This Saturday the Indiana Hoosiers and Ball State Cardinals will meet on a neutral field to get the 2019 season underway. Kickoff is set for 12:00 EST at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts) and will be televised on the CBS Sports Network.

Oddsmakers haven’t done anything with the number in this one. Indiana opened as a 17-point favorite and that’s where the line sits today. Total has moved just slightly up from 59 to 60.

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Vegas Game Preview & Betting Odds: Ball State vs Indiana

Ball State Cardinals

The Cardinals suffered through a 4-8 campaign in 2018 and are now 10-26 over the first 3 seasons under head coach Mike Neu. Usually it’s year three under a new coach that you start to see big improvements, so the fact this team only won 4 games is a bit disappointing, especially given they had 16 returning starters.

The pressure has to be on Neu to deliver in 2019. Ball State will have a ton coming back with 17 returning starters (8 offense, 9 defense). However, they did have two key guys transfer out with quarterback Riley Neal signing with Vandy and running back Justin Gilbert now at Kansas State.

Unfortunately for Neu the deck is kind of stacked against him in the schedule department. The MAC West is hands down the tougher division in the MAC and they draw the top 3 projected teams out of the East. Not to mention they got to face a loaded FAU team and travel to NC State in non-conference.

Indiana Hoosiers

For a second straight year the Hoosiers came up just short of bowl eligibility at 5-7. It had to be a painful final result, as Indiana started out 4-1. There are 3 losses they can look back on and wonder what if. They lost by just 5 at home to Penn State, by only 7 at Minnesota and by 7 at home in the finale against Purdue.

The biggest problem for Indiana is they play in the Big Ten East, where they are guaranteed games against the 4 big powers of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Add in road games at Nebraska and Purdue and you and can see how little room for error this team has to simply get to 6-wins.

The good news is they have at times been able to compete with the big boys the past two years and may just have their strongest team yet under Allen. Indiana returns 14 starters (7 offense, 7 defense). One of those starters returning is quarterback Peyton Ramsey, who has been beat out by red-shirt freshman Michael Penix Jr.

Matchup History

For those that don’t know, both teams are from the state of Indiana. Ball State is in Muncie, just a little over 2 hours (car ride) from Bloomington. This will be the third meeting between the two schools in the last 4 years. Hoosiers won 30-20 in 2016, but failed to cover as a 16.5-point favorite. Last year Indiana won 38-10 as a 15-point home favorite. Both went well under the total (63.5 in 2016 and 61.5 last year).

Free NCAA Football Predictions & Betting Pick: Ball State +17

My early lean here would be to take the points with Ball State. I always like to lean towards the dog whenever it’s an in-state rivalry like we have here. Upsets are going to happen in these matchups and I wouldn’t rule out a Cardinals win here.

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The biggest thing for me, is that I feel like Ball State is a better team than people think. There will be plenty of talk about losing Neal and Gilbert via the transfer portal, but part of why they left is because they were in danger of losing their jobs. Cardinals really have high expectations for junior quarterback Drew Plitt, who is a better pocket passer than Neal was.

Also, while Indiana beat Ball State by 28-points last year, it wasn’t as lopsided as the final score would lead you to believe. If it wasn’t for a 86-yard punt return, the Hoosiers would have had a mere 10-3 edge with less than 3 minutes to play in the 1st half.

The other big thing for me that gives me hope with Ball State this year, is the fact that the Cardinals were able to have a lot of success running the ball. Ball State put up 204 rushing yards (5.2 yards/carry). All 5 starters are back on the offensive line for the Cardinals, so the running lanes should be there.

Let’s also not overlook the tough spot that Ball State was in. Just one week prior to facing Indiana, they lost by just 8-points at Notre Dame against the No. 8 ranked Fighting Irish.

Lastly, I get the decision to with Penix Jr. as the starting QB, but we really don’t know what the red-shirt freshman has to offer in real games. I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s a better athlete than Ramsey, but I question his accuracy and decision making with the ball. Give me Ball State +17.