A four-game losing streak has guaranteed Ball State its second-consecutive losing season, despite a promising start to the Mid-American Conference season.
During the streak, the Cardinals losses have ranged from embarrassing to dispiriting. Western Michigan stunned Ball State on Homecoming with a 45-16 rout the Cardinals haven't recovered from yet.
But after two tough road losses, Ball State returns home Saturday for a game against winless Akron at 1 p.m. Some observers regard Saturday as the Cardinals (2-7, 1-4 MAC) best chance to get back in the win column this season.
Coach Stan Parrish knows winning is the best motivator for his team, and hopes this weekend can provide a feeling Ball State hasn't experienced much in the last two years.
"Win. That's the best message," Parrish said. "We have a chance to win a game if we play well. We've got to go out and get ready to win a game. We haven't won enough."
Akron (0-9, 0-5) is seeking its first victory for coach Rob Ianello. Ball State has already provided one coach his first victory at a school, falling 41-38 in overtime to Eastern Michigan and second-year coach Ron English.
The Cardinals know the Zips are also eyeing Saturday as perhaps their best chance to win a game this season. Middle linebacker Travis Freeman compared Akron's mindset to Ball State's last year before beating Western Michigan to finish the season.
"I think the fact that we were hungry for a win, that we weren't going to give up," Freeman said. "That's what it boils down to – that desperation to get a victory. I'm pretty sure Akron goes into each week playing their hardest and preparing their hardest."
To get the win, Parrish said he expects Akron to try and run the ball a lot on offense. Quarterback Patrick Nicely hasn't played well for the Zips this fall, throwing nine interceptions compared with just three touchdowns.
Parrish said Akron has been forced to throw the ball more than it would ideally want because of large deficits in many games.
"I think they'll try to run the ball at us, I really do," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if they got in the I-formation."
No matter what the Zips do, the Cardinals said they will be prepared to stop it. Parrish said the game would be decided by who prepares the hardest this week in practice.
Despite the losses, Freeman said the Cardinals are still eager to learn and fix their mistakes as they look for their third victory of the season.
"It's tough to lose," Freeman said. "I think our motivation is we have to learn from our mistakes. Each week we look forward to the next game because we know what we did wrong and we want to make it better. I think that's the mindset everybody has right now, to get better."