With Ball State on a four-game losing streak three weeks ago and guaranteed a second consecutive losing season, coach Stan Parrish said if it could win its next two games, it would play its bowl game in the season finale against Northern Illinois.
Ball State beat Akron in double overtime and exorcised its demons from the 2008 Mid-American Conference Championship Game last Friday at Buffalo, setting up its bowl game with Northern Illinois, which received the 29th most votes in this week's polls. The Bronze Stalk Bowl, the Ball State Bowl, whatever it was to be called was on the calendar for Saturday at noon.
Only this week, Parrish changed his tune.
"The gimmicks are all wonderful," he said. "I told them three weeks ago they could play a bowl game here if we could win the next two and we did. But I think the challenge is this is the best team in the league and they're undefeated [in the MAC]. What an opportunity for us."
Beating the Huskies, who are on a seven-game winning streak, is quite a challenge for the Cardinals. Northern Illinois has the MAC's best scoring offense and its second-best scoring defense.
With no major weaknesses and led by Parrish's pick for the MAC Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Chandler Harnish, the Cardinals know they have to be on top of their game Saturday.
"They're one of the best teams in our league in my six years," Parrish said. ‘They're just that good and that complete. We're going to have to play the game of our life and we get a chance to upset the kings."
Beyond playing the role of spoiler, Ball State will have the added motivation of Senior Day. Sixteen Cardinals will be honored before the game, including captains Michael Switzer, Davyd Jones and MiQuale Lewis.
Jones said the finality of playing his last game at Ball State was just beginning to hit him at the beginning of the week. He said he and the rest of the Cardinals just wanted to finish the season on a high note.
"5-7 feels a lot better than 4-8," he said. "We want to finish strong against a great team."
Last year, the Cardinals' Senior Night was also against the MAC's best team. Central Michigan thrashed Ball State 35-3 on a cold, rainy night in front of just 5,367 fans at Scheumann Stadium. Parrish made an impassioned plea Monday to make sure that doesn't happen again and sent an email to all of Ball State's students encouraging them to come to the game.
Parrish said he knows how hard it is to get people to come to games when a team isn't playing well, but wants fans remember what the seniors have done for Ball State in the past.
"I just hope we have a few folks out there when we introduce these guys," he said. "A lot of them were '07, '08 players in this program. I know last year was a rainy night and everything, but I felt bad for them because there was nobody out there."