Ball State Cardinals
After a close win against a good FCS team and a blowout win over what could be the worst team in FBS, IU returns home, but without its best player, to begin the more challenging portion of the schedule. IU's Big Ten schedule doesn't begin for another two weeks, before before entering their first and only bye week of the season, IU returns to Bloomington to host Ball State.
IU leads the series against the Cardinals 4-2, but Ball State is on a roll. In last season's opener at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the Cardinals prevailed 27-20. And in 2008, the last time the two teams met in Bloomington, Ball State won 42-20 in a game that wasn't that close. The Cardinals went on to win 12 games that year before spitting the bit in the MAC title game, but haven't returned to the postseason since 2008. Last year's game with the first at his respective school for both head coaches. Pete Lembo had a more successful year one than Kevin Wilson, finishing 6-6 and 4-4 in the MAC. We'll look at the Cardinals' roster and first two games in more detail as the week transpires. For now, it's worth considering what this game means to both programs. To Ball State fans, it means, well, everything. Dedicated Ball State fans, at least those represented on the Internet, have an all-encompassing hatred of "TSIB" ("That School in Bloomington"--isn't it great that someone hates our football team that much?) both athletically and academically. We, or at least I, viewed this obsession with bemusement back when IU was winning all the games in this series. Even the 2008 loss, while not exactly palatable, came at the hands of Ball State's best team ever. But last season, IU lost on a neutral field in Indianapolis to a so-so team that had a first-year head coach and new coaching staff of its own. That is beyond the pale, and simply has to be corrected.
This is very important game for Kevin Wilson and for the program. It's not a program-defining game, and it won't dictate Kevin Wilson's long term success or failure at IU. But at least in the short term, things are going to become very unpleasant if IU loses this game. The media jackals already have their teeth bared. I'm not going to link, but you know who I mean. These are the same sort of people (the same people, in some instances) who coddled the likes of Bill Lynch and Mike Davis for years, but they are ready to get their torches just a game or two into Wilson's second season. This is an important lesson to prospective head coaches: you butt heads with the media, even pseudo-media doofuses like Jack Trudeau, at your own peril. (Yes, I, an unwashed blogger punching out nonsense in my mom's basement, just called someone else pseudo-media. Whatever. I'm on a roll). A bowl is very unlikely and always has been for this team, but a 3-0 start at least allows IU fans to hope and dream a little. A season of taking care of business against teams that aren't in the Big Ten would be a small step forward. Losing to a MAC team certainly isn't the end of the world. Plenty of generally respectable Big Ten teams have done so. But for IU to lose to Ball State for the third time in a row would be a bitter pill, even with a first-time starting QB.
Ball State fans want this game because they hate IU so much. IU fans want this game just as badly, but hate ourselves for needing it this badly.