Once again, here are the 2017 MAC standings.
Ball State was bad in 2017. That’s not a controversial statement. The Cardinals finished 2-10 (0-8 in MAC play) and nine of their ten losses came by double-digits. But its spring, and at least where I live, that means longer days, warmer temperatures, and a deluge of pollen. In other words, after a long
2017 was a disaster for Ball State, but the Cardinals endured a historic glut of injuries. Mid-major teams tend to have depth problems regardless, but suffering through a biblical scope of injuries can only tamper down the won/loss record. Consider that before conference play began, the Cardinals nearly upset Illinois (yes, the Illini were bad as well, but it was a road game against a Power 5 opponent) and beat the resurrected UAB Blazers by 20. A team with that level of talent would likely have been competitive in the MAC instead of the winless bunch Ball State eventually became.
Ball State was a sieve defensively last season. They allowed 45 offensive touchdowns in conference play (or more than five and a half per game). Since 2005, that is one of the worst MAC defenses I have ever tracked. See below for a chronological list.
extreme performances are unlikely to be repeated. For a team to play as poorly as Ball State did last season, a lot of things have to go wrong. It is unlikely the same confluence of factors will exist in 2018.
Aside from being quite bad on defense, Ball State was also unlucky in regards to non-offensive touchdowns. The Cardinals allowed eight non-offensive touchdowns (three interception returns, two fumble returns, and three punt block/returns) in MAC play while scoring none of their own. Think about that number for a second. The Cardinals played eight conference games and were net negative eight in non-offensive touchdowns. This means the Cardinals effectively spotted every conference opponent one touchdown. That is very difficult to overcome. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but I would wager a significant sum Ball State does not see a similar rate of non-offensive touchdowns scored against them in 2018. These events are extremely consequential in terms impact, but they are also quite random. Since 2005, only six other teams have had a non-offensive touchdown net in conference play of negative six or worse. Here is how their conference record changed the following season.
Guy Morriss, every other team not only improved, but improved significantly. A similar result for Ball State would not surprise me at all.
Finally, 2018 will be Mike Neu’s third year in charge of the Cardinals. You don’t have to look far to find instances of significant improvement in a coach’s third season. Taken together, all these trends point to marked improvement for Ball State in 2018.