois), and those losses ended up costing IU a bowl bid in the end.
November 3, 2007: Indiana 38, Ball State 20. Just over a year later, Terry Hoeppner had died and Bill Lynch was serving as IU's head coach in what at the time was characterized as a one year arrangement. This win was an important milestone for the Hoosiers. IU improved to 6-4 with this win, making the Hoosiers conditionally bowl-eligible and guaranteeing the first non-losing regular season since 1994. Future NFL quarterback Nate Davis was good, throwing for 332 yards and a TD, but Kellen Lewis was better, throwing for 354 yards and 4 TDs and rushing for 63 yards.
September 20, 2008: Ball State 42, Indiana 20. The Cardinals exercised years of frustration in this one. Statistically, this was a somewhat even game, but Ball State controlled the game on the ground (with 170 yards from Miquale Lewis). Unfortunately, the most vivid memory for both teams of that game is the career-ending neck injury to Ball State WR Dante Love. The game was characterized by two defensive scores. The first, by Nick Polk, was the return of the fumble caused by Love's injury, which pulled IU to within 14-13. BSU went back up 21-13, but the game essentially was decided by Sean Baker's interception return for a touchdown with a minute left in the first half. I'm surprised, given how big this win was for Ball State, that I couldn't find any highlights for the 2008 game on Youtube. Here's the Marching Hundred's performance for that night, which exceeded anything the football team did that day.
Well, there it is. Hopefully, IU can add to its advantage against the Cardinals. More on this game as the week continues, of course.