MUNCIE, Ind. -- The Ball State football program has made significant strides in coach Pete Lembo's three seasons guiding the Cardinals.
His teams have climbed from six wins (2011) to nine (2012) to 10 (last season). So there is a lot to be proud of for those working inside the Fisher Football Training Complex. But it hasn't brought upon arrogance.
"I think our guys have done a great job through the years of staying humble, focusing on ourselves, and respecting every opponent," Lembo said recently.
"We've come a long way as a program, but I don't think anybody around here is putting the cart before the horse and starting to believe that we can just show up and win games."It is a mentality which will be put into practice Saturday, as Ball State hosts Colgate for its 2014 season opener. Ball State returns 11 starters this fall, as well as a lot of experienced players that didn't start, but saw a lot of action over the past couple of seasons. However, if there were ever a coaching staff that comprehends the possibilities of falling to an FCS team, even one that won just four games a year ago, it is this staff.
Lembo spent his entire coaching career at lower levels before being brought to Muncie in 2011. He's seen what can happen when a favored team doesn't "control what they can control," in the coach's words.
"It really doesn't make any difference, whatsoever, to us," Lembo said of playing an FCS opponent.
"If you needed to mention 'FCS' to our guys, all you need to do is remind our guys that at one point we were behind 21-9 to Illinois State last year."
Or Lembo could allow his first-year defensive coordinator (Kevin Kelly) to speak to his players about the Raiders.
Kelly served as the Georgetown head coach prior to his being hired by Lembo earlier this year, and faced Colgate annually as members of the Patriot League. The Raiders dropped a combined 91 points on Kelly's teams in their last two meetings.
"The other thing you could bring up, if you wanted to, is to remind the team that on 15 different occasions last year, FCS teams went in and won these games on the road," said Lembo.
Both Kelly and Lembo (who has coached against Colgate 11 times) are familiar with the Raiders, but only to a degree.Longtime Colgate offensive coordinator Dan Hunt was elevated to the head coaching position earlier this year after serving with the program since 1996. There will more than likely be some familiar schematic traits to the Raider offense and defense, but there could also be some tweaks.
"Certainly when you have a new head coach taking over that's going to make his own mark on the program, you have some new assistant coaches, there's always the chance that some things could change and evolve in the off-season," Lembo said.
To minimize that concern for the unknown, Lembo has preached a mantra of "focusing on ourselves," and keeping the philosophy for this game simple.
"One of the things that you have to be careful of when you are getting ready for a first opponent, is to obviously watch a lot of what they did last year," Lembo said.
"But you always have to keep in the back of your mind that some things could change. One of the things that we pride ourselves on is primarily staying focused on ourselves. When you look at teams, who have success in week one, regardless of who they are playing, it's often the teams that minimize their mistakes and don't beat themselves. Don't put the ball on the ground, don't have a lot of penalties, and don't make the silly mistakes that get you beat in college football.
"That's always been our focus and we always take these opponents one at a time."
• College football tickets