Team preview: Ball State

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(All information as of June 20, 2007)


They were supposed to be one of those cupcake games on the schedule for mighty Michigan, a mere speed bump for the Wolverines on their way to an unbeaten showdown against Ohio State, which loomed a few weeks away.

Throw in the fact the Ball State Cardinals were arriving at the Big House in November with a freshman quarterback running the show, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the crowd of 109,359 -- even the non-sober members -- who would predict an upset.

But there was Brady Hoke's team, with 6:38 left in the game, driving for the potential tying score, down 34-26 to the No. 2-ranked team in the nation.

At one point it was first-and-goal from the Michigan 8, but the dream was over four downs later. Freshman quarterback Nate Davis was unable to hook up with Dante Love in the end zone on fourth down with 2:46 left and the Wolverines were off the hook.

The Cardinals might have walked away without a victory that day, but the game did so much more for a young team trying to find its way.
"We got a lot of confidence coming out of Ann Arbor," said Hoke, whose Cardinals went on to win their final two games, including a 20-17 upset at Toledo. "That confidence carried over to Toledo [and Kent State]."

It also did wonders for the Cardinals, who finished tied for third in the MAC West with Northern Illinois and won five games in the conference in for the first time since 1996, going into the offseason.
The Cardinals were finally seeing the light at the end of a long rebuilding tunnel and they worked hard over the winter months to make sure they didn't lose sight of their ultimate goal.
"The kids understand what we are trying to do in the program," said Hoke, one of 18 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches working for their alma mater. "We have a vision, we have a plan and we have the right people in place. Now we have to go out and achieve our goals.
"We have some momentum, but we haven't done anything yet."

With seven starters back on offense -- including Davis, Love and four starters on the offensive line -- and six on defense, the young Cardinals have a firm foundation.