“This is the only thing we want,” redshirt senior quarterback Drew Plitt said. “We just want to win a MAC Championship.”
“Not a bowl game or anything else. We just want to win the MAC,” Plitt repeated.
After the Mid-American Conference originally canceled its fall football season, it reversed course Sept. 25 and decided to play a six-game, conference-only schedule. Nov. 4 will mark game No. 1 for Ball State Football and the beginning of the MAC season.
The Cardinals are confident and believe it is a championship-or-bust season. Ball State is returning 17 seniors and five transfer graduates, and the team is confident it can win the conference in 2020. For the Cardinals, it isn’t just their talent or veteran experience, but they are prepared for any adversity headed their way.
“This team has experienced so many struggles. Anything a team can go through, we have faced it,” Plitt said. “It makes us more prepared because we know what to expect. We hope for the best and expect the worst.”
Head coach Mike Neu is proud of how far his seniors have come. Similar to Plitt, he believes this is a championship team.
“The seniors have worked really hard since they stepped foot on campus,” Neu said. “We worked hard every year to try and get closer, and we have improved tremendously as a team, and they stayed together during adversity earlier in their careers. We feel like, as a program and as a team, we have put ourselves in a position where we feel strongly there is no reason why it can’t be us in Detroit.”
Offensively, Ball State is returning many weapons from last year, including Plitt, senior running back Caleb Huntley, senior wide receiver Justin Hall and junior wide receiver Yo’Heinz Tyler. Plitt led the MAC in passing touchdowns in 2019, Huntley finished third in the conference in rushing yards and Hall and Tyler combined for 13 touchdowns.
These returnees give Neu all the confidence in the world about the versatility he will have in playcalling with a strong ground and pass attack.
“We feel like we are well-balanced,” Neu said. “We can run it when we want to run it. We can throw it when we want to throw it — and not just to one guy. We have multiple weapons offensively, and, obviously, with Drew, his confidence and responsibilities at the line of scrimmage have grown tremendously.”
While the Cardinals were the highest-scoring team in the MAC last season — led by Plitt throwing just shy of 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns — Neu said his players are doing their part in making sure the offense stays the course.
“It is the confidence level more than anything else,” Neu said. “We have a lot of guys with experience of playing at a high level here, and they know that just because we were No. 1 in the league a year ago doesn’t mean it’ll happen again.”
Although the Cardinals’ offense found success last season, their defense experienced inconsistencies, allowing an average of 420 yards and 34 points per game.
However, the Cardinals are returning redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Martin, who missed all but one game last season with an injury. Martin played in all 12 games two years ago and finished the season fifth on the team in tackles.
Neu said he is excited about Martin’s return as well as the team’s new defensive coordinator Tyler Stockton. Neu said he believes Stockton can transform the defense. As the linebackers coach last season, Stockton helped the defense allow 60 fewer rushing yards per game than the season before.
“His demeanor, his mentality, his swagger and the way that oozes from him as a coordinator to our players is awesome to see each day in practice,” Neu said. “We returned a bunch of depth and experience too.”
Martin said he is also excited to play under Stockton and believes the togetherness his teammates have will be enough to help the defense find success.
“Our defensive coordinator is going to put us in positions to make plays,” Martin said. “We are just going to play football. We love each other, and when you love each other, we will do whatever it takes to take care of one another and do our job on the field.”
The Cardinals open the season with the Red Bird Rivalry Trophy on the line when they visit defending MAC Champion Miami (Ohio), who Ball State beat 41-27 last year. Martin said that game could set the tone for the rest of the season.
“Anytime we line up against Miami (Ohio), it is going to be a game we look forward to,” Martin said. “When you talk about them being defending MAC champions, that is what we want to be. We want to be champions.”