With Ball State’s 31-24 home loss to Northern Illinois Oct. 1, the Cardinals fell to 3-2 on the season. Head coach Mike Neu and the players agreed after the game it was one they could’ve — and should’ve — won.

Losing the Mid-American Conference opener snapped a two-game winning streak and also affected the long-term outlook for the rest of the season.

The Cardinals need three wins in their final seven games to attain bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

MAC Standings

East Division

Akron (1-0, 3-2 overall)

Ohio (1-0, 3-2 overall)

Buffalo (0-0, 1-3 overall)

Bowling Green (0-1, 1-4 overall)

Kent State (0-1, 1-4 overall)

Miami (0-1, 0-5 overall)

West Division

Western Michigan (1-0, 5-0 overall)

Northern Illinois (1-0, 1-4 overall)

Eastern Michigan (1-0, 4-1 overall)

Toledo (0-0, 3-1 overall)

Ball State (0-1, 3-2 overall)

Central Michigan (0-1, 3-2 overall)

Here's a breakdown of the remaining games on Ball State’s schedule, broken down by level of difficulty:

Top tier

The MAC has a lot of good teams this year, and unfortunately for the Cardinals, many of them are in the West Division. Ball State still has to face off against arguably the three best teams in the MAC: Central Michigan (3-2, 0-1 MAC) on Oct. 8, Western Michigan (5-0, 1-0 MAC) on Nov. 1 and Toledo (3-1, 0-0 MAC) on Nov. 16.

  • Central Michigan beat Oklahoma State (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) this season, but Ball State gets the Chippewas at the right time, as they’re coming off two straight losses.

Still, it’ll be a tough cover for the Cardinals. Quarterback Cooper Rush leads the conference with 1,530 passing yards to go along with 14 touchdowns and a lot of weapons at receiver.

  • Western Michigan was picked in the preseason to win the MAC, and it has shown nothing to indicate that was wrong. The Broncos are ranked No. 25 in the country in the latest Amway Coaches Poll with wins over Northwestern and Illinois of the Big Ten.

The Broncos have one of the best players in the conference in wide receiver Corey Davis, a two-headed monster with running backs Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin and quarterback Zach Terrell, who has thrown 12 touchdowns with no interceptions. With some help from a strong offensive line, Western Michigan scores a ridiculous 44.8 points per game.

  • Toledo lost a shootout to BYU (2-3, ind.) last week, but the Rockets are still 3-1. They have beaten Ball State in two straight meetings.

The Rockets are gaining almost 600 yards per game and giving up only 335. Running back Kareem Hunt is an NFL prospect, and quarterback Logan Woodside currently leads the conference with 16 touchdown passes.

Middle tier

These are teams Ball State appears to match up pretty well with on paper. The matchup with Akron (Oct. 22) is the team’s Homecoming game, and Eastern Michigan (Nov. 8) will be its final home game of the season.

  • The Cardinals have actually owned this series as of late, with five consecutive wins over the Zips. Akron (3-2, 1-0 MAC) has put a lot of points on the board this year, including an impressive 65-38 win at Marshall.

Most of Akron’s offense comes through the air with 306 passing yards per game. But the Zips also give up 320.6 passing yards per game.

  • Eastern Michigan is a bit of a surprise at 4-1 (1-0 MAC) after finishing last season with a 1-11 record. The Eagles have won some close games the last two weeks against Wyoming and at Bowling Green.

The Eagles run a pretty balanced offense, but running back Ian Erikson is a key player with 387 yards and five touchdowns this year.

Lower tier

These are games that, frankly, Ball State should win. The Cardinals travel to Buffalo (Oct. 15) in a couple weeks and end the season at Miami (Ohio) on Nov. 22.

  • Buffalo (1-3, 0-0 MAC) has an overtime win at home vs. Army, but the Bulls also lost at home to FCS Albany. Ball State is 8-1 all-time against Buffalo and has never lost on the road there.

The Bulls are only averaging 14 points per game through four contests. They gain about 275 yards of total offense per game and give up about 400.

  • Four of the five games Miami (Ohio) has played in have been decided by 10 points or less, but the Redhawks (0-5, 0-1 MAC) are still winless. They played tough at Cincinnati, but also lost at home to FCS Eastern Illinois in Week 2.

It’s hard to see Miami (Ohio) getting more than a couple wins in the MAC schedule this year.

The MAC has a direct tie-in to five different bowl games at the end of the season.

The most likely scenario for Ball State to reach the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility would be to win the two lower-tier games and one middle tier.

But who knows? An upset against a top-tier team could do the trick, and a loss to a lower-tier team could derail the Cardinals' postseason hopes. And those pesky mid-week games in November have been known to be unpredictable.