Created:Tuesday, November 15, 2011 5:30 a.m.CDT

Take 2: Ball State still has to prove itself


Daily Chronicle sports editor John Sahly and sports reporter Ryan Wood spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their 2011 Take 2 column, they discuss today’s Ball State-Northern Illinois game.

Sahly: Ryan, Northern Illinois seems to have passed through the hardest part of its schedule with three straight road wins. I see it as smooth sailing going forward for the Huskies until the Mid-American Conference title game. Does that sound right to you?
Well, the Huskies are three-possession favorites today against Ball State, so we know Vegas isn’t expecting much excitement. It’s weird when you look at these final two games. When the schedules were released, I think everyone – whether they’ll admit it or not – expected these final two weeks of the regular season to be as close to bye weeks as possible. In my preseason poll, I had Ball State and Eastern Michigan ranked last and next-to-last, respectively, in the West.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Ball State is bowl-eligible. Eastern Michigan is one win from being bowl-eligible. Neither is the doormat we all expected them to be. I don’t think either has the firepower to compete with NIU at Huskie Stadium, either.

We’ll get to them one at a time these next two weeks. Since Ball State is tonight, let’s focus on the Cardinals. How serious do you take them, John?

Sahly: Well, as I write this it’s Nov. 14 and Ball State still controls its own destiny in the MAC West. I did not think I’d be saying that this season. I think any team that is still in the race for the conference title at this point has to be taken seriously. Credit to first-year coach Pete Lembo for engineering a turnaround in Muncie, Ind. I think the Huskies win tonight by a couple of touchdowns, but this is hardly the lock everyone thought it would be at the start of the season.
I’m still not taking Ball State too seriously, for a couple reasons. I’m not sure which one matters most.

First, the Cardinals indeed are in control of their West chances. But you look at the schedule and realize they haven’t played either of the division’s true top two teams, NIU or Toledo. The division’s third-best team, Western Michigan, has already beaten the Cardinals this season. So I think their chances haven’t died yet in large part because the schedule has been kind.

Also, it’s hard for me to erase what I’ve seen from the program the past two years. As a reporter at Ball State, I’ve seen the rise and fall. And, let me tell you, the fall was thorough and without doubt. This was a bad football team these past two seasons. Apparently, Lembo can walk on water, because to get the group I saw the past two falls to bowl eligibility this season is shocking.

Maybe I’ll be wrong when I see Ball State live for the first time this season. But I have to withhold my judgment until then.

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?