After a 10-26 record in three years with the Cardinals, it’s do or die team for head coach Mike Neu. Granted, Neu has had to deal with a boatload of injuries the past two years, but for a program with two 9+ win seasons in recent history, another 4-8 year probably isn’t going to do.
After a 3-4 start, the Cardinals dropped four of their last five to fall to 4-8 for the year in 2018, in a large part thanks to a laundry list of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. The good news is that 17 starters are back, although the transfers of QB Riley Neal and RB James Gilbert really hurt.
This offense looked really promising until the transfers of Neal and Gilbert. Unexpectedly losing your top rusher and passer hurts, but it may not be quite as bad as it seems. Neal was very injury prone the past couple years, and Drew Plitt threw for over 1,000 yards in relief in 2018 and could’ve competed for the starting role even if Neal stayed.
Six of the top seven return among pass-catchers, including leader Riley Miller (878 yards, 14.4 YPC, seven touchdowns). Yo’Heinz Tyler is another name to watch after averaging 16.1 YPC last season.
The top two rushers are gone (Gilbert and Neal), but Malike Dunner and Caleb Huntley return after combining for 492 yards and four touchdowns last year as backups, and they add Edinburo transfer Walter Fletcher. Pretty much the whole offensive line returns as well and the Cardinals may rely a little more on the run game after being incredibly pass-heavy last season.
The offense is the question mark because of the departures of Gilbert and Neal, but there is enough experience returning to confidently say that they should be about on par with last year’s unit, if not improved.
The defensive line struggled last year but the pass defense was really solid, and the defense returns nine starters making it one of the most experienced groups in the country.
LBs Ray Wilborn and Christian Albright (combined 8.5 sacks, 10 TFL) are back after being great both in run defense and the pass rush, as are three of the four starters in the secondary in juniors Antonio Phillips, Brett Anderson II, and Bryce Crosby.
Where we run into issues is the line, where the Cardinals really struggled last year and are very undersized, but the rest of the defense gets enough back that this should be a really good group and the best that Neu has had while in Muncie.
There is plenty of experience on this team even with the departures of Neal and Gilbert, but they get an awful draw in the schedule, playing in the already tough West and drawing the top two teams from the East along with having to face three top-80 teams in non-conference play.
This team is good enough that they should improve on the 4-8 mark from last year, but the schedule makes that feel tough as they’ll only be favored in two games. Three of their four toughest MAC opponents are at home meaning a lot of their “winnable” games will be on the road.
This will be a team that could be better than their record indicates, but if they stay healthy they should be able to hit last year’s 4-8 mark again.
|vs. Indiana (Indianapolis, in)
|at NC State
|AT NORTHERN ILLINOIS
|AT EASTERN MICHIGAN
|at WEstern Michigan
|at KENT STATE
Average Projected Record: 4.1 wins, 7.9 losses (2.4 wins, 5.6 losses)