Ball State returns 25 players who have starting experience from a nine-victory squad that hung with the best teams in the MAC.
Offensively, this team is loaded at the skill positions with record-setting senior quarterback Keith Wenning and a host of targets.
Junior Willie Snead is as dynamic of a receiver as there is in the conference, and senior Jamill Smith adds speed both at receiver and in special teams. Tight end Zane Fakes has really blossomed since Lembo arrived, and when the Cardinals aren't throwing the ball all over the place, Lembo has Wenning hand off to power-back Jahwan Edwards.
Ball State lost a number of experienced offensive linemen, but it does have a lot of players returning who got work a year ago when starters were injured.
Guard Jordan Hansel is the best of the bunch, while Matthew Page (tackle), Jalen Schlachter (guard) and Jake Richard (center) have a lot of experience.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ball State will wreak havoc with its front four, led by All-MAC selection Jonathan Newsome at defensive end. What allows the Ohio State transfer to excel is that he isn't a one-man show up front. The Cardinals return veterans Nate Ollie and Joel Cox inside, and Nick Miles mans the other outside spot.
Ball State fans are hopeful that this team can take advantage of its abundance of talent and get to the MAC title game for the first time since the magical undefeated 2008 regular season.
“I really don't think about (playing in the MAC championship game),” Lembo said. “If 12 years as a head coach has taught me anything, it's don't look too far down the road.
“If you have a great preseason, you'll have a chance to beat Illinois State (in the Aug. 29 season opener). When that game is over, you have to have a great week of getting ready for the triple option of Army. And then from there, it's North Texas.”
Intriguing aspect of the Cardinals
The Ball State defense improved in its second year under defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, and 2013 will be the third consecutive season that the players have heard the same voice preaching essentially the same system. The offense will be phenomenal barring an injury to Wenning (which happened last year), so how the defense goes is what will determine the level of success that the Cardinals achieve.
Ball State fans will cheer if…
The offense stays fast-paced and exciting to watch. Even a slimmer yet stronger and faster Edwards rambled through defenses in exciting fashion last season. Throw in Snead, Ryan, Smith and Fakes, and Ball State fans get their money's worth every game.
Ball State fans will boo if…
A porous Cardinal defensive secondary gives up big plays with frequency, as it did a year ago.