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Ball State faces perpetual challenge on gridiron in 2014

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Cardinals have been good, but never as good as rival

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 11:25 pm

The thermometer on the streets of Muncie nearly touched 90 degrees Tuesday, but don’t be misled by the sweat pouring down the back of your neck, for football season is here. It’s officially here because Ball State football coach Pete Lembo, senior running back Jahwan Edwards and fourth-year junior linebacker Ben Ingle will be meeting with the press this afternoon at the Mid-American Conference Media Day event in Detroit, and that marks the official kick off of the 2014 season.

Off of the field at least.

Like every team, player and coach in attendance at today’s event, the three Cardinals will be answering questions to the best of their ability.

Who will replace NFL Draft pick Jonathan Newsome?

Who will be the starting quarterback and replace NFL Draft selection Keith Wenning?

Who will be catching the majority of any passes thrown from said quarterback now that All-MAC wide receiver Willie Snead took his talents to Cleveland – for training camp, at least?

Who will make the Cardinal Nation move on from memories of Cardinal greats Jordan Hansel and Zane Fakes?

Can a Cardinal group that graduated half of its starters really get back to bowl contention for the third consecutive season?

There are – and will continue to be even as the season progresses – lots of questions surrounding this football squad. But the overwhelming question that rests in the back of the minds of Ball State fans, though uncomfortable to broach, is this program capable of winning, not just contending, but winning an actual championship?

Or will Cardinal fans relive another “Groundhog Day” type scene, where their favorite team is really, really good, but Northern Illinois is simply better.

For the past three seasons, Lembo’s program has produced a multitude of emotional high points for Ball State fans. Certainly no one looks at this program with any negative feelings. But the truth of the matter is, despite earning a lot of victories (25 total wins, 17 within the league), the end result has been repetitive.

Three years in a row, Ball State has held second half leads in its game with the Huskies. Three years in a row, Northern Illinois has rolled over the Cardinals in the final 30 minutes of football. Four years in a row, Northern has claimed the MAC West Division title.

In 2013, the Huskies outscored Ball State 28-3 in the second half.

A year earlier, it was 21 unanswered Northern Illinois points – in Muncie, no less.

In Lembo’s first shot at the MAC powerhouse his team allowed Northern Illinois to close its win with a 27-7 run.

The Huskies have lost just one conference game over the past four seasons. How can Ball State reach that level of dominance? Can Lembo get his program to that level? Ever?

The questions abound.

The “culture” of the Huskies’ program in recent years is one where the players can change, even the coaches move on, however, their supremacy – of the league and Ball State, in particular, is always a common dominator.

Will this season be any different?

How can it be any different?

Why would it be any different?

Can players like Ingle, Edwards, Jake Richard, Jordan Williams, Eric Patterson, and Nick Miles get the Cardinal program where the absolute great players before them couldn’t?

Questions, questions, and more questions arise.

It’s been five-plus years since the Ball State football program visited Detroit during the season, and not just for the media day festivities. And perhaps that is alright for Ball State fans, particularly those that remember the non-bowl seasons in this program (and there have been an abundance of them). But at some point those inside the Fisher Football Complex, and many outside of it, have to look at themselves and say “I’m tired of visiting Ford Field without getting to play an actual game.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at