BY CONNOR ONION | Radio Voice of Ball State Football on WCRD 91.3 FM
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Meaningful football in November.
Considering recent history, it’s peculiar to utter the aforementioned phrase regarding Eastern Michigan (5-4) and Ball State (4-5).
Eastern Michigan hasn’t compiled a winning season since 1995. Ball State didn’t win a November game in 2015.
Yet, here they are with postseason play on the line Tuesday night.
As Ball State celebrates 23 seniors in its final home game, the Cardinals need two wins in the next three tries to reach the elusive six-win mark to be bowl eligible.
For Eastern Michigan, a win Tuesday and they will likely reach a bowl for the first time since 1987.
Despite a 52-20 beat down from No. 18 Western Michigan last week, Ball State has remained upbeat with three weeks remaining.
“We obviously have a lot left to play for and our guys know that,” Ball State Head Coach Mike Neu said this week.
Neu stressed to his team in practice this week there is no reason they can’t win the final three games and cement their bowl fate as a 7-5 team.
It won’t be easy.
Eastern Michigan – despite its recent struggles historically – bring its best team in over two decades to Muncie Tuesday.
While markedly improved in all three phases, the most cavernous improvement has come defensively.
In 2015, Eastern Michigan ranked last in the conference in scoring defense, total defense and rush defense. As a result, their defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin was fired following last season.
New defensive coordinator Neal Nethery has reinvigorated the Eagles with a 4-2-5 alignment.
The results have been tangible. Eastern Michigan ranks no worse than eighth in the MAC in each of the categories they were worst in a season ago.
“It’s a completely different story with those guys [this year],” Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton said.
Eastern Michigan will be faced with a Ball State offense moving the ball as well as it has all season the last three weeks.
Despite leaving plenty of points on the field, Ball State has averaged 502 yards of total offense the last three games, the best of any three-game stretch this year.
If Ball State wants to return to a bowl for the first time since 2013, Tuesday night will be an accurate barometer and perhaps decide the Cardinals’ postseason fate.
Next Wednesday, Ball State travels to Toledo (7-2) who boasts the second best offense in the MAC.
In the finale the following week, Ball State takes on a suddenly smoldering Miami (OH) squad, which has won four straight.
“We can still accomplish a lot,” Neu added. “2016 can be a special season.”
Three Things to Know:
1. The 2016 senior class, featuring 23 players, will be honored before Tuesday’s game against Eastern Michigan. This year’s senior class has helped the Cardinals tally 22 victories over the past four years and earn a spot in the 2013 GoDaddy Bowl.
2. The Cardinals have won 10 of the last 11 meetings against Eastern Michigan. In last year’s meeting in Ypsilanti, senior LB Sean Wiggins recorded his first career sack and came away with two late interceptions to help Ball State hold on to a 28-17 victory.
3. Both teams are fighting to reach bowl eligibility. Eastern Michigan needs one more win to be bowl eligible for the first time since 1995. The Cardinals need to win two of their final three games to be bowl eligible for the first time in three years.
By the Numbers:
3 – The Cardinals have rushed for at least 250 yards in three straight games and four times overall in 2016.
9 – Nine of the projected 22 starters for Ball State are seniors and will be playing their final game at Scheumann Stadium.
101 – Ball State held EMU to 101 yards of offense in the second half of last year’s 28-17 win.
11/16 at Toledo, 7 or 8 p.m.