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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 101: Ball State

Coming soon: Stan Parrish's plaque for coaches with a winning percentage below .100.

Stan Parrish has won before – as an assistant. Why can’t he put a winning team on the field as a head coach? Last fall’s 2-10 finish pushed Parrish’s career record on the F.B.S. level to 4-41-1; the two wins also tied his career high for wins in a season. Could Parrish simply be the unluckiest coach in college football history? Maybe. He may also simply be a career assistant; nothing wrong with that, though Ball State should have done a better job vetting candidates to fill Brady Hoke’s shoes at a crucial juncture in the history of the program.

Conference
MAC, West

Location
Muncie, Ind.

Nickname
Cardinals

Returning starters
19 (11 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 85

2009 record
(2-10, 2-6)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 111

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    SE Missouri St.
  • Sept. 11
    Liberty
  • Sept. 18
    at Purdue
  • Sept. 25
    at Iowa
  • Oct. 2
    at Central Michigan
  • Oct. 9
    Western Michigan
  • Oct. 16
    Eastern Michigan
  • Oct. 23
    at Toledo
  • Oct. 30
    at Kent St.
  • Nov. 6
    Akron
  • Nov. 12
    at Buffalo
  • Nov. 20
    Northern Illinois

Last year’s prediction

One thing is for certain: this team will not win 12 games again in 2009. There is too much uncertainty around the Cardinals to expect even another West division crown, and, one could make the case, for the Cardinals to even finish above .500. As much as any double-digit win team from 2008, the Cardinals seem the closest to a rebuilding season. Too many question marks: I predict no better than a 6-6 finish, with a slim chance of being bowl participants for the third straight year.

2009 recap

In a nutshell From 12 wins to just two. In Ball State’s defense, last year’s team had to replace a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball, from all-conference quarterback Nate Davis to several key performers in the back seven on defense. Yet I did not think B.S.U. would struggle so mightily, even if the Cardinals lost seven games by a touchdown or less. Blame the narrow defeats on the offense, though the defense was far less potent than in 2009. Ball State scored 236 fewer points in two less games; that’s roughly 20 fewer points per game. The Cardinals finished the year ranked 114th in total offense (295.3 yards per game), 108th in scoring offense, 115th in passing defense and 113th in passing touchdowns (nine) — they really missed Davis, who would have been a senior. The good news: 19 starters return, 11 on offense. Perhaps a resurgence is in the cards.

High point I can’t count the win over Eastern Michigan, as everyone beat the Eagles. However, a 22-17 road win over Western Michigan was moderately impressive, especially seeing as the Cardinals entered the game with a 1-10 mark. In fact, while Ball State was abysmal on the season, it did post a winning record against the three directional Michigan schools for the fourth time in five seasons.

Low point If anyone still believed in Ball State’s chances of a second consecutive dream season, those hopes were dashed following home losses to North Texas (embarrassing) and New Hampshire (only slightly more embarrassing) to open September. To be fair, seven of Ball State’s 10 losses came by 10 points or less.

Tidbit Seventeen of the 20 teams to win 10 games or more in 2008 won at least eight games in 2009. Three teams did not: Ball State (from 12-2 to 2-10), Rice (10-3 to 2-10) and Tulsa (11-3 to 5-7). Ball State’s 10-game drop in the win column was the largest decline from one year to the next by any double-digit win team in the last decade.

Tidbit (N.C.A.A. record edition) Despite last season’s struggles, Ball State did set a positive N.C.A.A. record. In their Oct. 24 win over Eastern Michigan, the Cardinals became the first team in college football history to have one player rush for 300 yards and another rush for 200 yards. The win marked only the fourth time in history that a team had two players rushed for 200 yards, joining West Virginia in 2006, Michigan State in 1997 and Tulsa in 1985.

Former players in the N.F.L.

7 OT Robert Brewster (Dallas), QB Nate Davis (San Francisco), C Dan Gerberry (Detroit), TE Darius Hill (Cincinnati), P Reggie Hodges (Cleveland), P Brad Maynard (Chicago), OT Andre Ramsey (Buffalo).

Arbitrary top five list

Best players in St. Louis Cardinals history
1. OF Stan Musial.
2. P Bob Gibson.
3. P Dizzy Dean.
4. SS Ozzie Smith.
5. OF Lou Brock.

