The “big boys” in Las Vegas are demonstrating little faith that Ball State can come out of Death Valley alive on Saturday, but recent history shows that before anyone chalks up an assured Clemson annihilation of the Cardinals, you might want to let them line up and play the game first.
Ball State is a 27-point underdog for its football game with the Tigers on Saturday (ESPN3, 12:30 p.m.), but after watching the Mid-American Conference more than hold its own on the road against BCS teams, perhaps the Cardinals (1-0) have a chance at hanging with the Tigers (1-0), even if it is just for a while.
“You look at some of the games over the weekend and there were some good upsets,” Cardinal coach Pete Lembo said. “But there were also some near upsets.”
There weren't just “some” near upsets; those surprising outcomes dotted the college football landscape from east to west.
William and Mary fell to Maryland by one point (7-6). Northern Iowa scared the bejesus out of Wisconsin before falling 26-21. FCS-powerhouse Liberty (remember the Flames Ball State fans?) was tied with Wake Forest in the fourth quarter before falling 20-17. UTEP trailed Oklahoma 10-7 in the second half before losing.
Closer to home, Indiana almost got knocked off by another in-state program, as Indiana State trailed just 17-10 in the third quarter in Bloomington before falling 24-17.
In the case of Nevada (31-24 over Cal), Youngstown State (31-17 over Pitt), and Texas State (30-13 over Houston), the teams finished the job and claimed victories.
“In some of those near upsets, in many cases,” Lembo explained, “the team that was close, all that they had to do was make the plays that came to them.”
Such was the case in many games involving MAC teams.
Western Michigan trailed at Illinois 17-7 in the second half before losing. Bowling Green was tied 14-14 in the second half at Florida. And perhaps no MAC teams were as sick to their stomachs as Northern Illinois and Toledo, each of whom allowed what appeared to be sure victories slip away.
The Rockets lost in overtime at Arizona 24-17, while the Huskies led at Iowa 17-9 in the fourth quarter only to see the lead disappear in an 18-17 defeat.
“I saw open receivers dropping balls and things of that nature,” Lembo said. “Obviously, when you are playing a team that is talented or more talented than you are, and as talented as somebody like Clemson, a drop ball gets magnified.”
Most assuredly, beating the 12th-ranked Tigers in front of 81,000-plus orange-clad, screaming fans will be incredibly difficult. But it's not impossible, as Ohio showed in knocking off Penn State 24-14 last Saturday. However, much of the challenge for the Ball State players will come down to self-confidence according to their coach.
“You might be able to recover from (a dropped ball) against Eastern Michigan,” Lembo said. “But recovering from that against Clemson might be all that more difficult. That mindset has to go through your team. Not to put more pressure on them, it's just that attention to detail; making the plays that come to you, doing what you are coached to do, this is when it all pays off.”