SPORTS FOR THOUGHT: Ball State can't overlook history-seeking Liberty

Stan Parrish preached the importance of focusing "one game at a time" all offseason. His players had a similar tune. No way Ball State will ever overlook its next opponent, they've told us.

That mantra better not be empty words. Not this week.

With a matchup against Purdue looming Sept. 18, Ball State approaches a trap game Saturday night against Liberty. One momentary slip, one mental lapse,  and the Cardinals will lose to a Football Championship Subdivision opponent for the second straight season.

Wouldn't that be embarrassing?

There's no reason Ball State should lose to Liberty if the Cardinals play their best football. While the Flames have a few players who could compete in major college football, the Cardinals are deeper.

After last week, there's little reason to expect Ball State will play its best football, though.

Parrish said earlier this week that Liberty's Mike Brown is the best quarterback his team will play this season. It was a shocking statement. Ball State has a date with No. 9 Iowa and senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi in two weeks.

But Parrish was right. Brown, a redshirt junior, isn't only the best quarterback the Cardinals will see this season, he may be the best player.

Brown was listed as a starter at five positions on the Flames 2009 season-opening depth chart: quarterback, receiver, holder, kick returner and punt returner. He became the first sophomore to win Big South Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2009, finishing with 698 receiving, 442 rushing and 427 passing yards with 15 total touchdowns.

Playing behind South Carolina-transfer quarterback Tommy Beecher, Brown started 10 of 11 games at receiver last season. With the ball in his hands every snap, he'll be more dangerous.

Expect Brown to make at least one highlight Saturday night, no matter what Ball State's defense does to stop him. If Ball State holds him to one big play, it will blow Liberty out.

But the Flames are more dangerous than one player.

Top-20 FCS teams can compete well in the Mid-American Conference. This top-20 FCS team will be more motivated than you anticipate.

Never underestimate a team's desire when it's trying to make history.

Remember how Ball State's players, coaches and fans were when the program was 0-for-forever against BCS teams.

The Cardinals had several heartbreaking BCS defeats in a row. They lost 34-26 at No. 2 Michigan in 2006 after having a chance to score a game-tying touchdown in the fourth. They lost 41-40 at No. 24 Nebraska the next season when Jake Hogue missed a 55-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

When Ball State finally broke through with a 42-20 win at Indiana in 2008, there was a rush of excitement over the program. That's when we knew something special was happening that fall.

Ball State's playing the opposite role Saturday.

Liberty has never beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team, despite coming close numerous times. It lost by 13 points last season at West Virginia and one point at Toledo in 2007.

One subpar stretch in Saturday night's game, and the Cardinals will help the Flames make history.


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