8:00 PM ET, December 5, 2008
Ball State and Buffalo are nearing the end of surprisingly successful seasons. For one of these teams, it has the chance to be monumental.
The 12th-ranked Cardinals look to remain undefeated when they face the upstart Bulls as both make their first appearance in the Mid-American Conference championship game on Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit.
On the strength of a high-powered offense, West Division champion Ball State (12-0, 8-0) recorded its first perfect regular season since the 1949 team went 8-0. The Cardinals have a chance to further add to the most successful season in school history with two more victories.
"Everybody's dream is to go undefeated," said junior quarterback Nate Davis, who's sixth in the nation with a 169.3 passer rating.
East champion Buffalo (7-5, 5-3), meanwhile, clinched the school's first division title while securing its first bowl berth since moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1999.
"I'm proud of our players, this season has been outstanding," said Bulls coach and former Nebraska star Turner Gill. "I have been involved in championship football teams, but I have never been exposed to a season like this."
While Ball State is a heavy favorite to improve to 5-0 all-time versus Buffalo and claim its first MAC title since 1996, it is still a likely longshot for a BCS bowl bid with a victory on Friday.
Though Ball State is 12th in the latest BCS standings and would normally be in good shape as a school from a non-BCS conference ranked that high, fellow non-BCS schools Utah (No. 6), Boise State (No. 9) and TCU (No. 11) are ahead of the Cardinals and finished with regular-season play.
According to BCS rules, only one non-BCS team is guaranteed a berth by virtue of finishing in the Top 12 in the standings, thus likely giving the nod to the Utes. That would leave Ball State and Buffalo headed to one of the three bowls -- Motor City, GMAC or International -- with MAC tie-ins.
Regardless, the Cardinals have plenty to be proud of after overcoming the loss of leading receiver Dante Love, who suffered a career-ending neck injury on Sept. 21 at Indiana.
"I am really happy for this group of kids and this senior class to come together and accomplish what they set out to get but we're not finished yet," said sixth-year coach Brady Hoke, whose teams won six games in his first two seasons guiding his alma mater.
Davis, who could declare for the NFL draft, has completed 67.3 percent of his passes for 3,095 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions for a Ball State offense that ranks 15th in the nation averaging 37.7 points per game.
Junior running back MiQuale Lewis scored three touchdowns in the Cardinals' 45-22 victory over Western Michigan on Nov. 25 to give him a school-record 20 this season. He has rushed for a league-leading 1,570 yards and is averaging 145.2 in his last four games.
Davis was 21-for-29 for 233 yards with three TDs in Ball State's 49-14 victory over Buffalo on Sept. 29, 2007 in the teams' most recent meeting.
Since that loss, however, the Bulls are 9-5 in league play -- a major improvement for a school that won 10 games total in its first seven seasons in the FBS prior to Gill's arrival.
Buffalo enters this contest after a 24-21 loss to Kent State on Friday, snapping a five-game winning streak that included victories at Ohio, Akron and Bowling Green.
"I'm still proud of our football team," said Gill, whose team has played four games that have gone to overtime. "Our guys will be resilient, they're going to come back ready to play and we'll be ready against Ball State."
While Ball State's Lewis ranks fourth in nation averaging 130.8 rushing yards per game, Buffalo junior James Starks is sixth at 122.6 per game.
Starks has rushed for more than 1,000 yards for a second straight year with 1,226 in 2008 to break the school's single-season record.
Junior receiver Naaman Roosevelt has 86 receptions for a MAC-leading 1,196 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a TD in six consecutive contests.
While the Bulls are averaging 30.2 points per game, they'll be in for a challenge against an unheralded Ball State defense yielding 16.7 a game.
Buffalo is 0-8 versus ranked opponents since moving up to the FBS, scoring 70 points total in those contests.
Top 25 Overview
Ball State looks to cap a historical regular season with a win over Buffalo in the MAC championship game. All eyes will be on the QBs: Ball State's Nate Davis and Buffalo's Drew Willy. The undefeated Cardinals are trying for their first MAC title since 1996. The upstart Bulls secured their first division title since moving up to the FBS in 1999.
|Avg Points Allowed||18.6||27.5|