Team preview: Ball State

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006 college football season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: July 31, 2006, 1:24 PM ET
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(All information as of July 1, 2006)

COACH AND PROGRAM

The hole couldn't get much bigger for the Ball State Cardinals before they even took the field for the 2005 season.

Not only did the Cardinals have one of the worst four-game schedules to open a season in the program's history, they also lost their top three players to the NFL and MAC Freshman of the Year Adell Givens was shown the door for academic reasons.

The hole grew even larger right before kickoff in the season-opener at Big Ten powerhouse Iowa, when 13 players -- including eight starters -- were suspended for their role in a book loan scandal.

"We really got punched in the gut with the text book situation," said head coach Brady Hoke, whose team took another shot from the Hawkeyes with a 56-0 loss in front of 70,585 fans.

Even at full strength, the Cardinals went on to lose their next three games, which included a 63-3 drubbing from Auburn and a 38-0 pounding from Boston College. A 40-31 loss to Bowling Green was sandwiched in between.

With a 0-4 record and the meat of the MAC schedule coming up, the Cardinals decided it was time to climb out of the hole.

Starting with a 60-57 victory in five overtimes against Western Michigan, Ball State went 4-3 down the stretch and restored hope to a program that is annually stuck in the bottom tier of the MAC.

"The thing I was the most happy about was they hung in there," Hoke said. "Our kids had a lot of fun playing together."

Ball State knocked off the top two teams in the MAC, Northern Illinois and Akron, during its run.

"We beat the two teams who played in the championship game," said Hoke, whose team lost to Central Michigan at the end of the season, 31-24 in overtime, to miss a chance to tie for third place in the West Division.

Regardless, with 10 starters back on offense and another five on the defense, Ball State players and coaches are charged up for the 2006 season.