The Ball State football team has spent the past few days in sunny Florida, as the Cardinals are preparing to play in Friday's Beef O'Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg against Central Florida (7:30 p.m., ESPN). However, second-year Cardinal coach Pete Lembo is trying to bring “balance” to the entire experience.
“My mindset is, and this is much to my wife's dismay, is to achieve now and try to enjoy it later,” Lembo said.
The Cardinal coaches and players have been catered too since their arrival in St. Petersburg, but from the moment that the bowl announcement was made, Lembo made the purpose of the trip very clear to all involved.
“It's really important that (the players) understand that while this is a great opportunity for the program,” Lembo explained, “and something that is going to be enjoyable and memorable, it's not a class trip. The main reason that we're going down there is to win the football game.”
That alone will be difficult enough.
The Knights have four defeats this season, but when you take into consideration which teams that they have been beaten by, it puts their 9-4 record into better perspective.
Central Florida has lost to Ohio State (31-16), Missouri (21-16) and Conference USA champion Tulsa on two occasions (23-21 and 33-27 in overtime in the C-USA title game).
“Sometimes your fan base doesn't really appreciate everything about the opponent,” Lembo said. “Central Florida is a big school with 51,000 (undergraduate students). You can imagine with 51,000 undergrads, the type of resources that they have to build an athletic program there.”
Like the Knights, the Cardinals also feature an impressive 2012 resume. The Cardinals (9-3) only defeats were to bowl teams Clemson and Kent State (on the road), as well as BCS Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois.
Ball State has won six consecutive games and will be participating in a bowl game for the eighth time in school history (first since 2008).
But regardless of the sunshine and palm trees that the Cardinal players are enjoying all week, a quick study of film will bring them back to gridiron reality.
“For me, and this is sort of my approach to life in general, I think it is all about balance,” Lembo said. “I certainly want our guys to enjoy the location, (and) enjoy the bowl experience. We certainly plan to do that. The bottom line is that we want this to be an enjoyable, memorable trip. But the best memory, the lasting memory is going to be how we played the game and we want to put ourselves in position to have a chance to win.”