Five weeks into the 2019 football season, and Ball State (1-3, 0-0 MAC) is back to square one. The schedule shows nothing but Mid-American Conference opponents, and the record is 0-0.

“It’s time to get it started now,” head coach Mike Neu said. “Whatever’s happened in the non-conference schedule has no bearing on what’s about to take place here over the next eight games … Our focus is trying to get to 1-0 at the end of this week.”

Ball State only won one of its four non-conference contests, dropping games to Indiana, Florida Atlantic and NC State. However, none of those losses were by more than 11 points. 

The difference, Neu said, is just a handful of plays here and there. The Cardinals have turned the ball over 12 times this year — four times through the air, four times on the ground and four times on downs. 

“For us, we got to make those handful of plays,” Neu said. “When you’re playing in a tight game, those are necessary in order to have the scoreboard end up in your favor.”

The Cardinals have had no problem putting up points, scoring an average of 33.8 per game. They have a quarterback in redshirt junior Drew Plitt who, prior to the bye week, ranked third in Division I with 1,373 passing yards.

Plitt views it as a team accomplishment, crediting his offensive unit.

“The only people that can stop us is ourselves. If you look at our offense, nobody’s been able to stop us,” Plitt said. “We have a bunch of playmakers that are able to do a lot of things with the ball. My job’s easy when I can get the ball to them in space and let them go make a play.”

Plitt isn’t the only Cardinal getting nationally recognized this season. With 47 tackles through four games, redshirt senior linebacker Jacob White was second among Division I players. 

White stays after practice most days to work on his craft. While he said it’s cool to see his name near the top of a national leaderboard, he’s only worried about how he can improve every day.

“I’m competing with myself each day and against the teams we play,” White said. “Those statistics and how I rank in the nation are just an absolute by product of how we prepare and how we get ready for each game.”

Ball State Football runs out of the tunnel before the game against Florida Atlantic at Scheumann Stadium Sept. 14, 2019. Ball State lost to FAU, 41-31. Jacob Musselman, DN

The preparation of not just White, but the team as a whole, is why the players say this year is different. 

Ball State plays defending MAC Champion Northern Illinois (1-3, 0-0 MAC) Saturday for the Bronze Stalk Trophy, which hasn’t resided in Muncie since 2008 when it was created. In an offense that throws for 344.5 yards a game — eighth most in the nation — Plitt said confidence is soaring.

“We know we’re good enough to beat any team on our schedule, whether it’s the first four or the last eight,” Plitt said. “We know we’re good enough, and we’re going to carry that confidence into MAC play.”

If you ask White, the outcome of Saturday’s game is already a foregone conclusion.

“Just turn the film on — We’re a different team,” White said. “The film doesn’t lie at the end of the day. How we are in the locker room and the closeness we have is going to make us fight for each other that much more. The combination of those two things is why we’re going to get that trophy, for sure.”

Kickoff Saturday in DeKalb, Illinois, is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.

Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at zapiatt@bsu.edu or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.