DETROIT – The familiar names are gone. Wenning, Hansel, Smith, Snead, Newsome, Ollie and more. That will make the rest of the Mid-American Conference very happy that Ball State lost some of the most talented players in college football, let alone the league. But as Pete Lembo met with the media Wednesday at Ford Field during the MAC Football Media Day festivities, one couldn't tell if the coach's giddiness was a facade or this guy really embraces new years with new faces and new challenges.
“Every year is a different challenge,” Lembo said. “Every year is a unique challenge. What is satisfying to me is to look back on previous years and ask 'Did we achieve what we were capable of?' Or 'Did we overachieve?' Hopefully, we can say that we overachieved.”
Ball State won 10 games a year ago, had two players drafted into the NFL and played in the postseason for the second straight season. But there will be no championship banners flying over Schuemann Stadium this fall commemorating a very good 2013 team.
So where does that team stand in Lembo's eyes?
“There were a couple years in (my) 13 years where I've said 'You know, I thought we could do better,'” Lembo said. “Last year's team, achieved a lot of great things. It didn't end the way that I would've liked it to have ended. If we would've found a way to win (the GoDaddy Bowl) over Arkansas State, I would've been fulfilled with how that year went. That loss is always going to sting a little bit for me.
I do believe in high expectations and trying to be everything that we can be.”
With the loss of so much talent (nine All-MAC selections have graduated), the rest of the league media have lowered any expectations for the Cardinals this fall. Wednesday's preseason poll has Ball State finishing third behind Toledo and Northern Illinois in the West Division.
“There are things that you can control and things that you can't control,” Lembo explained. “Every year is different. This is going to be a different league this year than last year. Yeah, we lose a lot of really good players, but so does everybody else. It's not every year that you have a Heisman Trophy finalist (former Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch) either.
I don't worry about win totals, I worry about preparing our football team.”
Will a third place division finish suffice for Lembo? Surprisingly, maybe.
The coach spoke of one of his most satisfying seasons during his lengthy career was his last season at Elon, where his team took a 2-5 mid-season record and closed the season with four straight wins.
“We're going to try and control what we can control and put ourselves in position to do as well as we possibly can,” Lembo said. “When it's all said and done, we'll look back on the year and say 'You know what, they reached their potential or they didn't.”