This Ball State matchup has a peculiar history from the Auburn perspective ... and of course, it hasn't even been played yet. But when it was scheduled, it was likely intended to be Division I Cupcake No. 1, a slightly milder version of the 63-3 slaughter in Week 3 of the 2005 season. Then head coach Brady Hoke turned nine years' worth of non-winning seasons into a 7-5 campaign in 2007 and a stunning 12-0 regular season in 2008 that prompted legitimate BCS bowl talk for, yes, Ball State, and all of a sudden scheduling the Cardinals was a USF-style mistake, a cupcake that Auburn was due to find out had a razor blade hidden in it.
And then, just like that, the game went back to being a standard home paycheck game against a MAC also-ran: the Cardinals lost to Buffalo in the MAC title game, got annihilated by Tulsa in the GMAC bowl, Hokeamania took its act west to San Diego St., star quarterback Nate Davis left a year early for the NFL, the allegedly cheapskate Cardinal brass hired 62-year-old offensive coordinator Stan Parrish as their new head coach. Voila: Ball St., consensus fourth-place team in the MAC West, perfect respectable-but-not-too-respectable appetizer for the two-week road trip to Knoxville and Fayetteville to come.
Right? "Appetizer," that's accurate, right? Please?
Last year: Seriously, it's still stunning and more than little unfair that BSU fans might look back at their 2008 season with anything other than unequivocal delight given how dominant their team was over their first 12 games. Yeah, the Cardinal schedule had its share of turkeys and wasn't anything to crow about, but this wasn't a case of 2007 Hawaii where they had their chickens counted before they hatched and had to duck upset after upset: when you win your eight MAC games by an average of 21 points and outgained the second-best team in the conference by 80 yards per league contest, you'd have to be a total birdbrain to think any other team was the league's cock-of-the-walk. Too bad the Buffalo game wound up an albatross around the program's neck, leaving all those good feelings dead as a ... sorry, I'll stop now. The point: for 12 games, Ball State had a total dream season. For two and an offseason, it was a nightmare. Not sure how you reconcile the two.
Notable previous meeting: After the aforementioned 2005 meeting, the Cardinals' most lopsided defeat and worst defensive showing a 66-0 loss to St. Joseph's in 1956, famous Ball State alum David Letterman joked on his program "The Late Show" that it was the worst beating he'd seen "since I'd looked at last month's ratings," a reference to Letterman's continued deficit to rival Jay Leno in the Nielsen ratings. Letterman would go on to make note of the Cardinals' opponent, saying the following in his trademark deadpan:
The victorious team here, Auburn University, fine school, fine institution, famous for this ... cheer that they use. Very famous cheer. Do you know the cheer, Paul? Are you familiar with the cheer? (Paul Shaffer: Rah-rah-rah, something along those lines?) No, it's "War Eagle." "War Eagle," Paul. I like it. I feel like it's the sort of cheer the country can get behind. War ... Eagle. So the symbol of our country, here, and then war, which is something I would say that we're good at. One of our nation's specialties. This is the sort of cheer that I could see our President, Mr. Bush, really standing behind and using to get the country fired up the way they, the way the fans do at Auburn. War ... Eagle. That's how he's going to begin his next address, his next ... speech in front of Congress. War ... Eagle.The following week Letterman called back to the joke and aired a brief clip of George W. Bush saying "War Eagle" during his 2002 visit to Auburn. Letterman again predicted that Bush would use it just before asking Congress for more money for the war effort in Iraq.
Actual series history: Auburn's won both all-time meetings against Ball State with ease, shutting out the Cardinals 30-0 in 2001.
Causes for Alarm:
1. Oh crap, they've got Andre Dawson on their team! Look upon "the Hawks"'s chiseled physique and despair!
OK, so it's a different Andre Dawson. But for those of us who remember Dawson blasting a home run seemingly every other at-bat he took against the hapless Braves of our '80s childhood, it's worrying enough.
2. I'm sure Ball St. fans and alums are sick-to-death of Brian Collins references, and I guess I apologize to any that happen to stop by for dredging "the Collins incident" up once again, but a) seriously, dude, you can't mess with the classics:
and b) Collins continued Ball State's run of bad luck recently when he was apparently axed from his job at a Waco television station. I don't know how closely Collins's emotions are tied to the performance of his alma mater's football team, but if they are, the universe is probably due to grant him a break, right, even if it's only for a Saturday night?
Causes for Confidence
1. Look, I know all but one game of Stan Parrish's career 2-31-1 head coaching mark in D-I came at Kansas St. in the mid-80s, the most hopeless job this side of Temple, Buffalo, or Florida International ... but jumpin' jehosophat, 2-31-1?!?!? 2-31-1! 2 wins! 31 losses! 1 tie! A career winning percentage of .063! Back when he wasn't 62! After last season I don't think there's much doubting Parrish's offensive acumen, but still, this isn't going to end well. As Al Golden, Turner Gill, and Mario Cristobal are proving--and as Parrish's successor Bill Snyder proved right there at Kansas St.--a good coach can make strides anywhere. (Iowa St. excepted, of course, as any good Auburn fan will tell you.)(As an aside, teams facing off against Paterno or Bowden excepted, how many other college football teams teams are squaring off against 118 years' worth of head coaches in the span of two weeks the way Auburn is with Parrish and Bill Stewart?)
2. In lieu of coming up with another reason for confidence, of which, honestly, Auburn is not lacking when it comes to this game, please enjoy the following wonderful sentence from Ball State's entry in the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia:
As might be expected, Ball State's original nickname, Hoosieroons, was not especially popular around campus.The week of the game, I promise to refer to Ball State by--and only by--the nickname "Hoosieroons."
Actual alleged analysis: Look, I'm the guy who had to resort to pictures of kittens to get through his preview of Louisiana Tech and two summers ago said he expected New Mexico St. to keep it close for a half. I know from mid-major paranoia.
But even I can't bring myself to worry about this game. 12-0 start last year or no 12-0 start last year, aside from nifty senior running back MiQuale Lewis and the Cards' veteran-if-undersized defensive line, there's just nothing left. Not the quarterback, not the offensive line, not the receivers (a matter of awful, awful luck in that case), not the corners, not the head coach, not--perhaps most importantly of all--that ineffable magic that makes a 12-0 start a possibility at a place like Ball State. All signs point to the Cards being just another MAC team, and just-another-MAC-teams have never accomplished much when traveling to SEC stadiums.
If the Spread Eagle 2.0 still hasn't shaken the hiccups, the Ball St. defensive front is playing over its head, and Lewis is moving the chains single-handedly, yeah, maybe this stays close for a half or even three quarters. But an actual loss is about as likely as Ball becoming the Hoosieroons again.