Ball State football coach Pete Lembo doesn't know whether his team can beat Indiana on Saturday for the third consecutive time. However, he is adamant about one thing; he'd like to try to do it not just three times in a row, but a fourth time, a fifth time, a sixth time, etc.
The Cardinals (1-1) will travel to Bloomington to play the Hoosiers (2-0) at 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network).
Lembo opened his tenure in Muncie with a stunning 27-20 victory over Indiana last season, which added to the win in 2008 in Bloomington, and the Cardinals coach thinks it's a great idea to continue to play in-state teams like Indiana.
“I think that it's great that we are playing these guys,” Lembo said. “I would love to see some kind of agreement among the state institutions for us to play some kind of combination of Indiana or Purdue every year.”
Lembo also added that he would “absolutely” want to travel to South Bend and face Notre Dame, and new Cardinal athletic director Bill Scholl, who spent the past two decades working at Notre Dame, has made no secret of his desire to get that game scheduled in the future.
Lembo cited a number of reasons for wanting to play in-state opponents. It is a good opportunity for Ball State fans to see their team in action in a road game, and it makes financial sense according to the coach.
“I don't think that it makes a whole lot of sense for us to get on a plane to go somewhere to play a BCS team when we have two of them here in the state,” Lembo said. “And I don't think that it makes a whole lot of sense for Indiana or Purdue to cut checks to people from Illinois or somewhere else when they could be helping Ball State.”
Last season, Indiana and Ball State played in Lucas Oil Stadium in front of 40,000 fans and generated a lot of buzz throughout the state among college football fans and the players on both squads. However, Lembo didn't want to add to that hype as he met with the media on Tuesday.
“I want this week to be no different than any other week,” Lembo said. “I want today's practice to be no different than any other. I want us to go out there and get better. I want guys to take what they have learned in meetings and translate it out on the field and give us great effort and focus. I don't think that should change from week to week regardless of who you are playing.”
Lembo explained that because the opportunity to play in games only comes 12 days a year, the level of emotion exhibited by his players should be high every single time, and not any more so against an in-state rival.
“I don't want a roller-coaster ride,” Lembo said. “I don't want a lot of peaks and valleys. When you work as hard as these kids do – year round – and you are up at 6 a.m. working out with (Ball State strength coach) Dave Feeley in the summer, and you are getting up at 6 a.m. in February when it's 10 degrees outside to go work out, and then you only get 12 of these games, I don't care who you are playing, you should be able to get up for it.”
As for what the Hoosiers will be feeling, be it anger, frustration or resentment over the losses, Lembo would not speculate on. He is solely concentrating on his players and coaches and what the future – even after Saturday's game – holds for his program.
“I have to keep reminding myself that we are 14 games into this process,” Lembo said of building his program. “I don't know what Indiana is thinking. I don't even know if they know we exist up here. I've got to worry about our guys, and we have to be very consistent about what we expect from them. That's what we need to get the program to where I'd like to see the program go.”