Coaching

Stan Parrish (Heidelberg ’69), 2-11 after a full season and one bowl game with the Cardinals. Two decades after his last head coach position, it’s clear that Parrish still has what it takes to lose 10 games. He had been named to the open Ball State position shortly after Brady Hoke accepted the job at San Diego State in late 2008 in an effort by the university to give the program some much-needed continuity after a period of success. Parrish has been a part of the Ball State staff since 2005, first as quarterbacks coach (2005) before adding offensive coordinator duties from 2006-8. The three-year stretch saw the Cardinals win 24 games, the program’s most over three seasons since winning 27 from 1976 to 1978. This will be Parrish’s fourth head coaching job, and second on the F.B.S. level. His first position came at Wabash College (Division III), where he led the Little Giants – I kid you not, it’s the Wabash Little Giants – to a sterling 42-3-1 mark from 1978 to 1982. (Parrish obviously had the Annexation of Puerto Rico in his playbook.) Based on that success, Parrish was hired by Marshall — not yet a member of the F.B.S. — where he went 13-8-1 from 1983 to 1984. Unfortunately, Parrish then became the latest in a long line of accomplished coaches to be humbled by the monstrous rebuilding job at Kansas State; he went 2-30-1 from 1986 to 1988, including 0-21-1 over his final two seasons. After a one-year hiatus from coaching, Parrish spent six seasons as an assistant at both Rutgers (1990-95) and Michigan (1996-2001). With the Wolverines, where he coached alongside the then-defensive line coach Brady Hoke, Parrish was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator (2000-1). Before coming to Muncie, Parrish’s most recent coaching experience was a two-year stint as the quarterbacks coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002-3), a period that saw Tampa Bay win its first Super Bowl.

Players to watch

The offense retained the services of running back MiQuale Lewis, the aforementioned 300-yard back, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the N.C.A.A. after injuries cost him all but four games of the 2007 season. He is, without question, the heart and soul of the Ball State offense. No player comes even close to matching his importance to this attack. He burst onto the national scene during Ball State’s breakthrough 2008 season, rushing for 1,736 yards and 22 scores, the latter a school record. Though his numbers took a dive last fall — 871 yards and 5 scores — this was largely due to the poor play of the B.S.U. quarterbacks. If the Cardinals land even moderate improvement from the quarterback position in 2009, look for Lewis to again crack the 1,000-yard barrier. He enters his final campaign well within striking distance of program records for career rushing yards (currently third), rushing touchdowns (tied for third), rushing attempts (fifth) and 100-yard rushing games (tied for second).

Speaking of those quarterbacks, Ball State returns sophomore Kelly Page, who started the first seven games of last season before being lost to injury. It wasn’t always pretty for Page, who underwent the typical freshman growing pains, but he did show positive signs before that season-ending injury. In his last two starts — Toledo and Temple — the sophomore threw for 471 yards and 4 touchdowns, completing 47 of 88 attempts. The injury cost him valuable experience, but Page will be better in 2010. Still, he’ll have to beat out two talented youngsters to retain his starting role: Andrew Mershman, a redshirt freshman, looked solid during spring ball, and the Cardinals will welcome highly-touted recruit Keith Wenning into the mix come fall.

Ball State brings back its top three receiving targets: Briggs Orsbon, Daniel Ifft and Torieal Gibson. Orsbon will lead the way after pacing the team with 51 receptions for 461 yards in 2009. He had a surprising impact in 2008, stepping into the fold due to injuries and posting 68 grabs for 813 yards and 5 scores. Ifft and Gibson will hold down the two additional starting spot after combining for 31 receptions, 407 yards and 3 touchdowns a year ago. The Cardinals return tight end Zane Fakes, an occasional target in the passing game, but hope that, like Lewis, senior Madaris Grant earns an additional year of eligibility after missing all of last season due to injury. He made 29 receptions as part of Ball State’s talented one-two punch at tight end in 2008.

Relatively unproven a year ago, the offensive line brings back all five of its 2009 starters. The best of the bunch is senior left guard Michael Switzer, who has started all 39 games of his career. He was able to bridge the gap from the terrific line of 2008 to last season’s mediocre group, though the hope is that, given an additional year of experience, this line will again become one of the strongest in the MAC. Sophomores Cameron Lowery (left tackle), Dan Manick (right guard) and Austin Holtz (right tackle) earned starting nods as rookies; they’ll be better, as will the offense as a whole.

Three starters return in the secondary, led by junior Sean Baker. The all-conference caliber junior led the team with four picks last fall, giving him 10 through two seasons. He was terrific as a freshman — not that he wasn’t also strong a year ago — posted 94 stops, second on the team, and a team-best six picks. He’ll again pilot this defensive backfield, which also brings back starting cornerbacks Charlie Todd (80 tackles, 1 interception) and Koreen Burch (43 stops, team-best 9 pass breakups). Keep an eye on sophomore Jason Pinkston, who started two games at cornerback last fall, making three interceptions, and seems poised to take on a larger role in 2010.

