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Ball State Preview
by Tom Stryker - 08/04/2006
August is rapidly approaching and so, too, is the 2006 football season. And one conference dead set on improving its stock is the Mid American. Over the past decade the MAC has grown in numbers, quality and respect. This year could see more of that for the Midwestern teams that annually take on the best during the pre-conference portions of the year. More often than not, the MAC teams play well against the biggies. Starting today we will look at the MAC teams, beginning with the West Division alphabetically.
Most teams feel optimistic during the offseason. But Coach Brady Hoke and the Cardinals have reason to look forward to the 2006 campaign. After winning three of their final four games in a 4-7 run last fall, the Cardinals expect better things this season.
A total of 10 starters on offense fuels the optimism, especially with the return of quarterback Joey Lynch. Despite being sacked 43 times last year, Lynch completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,982 yards and 18 touchdowns.
B.J. Hill and Larry Bostic return in the backfield with Lynch. That duo gained 656 yards a year ago, trailing only the graduated Charles Wynn in offensive production.
Eight of the top nine receivers are back, including Terry Moss and Louis Johnson, who ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the team last fall. Moss and Johnson combined for 833 yards and five touchdowns - and both expect those numbers to swell this time around.
All five starters back on the offensive line hoping to improve upon last yearâ€™s numbers. In the first four games a year ago, Ball State scored only a total of 34 points. They averaged 28 points a game in their last seven outings.
The key then will be defense for the Cardinals.
Despite having only four defensive starters back, there are some bright spots. And that number (returning starters) is deceptive. At least four players started early, were suspended, and now are back with a point to prove in 2006.
Seven of the top eight defensive linemen are back, along with at least two linebackers. The backers are Wendell Brown and Bryant Haines. A third starting linebacker, Brad Seiss, tore a knee in spring practice.
After giving up more than 200 yards rushing per game in 2005, the Cardinals know they have to slice that number if they are to be a factor in the MAC West Division.
Safeties Eric Keys and Trey Lewis return to bolster the defensive backfield.
Hokeâ€™s special teams should be better in 2006 as well. Punter Chris Miller led the MAC a year ago and finished 12th in the nation with his 43.8 yard average. Placekicker Brian Jackson also returns. He was nine for 13 in field goals with a long kick of 54 yards. B.J. Hill is the top returnee on punt returns (11.1) and Dantel Love is back again on kickoffs. He averaged 24.8 per return last fall.
The Cardinals will have to win their share of conference games. The non-conference slate does show a matchup with North Dakota State, but Ball State also meets three Big Ten teams - Purdue and Michigan on the road and Indiana at home. The Cardinals open the season Aug. 31 at home against Eastern Michigan.