Quick 2020 Recap
Ball State is coming off its most successful season in program history. After losing to Miami (OH) in week one, the Cardinals reeled off seven consecutive victories to finish 7-1 and #23 in the final AP poll. The win streak included the MAC Championship victory against Buffalo, as well as a 34-13 thumping of San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl - the first bowl victory in history of the program.
Offensive Player to Watch: QB Drew Plitt
The well-experienced Plitt is returning for his fifth season with the Cardinals. Plitt is back for his third year as the starter, and had ample playing time going back to 2017. He is coming off his best season, completing 65.6 percent of passes for 2,154 yards, 17 touchdowns to six interceptions. Plitt will have his two leading receivers back, Justin Hall and Yo’Heinz Tyler, who combined for 91 catches, 1,272 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2020.
Defensive Player to Watch: LB Brandon Martin
If Ball State wasn’t returning enough talent on offense, they also welcome back the 2020 MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Martin finished with a team-leading 90 tackles and 6.5 TFLs, as well as a sack last season. He has two more seasons of eligibility, but likely will have a decision to make as a future in the NFL seems very likely.
Major Changes for 2021
Not much will be different in Muncie this fall. The Cardinals return 20 starters from its MAC championship squad, including nearly all of its impact players. Ball State will be without Caleb Huntley, an immensely talented and bruising back who would been the main ballcarrier for just about any Power 5 program. However, Ball State continued to win after Huntley missed the rest of the season following week three after accumulating 437 rushing yards and six touchdowns in just three games. Mike Neu is also back as head coach for the sixth season.
Ball State Wins If
It’s easy to say that a MAC opponent needs to follow the “upset special” whenever they roll into Happy Valley, but this Ball State team actually is built to do all the necessary things. They have an experienced, efficient quarterback who can convert third downs and limit costly mistakes, a deep group of running backs who can churn out yards and help win the time of possession battle, a defense that makes you earn your way on the scoreboard, and loads of experience throughout the depth chart. While Penn State should come out on top, this team absolutely can hang with the Nittany Lions and possibly score an upset with a few bounces of the ball go in their direction.
Penn State Wins If
The Nittany Lions will need to come out ready to play from the very start, and not be distracted in a week that comes between showdowns with Wisconsin and Auburn. Ball State could become dangerous and stretch out the game if it takes a while for Penn State to recover from a sleepy start. However, the Nittany Lions should be in great shape by finding the inevitable mismatches and getting the ball in the hands of Jahan Dotson and other playmakers early and often to make the Cardinals play catch up. It will also be a good ay for the men in blue and white if the defense has success getting the Cardinals off the field early while creating a couple turnovers along the way.