MUNCIE, Ind. -- Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning has the numbers. Boy, does he have numbers. What he doesn't have, it seems, is an inflated ego.
This is a good thing, especially with football's humbling nature. Today's hero can be tomorrow's goat.
Ask Wenning if he sees himself as the Mid-American Conference's best quarterback and he refuses to bite. Yes, he's a confident guy. Yes, he believes in himself and what he can do with the Cardinals' high-powered offense.
But does he see himself as the league's best? The answer is yes and no.
“I try to do that without having a sense of cockiness,” he says. “I try day in and day out to tell myself I'm the best. I work my hardest at it, but I try not to be cocky. I'm pretty level headed. I do the best I can.”
That best is awfully good. Last season Wenning completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 3,095 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while directing the MAC's second-best scoring offense (33.6 points). He led Ball State to a 9-4 record and a bowl.
His career numbers are even more impressive. He ranks second in school history with 7,254 career passing yards and 57 career touchdown passes. He already has the career record for pass attempts (1,144) and completions (716).
So is this 6-3, 220-pounder the best? Here's coach Pete Lembo's take.
“I don't know that. There are a lot of good quarterbacks in our conference. Certainly the guys at DeKalb have a good one. They have a lot of belief in their guy. I'm sure there are others as well.”
Lembo refers to Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who is coming off a remarkable season, his first as a starter. He set a record by rushing for 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also threw for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns against six interceptions.
“All I know is this -- (Wenning) is a good quarterback,” Lembo says. “Whether he's the best or not doesn't matter. The bottom line is, can he continue to lead us to more wins.”
This will be Wenning's third season with Lembo's quarterback-friendly system. He's developed a rapport with the head coach and with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rich Skrosky.
“I'm real comfortable with this system,” Wenning said. “Me and Coach Skrosky have a good relationship. We can expand the offense, talk about new plays and new stuff to help the offense be even better.”
As far as his own improvement Wenning said, “I'm never satisfied with anything. I'm always trying to get better in the weight room, in the film room, on the field, in practice, developing the younger guys, the O-line, anything I can to make us better.”
The coaches have noticed.
“He's broken out of his comfort zone as a person,” Lembo says. “He's become more vocal in the locker room, more vocal with me. He'll come into my office and tell me what's on his mind. We're trying to get him to the point where he'll tell Rich Skrosky what he likes, what he doesn't like.
“He's such a team player. He'll go with whatever we want to call.”
Wenning says he does have the option to change calls at the line of scrimmage. The key is “being on the same page when I'm on the sidelines and (Skrosky) is in the press box.” All the film work he's put in helps with that.
“I see different things. I know what to look at.”
It helps to see a bunch of returning skill guys such as receivers Willie Snead (89 catches, 1,148 yards, 9 TDs) and Jamill Smith (69 catches, 706 yards, six touchdowns), tight end Zane Fakas (57 catches, 461 yards, five touchdowns) and tailback Jahwan Edwards (1,140 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns).
“We have a lot of good skill guys back,” Wenning says. “I know if I get them the ball, they'll make something happen.”
One big key is rebuilding the offensive line. It's anchored by two-time All-MAC lineman Jordan Hansel, who is 6-4 and 326 pounds. Another is to improve a defense that ranked eighth in the MAC in scoring defense, allowing 32.0 points a game.
The goal is to match, if not surpass, last year's nine-win season. Ball State has an easier non-conference schedule. National power Clemson has been replaced by Virginia.
“We have to have the same mindset that it won't be easy,” Wenning says. “Last year was last year. This year it's day by day, game by game, week by week. With that mindset, you can be successful.”
There's nothing cocky about that.