Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana Hoosiers (0-0, proj. #46 SP+) vs Ball State Cardinals (0-0, proj. #110 SP+)
Where? Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
When? Saturday, Aug. 31, Noon
Channel? CBS Sports Network
Vegas? Indiana -17.
SP+ Projection? Indiana by 17.9, 85% probability of Hoosier victory
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for Hoonsier football. On Saturday IU kicks off its season with an in-state clash against Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium after a long offseason filled with exciting changes and additions to the program.
It’s nearly time for everybody’s favorite roller coaster ride to begin so get in.
Considering that it’s week one, all we have to go off of are last year’s results and this year’s projections, which we got courtesy of Bill Connelly, who as always does fantastic work. The link to those projections is above in the “Who?” section of the game info if you’re curious.
The Cardinals are coming off of a season in which they finished fifth in the MAC with a 4-8 record. Despite that, they were theoretically just a few plays away from winning seven games as they lost to each of No. 8 Notre Dame (in South Bend!), Western Kentucky and Northern Illinois by eight points. In last season’s edition of this matchup, Ball State traveled to Bloomington and got beat 38-10.
This year’s team might not be as dangerous as last year’s as quarterback Riley Neal, who was pretty good, transferred to Vanderbilt and is currently battling for the starting QB job down there (you’ve gotta wonder how that will affect Romeo Langford’s recruitment).
Despite losing him the Cardinals do have some depth all around. Practically all of the team’s production along the offensive line returns as do its top two receivers and nearly the entire defense. After being ravaged by injuries over the past few seasons the backups have some considerable experience as well.
Drew Plitt, last year’s backup quarterback, will take the reigns of the Cardinal offense after throwing for 1,000 yards last season with a completion percentage of 64.9 percent. He also threw for six touchdowns and eight interceptions in the eight games in which he saw the field. He was named the team’s most improved player at the end of last season and they’ll need him to continue that upward trajectory if they want to make a run at bowl eligibility this fall.
In terms of national rankings Ball State is expected to improve this season. SP+ has the Cardinals down for an improvement of nine spots both defensively and overall as well as a five-spot improvement offensively, though they’re still projected to finish between 105th and 111th in each category. SP+ also has the Cardinals down for 4.3 wins this season, but an addition of seven points per game would put them at 5.9 expected wins, right on the verge of bowl eligibility.
Overall, the Cardinals could be a perfectly decent MAC team this season. IU shouldn’t lose to a perfectly decent MAC team.
The key to this matchup is simple for IU: show that you’re more talented than the other team. The Hoosiers should have better athletes across the field and because of that there should be no reason to play with a conservative gameplan. Go out there and smack Ball State in the mouth early and then keep your foot on the gas. Let Michael Penix Jr. sling it all over the field, let the talented stable of running backs do what they do and for goodness sake throw the ball downfield to your deep threats in Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale.
The same goes for the defense. Don’t be afraid to dial up a blitz every now and then. Don’t let Plitt get comfortable in the pocket. Keep the pressure on the new QB all afternoon.
Three Things to Watch
1. Penix Unleashed
At long last Penix will enter a game as IU’s starting quarterback. There’s been hype surrounding the sophomore since he chose to sign with the Hoosiers over Florida State back in 2017 and it only continued to grow before he tore his ACL against Penn State last season. Earlier this week IU head coach Tom Allen made Penix’s starter status official and the hype returned in full force. Expect to see plenty of Penix in this game as this could quickly turn into his coming-out party considering the quality of the opponent. We should finally get to see what the Florida native is made of.
2. Isaac James
If that name sounds familiar it should. James served as a backup cornerback for IU in recent years and after graduating he decided that he’d like to transition to a school where he’d get more playing time for his final season of eligibility. He moved to Ball State as a grad transfer and could be slated to start for them on the outside. Watch to see if the former Hoosier can make an impact on this game.
3. Walter Fletcher
Fletcher joins the Cardinals as a transfer after three seasons at DII Edinboro University. He was one of the best running backs at that level, receiving All-American honors and finishing as one of the leading rushers nationally with 1,740 yards. That total was good enough to set a program single-season record. Now he should be the lead back for the Cardinals, especially after the loss of last year’s leading rusher James Gilbert, who transferred to Kansas State, as well as Neal who finished second on the team in rushing yards.