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Indiana Hoosiers v. Ball State Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium (preview).

Ball State Cardinals
2011 record: 0-0
2010 record: 4-7 (3-5 MAC)
2010 Sagarin:  160 (IU was #98)
Conference: Mid-American
Coach: Pete Lembo (first year, 0-0)
Series: IU leads 4-1
TV: 7 p.m., ESPN3 (Internet only)

It's been nine long months since the Indiana Hoosiers ended the disappointing 2010 season.  After a coaching change, a huge recruiting coup in the commitment of Gunner Kiel, and plenty of off-season speculation about what the season will hold, it's finally time to play football.  The Kevin Wilson era begins just over 24 hours from now when the Hoosiers face the Ball State Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.



Ball State is a program in transition as well.  When the teams last played, in September 2008, IU was just a season removed from a winning season and bowl appearance, and the Cardinals were on their way to an undefeated regular season.  After that season, BSU coach Brady Hoke left for San Diego State, and now is at Michigan, and his successor Stan Parrish was fired after two ugly seasons.  IU coach Bill Lynch never approached the success of his interim season and was fired after last season.  The Cards' new coach is Pete Lembo, who comes to Muncie with a decade of experience as a head coach in FCS, formerly Division I-AA.  At Lehigh and Elon, Lembo won 68 percent of his games and made 3 NCAA playoff appearances. 

As expected, the Ball State offense, which was one of the worst in FBS last year, will be led by quarterback Keith Wenning, who started 10 games as a true freshman last season and complete 54 percent of his passes while throwing 14 TDs and 14 interceptions.  The Cardinals are starting from scratch at running back.  Ball State lost MiQuale Lewis to graduation and Eric Williams quit the team a few months ago.  The Cardinals' only returning running backs with any meaningful experience, David Brown and Cory Sykes, are missing from the week one depth chart because of injuries (Brown is doubtful; Sykes is questionable).  That leaves Barrington Scott, a redshirt sophomore who has never carried the ball in college, and true freshman Jahwan Edwards, to carry the load.  Fortunately for Ball State, the receiving corps is a bit more experienced.  Jack Tomlinson gained 484 yards and caught 6 TDs in only 7 games, and Briggs Orsbon, a senior, has 1595 career receiving yards. The Cardinals are small but experienced on the line: 8 of the 10 lineman on the two deep are juniors or seniors. 

On defense, remember Sean Baker?  The Ball State safety whose pick six late in the first half of the 2008 game turned the tide completely?  He's still there, and is already BSU's all-time interceptions leader.  The defense was, at least by default, the strength of BSU's team last year, and most starters return, including MLB Travis Freeman, WLB Tony Martin, and cornerback Jason Pinkston.  As a Cub fan I have to note that one of BSU's backup corners is named Andre Dawson. 

On special teams, Steven Schott, a redshirt junior who has attempted only one field goal in his career but handled some kickoffs last year, gets the nod.  Scott Kovanda is an experienced punter.  Hopefully he will be much more experienced by 10 p.m. tomorrow night.

To the extent that IU and Ball State have had any success in recent years, that success has been driven by offense.  Yet, both teams seem to have more question marks on offense than on defense.  IU fans finally know that Edward Wright-Baker will start at quarterback, but the Hoosiers return lots of experience on defense.  Ball State has huge question marks at running back, and returns plenty on defense.  Could this be a low-scoring affair?  We will see.  It seems to me that the key unit for IU in this game is the defensive line.  If the offensive line can handle Ball State's inexperienced running backs, then perhaps the Hoosier defense can focus on the Cards' comparatively experienced QB and receivers.  IU's offense is a mystery at this point.  We know it's going to be fast-paced, and we know that Damarlo Belcher is good.  Will Wright-Baker be able to find him?  Will either Matt Perez or Stephen Houston be able to run effectively, with Darius Willis and Nick Turner both on the shelf?  It's going to be interesting, and hopefully it will be fun.  Here we go.  My guess is that after a slow start, IU will figure it out.  Indiana 27, Ball State 13.