A year ago at this time, the Ball State football program was left out in the cold when the bowl bids were each handed out. But on Sunday, with nine victories in hand and 61 degrees being registered in Muncie, there would be no frigid feelings for the Cardinals, as they accepted an opportunity to extend their 2012 season.
Ball State (9-3) will face Central Florida (9-4) in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN).
"Our football program is extremely pleased to be representing the (Mid-American Conference) at the Beef ’O’Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg," Ball State coach Pete Lembo said in a release.
Ball State finished last season eligible for a bowl with six victories, but were not able to secure a bid. But after winning six consecutive games to close this season, including impressive wins over MAC powers Toledo (in Toledo) and Ohio, there was little doubt that this team would be wanted by some committee, some where.
"Ball State is a hot team right now,” Beef ’O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg Executive Director Brett Dulaney said. “(With) winning six straight, including a road win over conference foe Toledo, which was ranked in the Top 25 at the time. We look forward to providing a great bowl week experience for the team and their fans."
That aforementioned streak was the Cardinals’ first six game winning streak since 2008. Ball State finished the conference season with a 6-2 record. The nine wins ties for the third most victories in a single season in school history, while the six MAC victories are the most in a single season since the 8-0 mark in 2008. It marks only the second time since 1996 the Cardinals have won at least six league games in a season.
"We have had an outstanding season and are looking forward to allowing the fans of Florida and our fans across the country to see our exciting team,” Lembo said. “This is an honor for our football program and our university, and our fans and alumni are excited about the invitation."
Lembo expressed optimism over the final few weeks leading up to Sunday that his team was attractive enough to earn an opportunity to play again.
The Cardinals ranked second in the MAC and 22nd nationally in total offense with an average of 471.33 yards per game. They also were 23rd in rushing offense (214.25), 48th in passing offense (257.08) and 31st in scoring offense (35.00). The coach and the Ball State leadership would’ve been pleased with any bowl bid, but an opportunity to play in a beautiful location such as Florida in December makes it all the better.
"Ball State University is very excited to participate in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg," Ball State athletic director Bill Scholl said. "We have heard great things about this bowl and are sure it will be an enjoyable experience for our student-athletes, alumni and fans from all over the country.”