The light at the end of the tunnel

Brock Harrington

The Ball State Cardinals are the other side of the pillow. That team is explosive, flashy and fun to watch. Junior quarterback Nate Davis is the most talented passer I have seen in the Mid-American Conference since Akron’s Charlie Frye or Kent State’s own Josh Cribbs.

Davis is the “Dirty Harry” of the MAC – a quarterback who shoots first and rarely misses.

The hottest team in the MAC has yet to score under 35 points, and it has only scored less than 40 in one of its games.

This week was different, though.

Ball State’s rushing offense wasn’t supposed to be its strength, but it was against the Flashes with 158 yards and four touchdowns.

The passing game was supposed to struggle without the best – yes that’s right, the best – wide receiver in the MAC, Dante Love, who suffered a life-threatening and career ending injury in a 22-point win over Indiana. But the passing game thrived without Love, as Davis passed for 265 yards and a touchdown. He could have passed for more, but why would he need to with the rushing yards flowing like water?

No team in the MAC, besides Central Michigan (which has not played like a two-time defending MAC champion this year), will be close to this team.

Kent State coach Doug Martin knew that when his team entered Saturday’s game, and he knows it today.

Should fans not be upset about the recent performance? Well, not exactly. Fans should still be disappointed about the 44-27 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette the week before, when the Flashes faced a team they were even with in terms of talent.

Against Ball State, senior quarterback Julian Edelman had 70 yards rushing and had 177 yards passing. That’s feeble for most teams, but for the Flashes’ passing offense, it’s a decent day.

The Flashes’ two backup running backs – junior Eugene Jarvis was out for the second week in a row because of a “lingering” ankle injury – played pretty well. Sophomore Andre Flowers rushed for 29 yards on six carries, while freshman Jacquise “Speedy” Terry ran for 48 yards on nine carries. That’s good production.

The point is: Fans can’t be too upset about Saturday’s game. Unlike the dismal performance in Louisiana, the Flashes didn’t play bad, they just played a far superior team – a team that can beat a Big Ten team by 22 points. A team that an AP writer told me was the best college football team in the state of Indiana, which includes Notre Dame and Purdue.

Kent State fans should feel encouraged when they even think of Ball State’s success. Ball State coach Brady Hoke has coached one more year in the MAC than Martin. When he took over, Ball State was a mediocre program. In 2004, Hoke was 2-9. It took four years for Hoke to have his first winning season.

After four seasons, Hoke was 15-31 at Ball State. After four seasons, Martin was 15-31 at Kent State. The Flashes have the ability to be a mischief-maker in the MAC East this season, but they have a chance to be a 2008 Ball State next season. The Flashes are not senior heavy, and they will have juniors on next year’s team with two years of playing experience.

I don’t want to save Doug Martin’s job. Two years ago, he planted the seed of optimism in the mind of Kent State fans. The team was 6-6 that season. That was an improvement, but the conference was retooling that season. Miami, Toledo and Bowling Green were down that season, and Buffalo was a non-factor.

That has changed. Now Ball State is a powerhouse in the MAC and Buffalo, losing to Central Michigan 27-25 Saturday in Mount Pleasant, Mich., is a MAC East player.

Things change. Ball State proves that. Kent State’s “real season” starts this week at home against Akron.

The real season isn’t the MAC East. It’s not the MAC in general. The real season is playing spoiler to MAC East hopefuls such as Miami, Ohio and Buffalo. The real season is getting younger players, such as Terry and sophomore Jonathan Simpson, snaps and experience for next season.

Am I giving up on the Flashes this season? No.

After seeing Ball State play, this conference belongs to the Cardinals, and their fans must have seen it coming.

Contact sports editor Brock Harrington [email protected].