Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 40 of 55 SEPT. 10, 2018 41 with Syracuse on Nov. 17 by moving it to New York City. The move by the administration the week before playing archri- val USC rankled head coach Brian Kelly, but it's not his call, as it more likely would be for a Nick Saban at Alabama. "Going to New York and then go- ing to L.A. to play USC is not the easiest way to run the table," Kelly told Blue & Gold Illustrated for its 2018 Football Preview. "Most of the teams in the SEC are playing a I-AA [Foot- ball Championship Subdivision] team that is getting paid to come into their stadium before the last game of the year for a reason." Likewise, there is a reason why the MAC has become more prevalent on Notre Dame's present and future schedules. BIGGEST MISMATCH? Few teams will have entered Notre Dame Stadium as a bigger underdog on paper than Ball State will. The outset of the 2017 season looked promising for the Cardinals when they competed well at Big Ten opponent Illinois in the opener be- fore losing 24-21, and then defeated UAB (51-31) and Tennessee Tech (28-13) for a 2-1 start. Thereafter the Cardinals concluded the year on a nine-game losing streak. Especially mind-numbing was they lost their eight Mid-American Con- ference games by an average score of 48-12 — five times allowing at least 55 points in that span. Among 129 Football Bowl Subdivi- sion teams in 2017, Ball State finished 121st in scoring offense (17.9 points per game) and 124th in scoring de- fense (40.7 points allowed per game), as bad a combination as one can find. The good news is quarterback Ri- ley Neal and running back James Gilbert, who rushed for 1,332 yards in 2016, are back after getting side- lined the final nine games of 2017 with injuries. Nevertheless, under third-year head coach Mike Neu, Ball State has been projected to finish last again in the six-team West Division of the MAC again. The team that was predicted to finish fifth by Street & Smith's, Central Michigan, beat Ball State 56-9 in 2017, which helps out- line the disparity. With Neal and Gilbert back, Ball State should be more competitive — plus it had another 1,000-yard rusher last year in Caleb Hunter, who was playing in place of Gilbert. Fur- thermore, wide receiver Justin Hall caught the most passes (78 for 801 yards) among any freshman in the country last year, thus earning ESPN Freshman All-America notice. Ball State's Rivals recruiting rank- ings over the past five years are No. 95 in 2014, not in the top 100 in 2015, 2016 and 2018, and No. 87 in 2017. The defense was extremely young last year but still must replace its best player, end Anthony Winbush, a first-team All-MAC pick with his 11.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. HOSTILE NEW VISITORS Since the opening of Notre Dame Stadium in 1930, Ball State will be the 78th different school to play a game there, and the only new one this year. Overall, the Fighting Irish are 61-15-1 versus first-time visitors to the edifice. What has become unset- tling is that six of those 15 defeats have occurred since 2009. • It began with a 33-30 double- overtime loss to Connecticut in Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis' final game at home in 2009. • In 2010, Tulsa stunned the Irish 28-27 in head coach Brian Kelly's de- but season, dropping Notre Dame to 4-5. • South Florida under Skip Holtz was scheduled as the "tune-up" opener in 2011, but despite finishing 5-7 that year the Bulls pulled off a stunning 23-20 upset. • Louisville's first visit to Notre Dame Stadium resulted in a 31-28 victory on Senior Day in 2014. • Another Senior Day ended with a loss in 2016 when initial visitor Virginia Tech rallied from 17 points down for a 34-31 conquest. • Last year Georgia and its "Sea of Red" in attendance held on for a 20- 19 win, a prelude to advancing to the national title contest. A loss to Ball State would top them all. ✦ GAME PREVIEW: BALL STATE Predictions Corey Bodden: Notre Dame 49, Ball State 17 This score could be altered depending on how Notre Dame's emotions are after the Michigan contest. As long as the Irish come to play, younger players will likely see some action in the second half. Bryan Driskell: Notre Dame 56, Ball State 20 Ball State had one of the nation's worst defenses in 2017, and now it must replace its entire line. Notre Dame will control both lines and dominate the Cardinals. David McKinney: Notre Dame 54, Ball State 20 There is not much to analyze here. This is a "roster game" for the Irish where probably everyone on the team could get in. Lou Somogyi: Notre Dame 56, Ball State 10 The Cardinals upset the Fighting Irish men's basketball team last December at Purcell Pavilion, but a repeat will not be forthcoming on the gridiron. Third-year head coach Mike Neu's Cardinals lost their final nine games in 2017 and dropped all eight of their MAC games by an average score of 48-12. PHOTO BY MICHAEL HICKEY/COURTESY BALL STATE

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