The last time Ball State won the Mid-American Conference West Division was in 2008 when the Cardinals went undefeated in the regular season and lost in the MAC Championship to Buffalo.
It has been 12 years in the making, and Ball State is one win away from playing in the championship game again. The Cardinals will face Western Michigan Dec. 12 in what is essentially a "MAC West Division Championship game." The winner will head to Detroit to play in this year's conference championship.
The Cardinals are coming off of a 45-20 win against Central Michigan and are looking to follow their mantra, “Detroit or Bust.”
“Nobody, by any means, feels like we’ve accomplished anything yet,” head coach Mike Neu said. “We’re just in a position to have one more opportunity here at home to get the job done. Our focus is to finish that deal.”
Redshirt senior quarterback Drew Plitt echoed Neu, despite his success this season. Plitt has 1,425 passing yards — the second-most in the MAC — and 10 touchdowns this season. Saturday will mark his final regular season game as a Cardinal.
“We’re not satisfied,” Plitt said. “Guys are happy — we’re joking, [and] everybody’s in a good mood and in good spirits — but we’re not satisfied, and you can tell by the number of people that are in here watching film right now. Everybody’s in here, getting things done and moving things to Western Michigan.”
The Broncos’ 44.6 points per game is the third-highest scoring average in the conference. Neu said he is focused on keeping the team locked in to prepare for Western Michigan’s high-powered offense.
“Our guys know what’s at stake,” Neu said. ‘This is something we’ve worked hard for, and we’ve got to have a great week of preparation. It’s about focusing on that day in and day out.”
Senior safety Bryce Cosby said he believes the bond in Ball State’s locker room will guide the Cardinals’ defense in the right direction against the Broncos.
“As a unit, I think we’re eager to be in the facility to see what the next challenge is and what the game plan is going into the next week,” Cosby said. “We look forward to the challenge every week, and we have a pretty strong bond within our locker rooms.”
Senior running back Caleb Huntley, who led the MAC in rushing yards through the first two weeks of the season, has missed his last two games due to a rib injury.
Huntley has been the Cardinals’ leading rusher with 145 yards per game and six touchdowns. Despite his absence, Ball State has managed wins against Toledo and Central Michigan. Neu expressed how badly Huntley wants to return to action and how much he wants his hard work to pay off.
“Caleb wants to be back out there in the worst way,” Neu said. “I know it’s tough for him to be out, and, obviously, you can see in his eyes when I have a conversation with him — it’s very emotional. He’s worked so hard, he’s done such an unbelievable job and he wants to be out there so bad.”
Ball State hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2014 when it lost 23-20 to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl. This is the team’s first year with a winning record since that season, and it’s also Neu’s first winning season as head coach of the Cardinals.
“That’s really what it’s been for us,” Neu said “It’s great to get out of the car and walk in the building, knowing that you’re playing for something meaningful that the guys have worked so hard for.”
All season, the Ball State’s mantra has been “Detroit or Bust.” Now, the Cardinals have one game to prove if this season will end up as a “bust” or if they will play for the conference championship in Detroit Dec. 18.
“We’re focused on finishing our mission,” Neu said.