Ball State looks to be in equally solid shape at linebacker. Senior Davyd Jones built upon a stellar sophomore campaign with a team-best 100 tackles (8 for loss) in 2009, very good numbers from the weak side position. A second returning starter, Travis Freeman, is back at middle linebacker after a standout freshman campaign. The sophomore started 11 games in the middle of the B.S.U. defense, totaling 93 tackles (second to Jones) and an interception; most impressively, he took on a leadership role despite being one of the youngest contributors on the defense. He has sky-high potential, and will team with Jones to give the Cardinals a valuable one-two combination at linebacker. A number of players earned starts on the strong side last fall, such as sophomores Tony Martin and Justin Cruz. The pair showed flashes, though were overshadowed at times by Freeman, a fellow sophomore, and good things are expected from them in 2010 and beyond.

The interior of the defensive line lost Drew Duffin, who added 53 tackles (6 for loss) from his tackle spot. The Cardinals do return nose tackle Rene Perry, however, and hope to get improved production from players like Donovan Jarrett, Pete Rolf and Adam Morris. All three played in all 12 games last fall as reserves, though Morris (12 tackles, 4 for loss, 2.5 sacks) showed enough to be considered the favorite to supplant Duffin when the season opens in September.

Position battles to watch

Defensive end The Cardinals do not face the massive rebuilding job that defined last season, but will struggle replacing all-MAC defensive end Brandon Crawford, whose story was detailed by The Times’ Judy Battista in the week leading up to April’s N.F.L. draft. Like the rest of the defense, Crawford’s numbers took a step back in 2009; nevertheless, he earned all-conference honors for the third consecutive season. He’s the biggest loss on either side of the ball. How will the Cardinals replace him? It helps to return senior Robert Eddins, whose breakout junior campaign included team highs in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (7). He’ll again man the right end spot, with a handful of relatively unproven underclassmen competing to fill Crawford’s open position. Junior Andrew Purhoff is the the favorite entering the summer. He made six tackles a year ago; not much, obviously, but more than his two primary competitors, senior Kaylon Woods and redshirt freshman Ethan Buckles. Woods played sparingly last fall, all in a reserve roll, while Buckles served a redshirt year. Looking at this trio — with all due respect — it would be shocking if one player can replace Crawford’s production. However, perhaps the group, along with senior Justin Woodard (a backup on the right side), can lend a hand to an otherwise experienced defense.

Game(s) to watch

The potential for a hot start, with Ball State kicking off the season with Southeast Missouri State and Liberty. There’s last season’s win total. The schedule gets tougher as the year goes on, but the Cardinals can add wins over the last five games of the season.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell I look at the good — the returning talent, MiQuale Lewis, and so on — and I contemplate the notion of Ball State making a bowl run in 2010. It’s not so hard to believe. Perhaps Brady Hoke would have led the Cardinals to more than two wins in 2009; nevertheless, the massive inexperience on both sides of the ball would have resulted in a rebuilding season. Last year was going to be ugly either way, though I didn’t think the Cardinals would be as bad as they were. As for this fall, eleven starters return on offense, though it’s not as if the Cardinals will suddenly turn into offensive juggernauts: quarterback Kelly Page needs to improve before this offense even nears its 2008 output. On the flip side, I look at the bad — Stan Parrish’s history — and I have my doubts. Does he know how to put a winning product on the field? Has his lackluster history, from Kansas State to Ball State, been a result of inferior talent or inferior coaching? If Ball State’s head man had a better resume, I would not have hesitated putting the Cardinals say, 10 spots higher on the Countdown. However, even though I think this team will be far better than in 2009, I’m not sold on Parrish as the leader of the program. But who is?

Dream season Parrish doubles his career win total in an 8-4 finish. His winning percentage, should B.S.U. go 8-5 — with a loss coming in bowl play — would then become .207.

Nightmare season Even with all its experience, the Cardinals match last season’s 2-10 record. Amazingly, Parrish’s career winning percentage would still improve: from .089 to .105.

In case you were wondering

Where do Ball State fans congregate? Like most of the smaller programs in the F.B.S., Ball State has a fan-run site that lands a good amount of traffic — BSUFans.com — and a recruiting-based site that’s quiet as a church mouse — BallStateInsider.com. Stick to the former, as all recruiting news will end up there anyway. You should also check out Over the Pylon, which gives a blog’s take on Ball State sports.

Up Next

Who is No. 100? The last team in the triple digits. Our next university currently has under construction a recording studio endowed by a 25-time Grammy Award-winning musician.

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Comments

  1. Dave says:

    You misconstrue the Hoke-Parrish situation a bit. Hoke wanted more money. The school president didn’t like Hoke, and wanted him gone. But she had to offer him *something* so she didn’t look like a complete idiot. The package offered with incentives ended up matching what San Diego was offering with a guarantee. Easy call. The prez wanted a different coach and on the cheap. She got what she wanted.

  2. Dr. Norris Camacho says:

    I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is.

  3. philip says:

    forgive me, el guapo.

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