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Former coach Bill Lynch led the Cardinals to a MAC Title in 1996. They then took a downturn but rebounded to be MAC West co-champs in 2001. They compiled a 12-10 record in MAC play in his final 3 seasons and ironically after the team's first non-losing season since 1996, Lynch was let go. All six of Ball St's losses in 2002 were to quality opponents (2 BCS). Lynch called the facilities probably the worst in the MAC. In 2003 New HC Brady Hoke inherited a veteran unit with 44 returning lettermen and they won their opener for the first time since 1995. It was a victory over a IAA team in front of a stadium record crowd of 23,549 under portable lights. They also won their MAC opener for the first time since 1995 beating CM and went on to stun Toledo 38-14. They stood 4-4 including 3-1 in the MAC but then went just 2-13 through 2004. The 2004 Ball St squad which finished just 2-9 did suffer 3 close losses and their final home game drew a crowd of just 5,309, their lowest since 1993. Last year they suffered some big losses including their star WR, Ridgeway (left early NFL) and star RB Givens (MAC Frosh Year) was dismissed from the squad. They had to replace a MAC-leading 3 NFL DC's and had just 4 home games but surprisingly finished 4-7, this time benefitting from 3 close wins. I like Brady Hoke as he is a disciplinarian who wants a physical, tough team (like a Boston College). Only 38 players stayed on campus in 2003 to workout over the summer, 50 in 2004 and 78 last year. Ball St also went through a ton of suspensions early and lost to Iowa, Auburn and BC with a shorthanded team by a combined score of 157-3. Despite their 4-4 finish, they were outgained by 99.7 ypg in MAC play. They did beat WM in 5 OT's and stunned N Illinois on the road, 31 -17. Akron had a 1 st & goal on the 1 but Ball St got an int on 4th down to pull out a 6 point win and then got a TD pass with :12 left to beat EMich 26-25 in a game EM led 19-0 with a 350-68 yd edge at the half. They lost to CM in OT blowing a 21 -10 lead w/ 4:00 left in the 3Q. Last year's squad only had 9 seniors but returns a MAC high 18 starters this year. Hoke finally has the type of 0-line he desires as they are big and experienced. They will not only have their best running game of the Hoke era, but also should have their most potent offense since 1996 (24.7 ppg) which was their last winning season. Brady Hoke likes a strong running game and solid defense so it's very surprising that his first three D's have allowed 32.2 ppg, 36.8 and last year 37.8. They appeared to be a veteran group last year with 8 defensive starters back but many returning starters either missed a good portion of the year with suspensions, injuries or lost their jobs. My biggest concern on this year's D is at ")B but with 8 starters back and 18 players with starting experience, this is the best defense that Hoke has fielded in four years here.
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