With Ball State just two wins away from bowl eligibility and temperatures in Muncie nearing single digits this week at practice, redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt has the Bahamas on his mind.
“The Bahamas Bowl is pretty cool,” Plitt said. “Somewhere warm, I think, would be nice.”
Redshirt junior linebacker Jay Thomas agrees.
“The Bahamas, definitely,” Thomas said. “It’s a warm place, never been there before. It’d be a great environment just to have fun with my brothers and enjoy the moment.”
As good as it feels to have the team’s first bowl birth since 2013 in sight, Plitt said, players’ eyes can’t get too wide.
According to the 2019-20 NCAA Postseason Bowl Handbook, a bowl-eligible team is one that “has won a number of games against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents that is equal to or greater than the number of its overall losses.” In simpler terms, Ball State would need a record of 6-6 or better against FBS schools.
The Cardinals currently sit at 4-5 on the season, but one of their wins came against Fordham, a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school. This means they would have to win all three of their remaining games to fit the NCAA’s definition of “bowl-eligible.” However, the bowl handbook does have exceptions in regards to FCS opponents, so the Cardinals would still have a chance to go bowling if they only win two of their last three games.
“We know that we have to win at least two of three to keep our dreams alive,” Plitt said. “We realize what’s at stake, but at the same time, we have to take it one game at a time so you don’t look too far ahead.”
Head coach Mike Neu said he knows about all the talk surrounding the college football bowl season, but his team won’t get there unless its focus is squarely on what is directly in front of it. Right now, that’s Central Michigan.
“There’s lots of scenarios. There’s lots of hypotheticals, but we can’t get caught up into that world,” Neu said. “We got to focus on the simplistic approach — one game at a time, making sure our routine this week is as consistent as it can possibly be in order to be consistent on the field.”
In order to win Saturday’s game with the Chippewas, and eventually the next two, Thomas said the team will have to come together as a unit. He added that the players still have confidence because they haven’t had any poor overall performances in any of their four losses. It’s just been “a few little mistakes” that have cost the team in the end.
Neu said he believes this Cardinal squad has what it takes to climb the mountain in front of it, and it stems back to his days as a coach for the New Orleans Saints.
From 2008-12, Neu worked as a Saints’ player personnel staff member and quarterbacks coach. During five seasons in New Orleans, the Saints compiled a record of 52-28 (.650 win percentage) and won a Super Bowl.
“The locker room chemistry was as good, obviously, as I’ve ever been around. That’s got to be in place when you talk about having a team because you have challenges on every team every year,” Neu said of the Saints teams he coached. “That was the best thing — to be a part of that, to see first and foremost how good the locker room was from a chemistry standpoint and how awesome the togetherness was.”
Neu said he sees some of the same qualities in the 2019 Ball State Cardinals.
“This is the best team that we’ve had in terms of the chemistry part in the locker room and the togetherness part in the locker room,” Neu said. “This team’s been as good as I’ve been around in terms of the character piece here and the best we’ve had here.”
Ball State will look to put those elements to use against Central Michigan, Kent State and Miami (Ohio) during the last three weeks of the regular season. The Cardinals’ game with the Chippewas will start at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Scheumann Stadium.