The Ball State Cardinals played against Eastern Kentucky during the home opener game on Sept. 17 in Scheumann Stadium for Family Weekend. Ball State won 41-14. Grace Ramey // DN
Ball State must win final 2 games to achieve bowl eligibility
There are no more “ifs” for the Ball State football team.
Losers of three straight games, the Cardinals (4-6, 1-5 MAC) now have to win their final two games of the season if they want to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2013.
“We’re in that single elimination mindset right now,” head coach Mike Neu said. “Apply it to the NCAA Tournament in March when you have the field of 64. There’s something for us to play for. If we handle our business, there’s a bowl game that sits out there.”
Ball State — Remaining schedule
Nov. 16, 7 p.m. at Toledo
Nov. 22, 7 p.m. at Miami
It’s not as simple as it might sound.
In order to obtain the six wins needed to become bowl eligible, Ball State will have to go on the road to beat MAC power Toledo and a red-hot Miami team that has won five straight.
Here's how Ball State stacks up against each of those teams:
Toledo (8-2, 5-1 MAC)
After a 10-2 campaign and a win in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl a year ago, the Rockets are sitting at 8-2 with losses to BYU and Ohio.
Toledo also received three votes in the latest Coaches Top 25 Poll.
The Rockets play good, complementary football on offense to the tune of 539.7 total yards per game. They also average 39.4 points per contest.
Quarterback Logan Woodside leads the conference in passing yards (3,328), touchdowns (37) and efficiency (191.8). The junior also doesn’t make very many mistakes, with just six interceptions.
Pair that with one of the best running back duos in the MAC in Kareem Hunt (203 carries, 1,048 yards, seven touchdowns) and Terry Swanson (106 carries, 525 yards, three touchdowns), and you’ve got the only offense in the league that’s comparable to Western Michigan’s high-volume attack.
“Again, a team that doesn’t make a ton of mistakes,” Neu said. “They do a good job of playing consistent and making the plays when they come their way. I’m not surprised by the success.”
In Toledo’s lone MAC loss to Ohio, the Bobcats forced two turnovers and held the Rockets to just 122 yards on the ground. Ohio also put up 269 rushing yards on offense.
For Ball State to win this one, it likely needs to win the turnover battle and control the flow of the game with sophomore running back James Gilbert.
Miami (5-6, 5-2 MAC)
A month ago, this looked like the easiest remaining game on Ball State’s schedule. The RedHawks started the season 0-6 and lost their first two MAC games by multiple possessions.
But after an 18-14 win over Kent State Oct. 15, Miami took off. It has won five consecutive conference games, including victories over the likes of Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, and has a solid chance to win the MAC East and achieve bowl eligibility.
For that to happen, it would have to beat Ball State.
The RedHawks don’t do anything spectacular offensively (22.5 points and 354.1 total yards per game), but their strength lies on defense. In fact, they have the best defense in the conference statistically, giving up an average of just 347.3 yards.
Miami also leads the conference in interceptions, something that doesn’t bode well for a Ball State offense that has struggled with turnovers throughout the season.
If Ball State beats Toledo and gets to this point, it has the feeling of a grind-it-out, low-scoring affair that would come down to the wire.
Neu talked after the Eastern Michigan loss about how the Cardinals need to learn how to finish, but for the final two weeks, they have to be in win-now mode.
“In my mind, it’s all about a mindset and a belief we have to create,” Neu said. “It’s something you can talk about, but you truly have to see it and believe it, and you have to get in each guy’s mind to know he’s really where he needs to be.”