Last fall, in his first season as football coach at Ball State, Pete Lembo had to battle Indiana, South Florida, Army, Oklahoma and Temple in a span of 35 days. So it was little wonder why Lembo's wife, Jenifer, asked him during the winter before he accepted the position with the Cardinals, "Are you sure you want to take this job?"
Lembo faced a number of obstacles when he accepted the challenge of rebuilding Ball State football. The most concerning was the fact that the future schedules weren't conducive to building a program.
“At Ball State, winning was all over the map,” Lembo said. “And also, the scheduling was all over the map. No matter what you are trying to achieve in life, you have to have a plan.”
Ball State announced Tuesday that it will face Northwestern on Sept. 26, 2015, and that type of game is exactly what Lembo envisions as part of a scheduling philosophy that the program should follow.
“We are in a situation where bring in revenue is important,” Lembo said. “But like everything else in life, balance is a key.”
That “balance” doesn't include facing teams from the Big Ten; the Big East; a cut-blocking, option-running squad; and a national power in consecutive weeks. Oh, and why don't you throw in a Mid-American Conference power at the end of that string, just for good measure?
“You have to keep the well-being of your student-athletes in mind and continue to try and think about the goals that you have for your program,” Lembo said. “And in regards to those goals, your schedule has to be set up to help you get there.”
The immediate future for Lembo's squad isn't much more appealing to the coaching staff, but that is no fault of his own. The Cardinals must schedule four non-conference games each season, and the schedules were basically set through 2013.
“The 2014 schedule was about the first one that I could have any impact on,” Lembo explained. “That will be my fourth season here.”
What Lembo is putting in place – and what he believes should be the philosophy for any program of comparable size to Ball State – is what he terms a “1-2-1” scheduling philosophy.
Lembo wants to schedule an FCS program, a BCS program and a pair of comparable programs to Ball State each season.
“You want to be able to say when you look at the schedule, absolute worst-case scenario we could be 1-3 (in non-conference games), but really 2-2 is more realistic,” Lembo said. “From a fan-base standpoint, you can't schedule yourself to 0-4 and be out of the running for a bowl game by the end of September.”
Ball State shocked everyone by beating Indiana to open last season and followed that up with a resounding defeat of Army. The 2-2 non-conference mark propelled the Cardinals to a 6-6 season, which made them bowl eligible and shocked virtually all who follow the program.
This season will be difficult, too, as Ball State hosts a solid Eastern Michigan squad in Mid-American Conference play to open the season Aug. 30. That game will be followed by Clemson, Indiana and South Florida (in Muncie) in consecutive weeks.
Future seasons are more realistic in regards to achieving success, as the Cardinals will play Illinois State, Army, North Texas and Virginia in 2013, and Illinois State, Iowa, Army and Colgate in 2014.
Lembo praised recently hired Ball State athletic director Bill Scholl for having a great understanding already of where Lembo envisions this football program, and Lembo also hopes that the former Notre Dame administrator can pull off a home run of sorts for the Cardinals.
“If we can get Notre Dame or Michigan to host us in 2016 or 2017 and pay us $1 million, I am all for that,” Lembo said. “I know that Bill is trying. That type of exposure for our program and the experience for our players would be fantastic.”
Hester flies to first
Ball State football recruit Martez Hester put on an impressive display of speed at the Class AAAAA West Track Sectional on Saturday in Powder Springs, Ga..
The North Cobb High School senior won the 400-meter race in a time of 46.93 seconds.
Hester placed third in the state a year ago in the 400 meters. He is projected as a safety for the Cardinals this fall.