The Washington Times - October 7, 2008, 10:18AM

Maryland’s on a bye this week, so it’s almost welcome that the weekly winner of the D1scourse Challenge asks something completely unrelated to the Terrapins.

Here’s what “The goggles do nothing!” wanted to know about this week.

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Ball State being ranked for the first time ever (even without its receiver who won’t play again)- how good is this team and what’s the forecast for the rest of the season?

It is true that Dante Love’s career is over after a scary injury earlier this season. And it was reasonable to wonder if the Cardinals would fade now that potent junior quarterback Nate Davis‘ favorite pitch-and-catch playmate was out of the picture.

But Ball State has simply rolled in two games without Love by 41-20 and 31-0 margins. The 31 points scored Saturday against Toledo was the Cardinals’ worst output of the year.

Next up is the motley crew of Western Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio), the latter two in the stretch when the MAC gets itself into the TV-adjusted Tuesday and Wednesday games in November. Those four opponents own a combined seven victories at this juncture, so a 10-0 start for the Cardinals is not out of the question.

That’ll leave a Nov. 19 trip to Central Michigan and a Nov. 25 meeting with Western Michigan in Muncie as the major hurdles for an unbeaten season. That finale is currently only set for ESPN360, but something tells me it might get bumped up to a slightly more prominent spot if the Cardinals are 11-0.

I had Ball State ranked 70th to open the season (oops) but said the Cardinals had the goods to beat Indiana in the fourth week of the season (cha-ching). Their problem coming into the season figured to be the same as last year – defending the rush.

But if you extract the 346 yards they yielded to run-heavy Navy, Ball State is giving up 131.6 yards a game on the ground. That would rank 58th nationally, which isn’t great but certainly does not suggest a glaring weakness. And the fact that 32-year-old former Marine Brandon Crawford leads the Cardinals in tackles for loss with five adds another cool element to the program’s story.

There aren’t any obvious shortcomings with this team, so the official forecast is 11-1 and then a MAC title game victory in December. Arguably the biggest problem that would remain is finding a way to retain coach and alum Brady Hoke, whose steady rebuilding job could attract the attention of schools that could be in the market for someone new to lead their program.

After all, guys who find ways to get schools that have never been ranked into the national spotlight have a way of being popular job candidates. For now, though, Hoke and the Cardinals should thrive as they start to receive attention.

Patrick Stevens