Clayton Coll
Ball State's Clayton Coll will be a defensive cornerstone for the Cardinals in 2023 (PHOTO CREDIT; Ball State Athletics)

Ball State Football Preview: Redemption in 2023?

After a seven-month wait, the MAC football conference will be playing again. For the West Division, there will be challenges — especially for the Ball State Cardinals, which had a below-.500 season in 2022. While not high on many prediction lists, Ball State could have a winning year.

Ball State 2023 Preview

The conference: Mid-American Conference (West Division)

2022 record: 5-7 (didn't qualify for a bowl game)

Conference finish: 3-5 (fourth-place tie)

Head coach: Mike Neu (eighth year at school: 33-48; 13th year overall: 87-93)

All-star candidates: Clayton Coll, linebacker (110 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss); Brady Hunt, tight end (46 catches, 498 yards, 5 touchdowns); Ethan Crowe, center; Cole Pearce, linebacker (85 tackles, 5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss); Layne Hatcher Jr., quarterback (transfer from Texas State) (2,653 passing yards, 19 touchdowns); Tavion Woodard, defensive end (35 tackles, 4 sacks)

The newcomer: Marquez Cooper, running back (Kent State transfer) (rushed for 1,331 yards last year)

Brady Hunt

Ball State tight end Brady Hunt is the consensus No. 1 player at his position in the MAC. (Photo credit: Ball State Athletics)

The Breakdown

This Ball State team will not have the expectations it had before but has a good chance to reach a higher level this season. The Cardinals also improved the program with new transfers. The team will have some tough challenges this season and will need to get through them to even sniff the chance of reaching the conference title game.

Last year was not a good year for the Cardinals, winning only five and losing their last three to end their 2022 season. And the Cardinals' schedule looks to be difficult this season. 

The offense lost its former quarterback to the XFL, so the Cardinals added Texas State transfer Layne Hatcher for the 2023 season. The team's roster has improved significantly with its new transfers, including one of the top MAC's running backs, Marquez Cooper from Kent State. 

Ball State's defensive front line could help its season. This group is led by Tavion Woodard, who can stop the running game, but the secondary is weak.

The West Division in the MAC this year will be tough for the Cardinals. Defending MAC champion Toledo will be tough this year with a powerful offense. In addition to the Rockets, Eastern Michigan's defense has the potential to shut down league offenses this year. 

The Key Game and Why

The key game for Ball State this upcoming season is against Toledo. This game is critical because they are division rivals, and there is a chance to win the division if the Cardinals can defeat this strong, bowl-contending team.

The Toughest Game and Why

Ball State's toughest game this season will be its Week 2 road trip (Sept. 9) against the Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are coming off a dominating national championship victory over TCU.

The Chances of Reaching Conference Title Game

If Ball State can beat Toledo and Eastern Michigan, this team could make it to a title game this year. The schedule looks difficult; but if Ball State can win against three of its major rivals, it could go to a bowl game, in this author's opinion. 

Cole Pearce

Ball State linebacker Cole Pearce is a force on defense. (Photo credit: Ball State Athletics)

The Prediction

This season will be tough for Ball State, facing two Southeastern Conference teams (road trips to Kentucky and Georgia) in the first two weeks. If the Cardinals can manage to beat at least one of them, they could sneak into national notoriety, but that's a long shot. The more winnable games would be after the first two weeks, against in-state Football Championship Subdivision school Indiana State and beyond. Some of the pivotal league games after the first two weeks would be against Toledo and Eastern Michigan. The ceiling for Ball State right now is six wins.