FORT WAYNE – The time warp will happen the instant Pete Lembo lifts his eyes to the far sideline tonight, and sees yesterday staring back at him.
Illinois State could be Elon over there, Lembos last stop before his current gig at Ball State. Brock Spack, the longtime defensive coach at Purdue whos now the head coach at Illinois State, could be Lembo.
Looking forward is the preferred line of sight for every football program. But when you can use the past to improve the view, so much the better.
When I arrived here two years ago, I think the most popular question I was asked was how I was going to handle the transition to coaching at this level, said Lembo, whose Cardinals launch the 2013 season tonight against Illinois State, an FCS school much like the one from which Lembo came. I dont get asked that question very often anymore. But I do think all of my experience at the FCS level will pay off in getting ready for a team like this.
The substance of that experience: Dont sleep on these guys just because theyre an FCS school.
I remember when I was at Lehigh, we went to (FBS school) Buffalo and beat them 37-26, Lembo said this week. And of course, at Elon, we played a lot of guys very similar to these guys. So this is familiar territory for the staff.
We realize what a great challenge we have in front of us, and we have made that clear to our kids.
Illinois States résumé should make that task easier.
Spacks Redbirds are coming off a 9-4 season in which they reached the FCS playoffs for just the fourth time in school history and upset Appalachian State on the road in the first round. Ranked 13th in the FCS preseason poll, they return 12 starters including All-Missouri Valley Conference first-teamers Colton Underwood and Jordan Neukirch. Theyre also welcoming aboard a quarterback (Jared Barnett) who played a couple of seasons at Iowa State, and a linebacker (David Perkins) who began his career at Ohio State.
That makes ISU a worthy challenge for a Ball State team coming off its own 9-4 season and which returns Johnny Unitas, Davey OBrien and Maxwell award watch list quarterback Keith Wenning; Doak Walker award watch list running back Jahwan Edwards; and a stellar receiving corps led by Biletnikoff watch list wideout Willie Snead, Hornung award watch list wideout Jamill Smith and Mackey award watch list tight end Zane Fakes.
The tools are there, in other words. Now the task is to put them to work.
The first game is always about minimizing mistakes, and thats something we have done well the last two years here, Lembo said this week.
The game will be a one-and-done, as the Cardinals and Redbirds agreed on a buyout of next years scheduled meeting at Illinois State so Ball State could even out its 2014 schedule with six home and six away games.