MUNCIE – If you believe that Ball State football coach Pete Lembo was ecstatic with the performance of the Mid-American Conference last weekend against teams from BCS leagues, you would not be entirely correct.
The MAC – as it had earlier this season – made a statement to the more nationally-prominent conferences last weekend by winning four games last Saturday alone. And that doesn't even include Eastern Michigan leading Michigan State in the second half before falling 23-7.
“Well it was definitely good news and bad news for us specifically,” Lembo said. “The good news is that our league is terrific and it's gaining credibility, respect and notoriety on a national level.”
What could have possibly been negative about last weekend's performances by the Cardinals (31-27 win over South Florida), Northern Illinois (30-23 win over Kansas), Western Michigan (30-24 win over UConn), or Central Michigan (32-31 win over Iowa)?
“The bad news is that all of these teams that have knocked off BCS teams this year are on our schedule,” Lembo said.
Oh. That isn't good.
Lembo can add not only the aforementioned teams to his list of worries, but Ball State also has to face Ohio (Nov. 14), who beat Penn State (24-14) earlier this season.
“Ohio is undefeated and getting votes in national polls,” Lembo said. “So it's great to be part of that parity and the national recognition like we were last weekend or two (with a 41-39 win over Indiana a week earlier), but you also look down the road and know that there are not going to be any breathers out there.”
On the immediate agenda for Lembo's team is trying to get a road win at Kent State on Saturday (noon, ESPN3). The Golden Flashes took care of Buffalo last week fairly easily (23-7) and Lembo feels that squad is perfectly capable of playing at a high level, just as a number of the other MAC squads have shown this year.
“I'm a big believer in the parity that exists in college football,” Lembo said. “It's nice to be in a league where you feel like you can line up and challenge just about anybody on a given Saturday.”
Lembo feels that way because of his coaching history. Prior to Ball State, he served as the head coach at Elon University in the Southern Conference, which featured six different nationally-ranked programs during Lembo's tenure (any Michigan fans remember a small school by the name of Appalachian State?). So he's seen good teams that served as underdogs knock off favorites for years.
“I know where I came from and I don't forget where I came from,” Lembo said. “I know that there were 9 or 10 FCS teams this year that have gone into Division I stadiums and won those games – and taken a paycheck home with them for doing it.”
Despite his stress level at not having a day off until early 2013, Lembo enjoys the shrinking of margins between the so-called haves and have-nots of intercollegiate athletics.
“That's great for college football,” Lembo said. “It's great to see week in and week out the Louisiana-Monroes winning at Arkansas, and it's great to see the Sacramento States going in and beating Colorado, and it's great to see Ball State beat South Florida obviously.”