Crimson. Cardinal. Cream. White.
It’s not the state’s most storied rivalry, but it is one that has drawn in thousands of fans for the past two decades. Dramatic finishes and milestone seasons have highlighted each matchup between Ball State and Indiana on the gridiron.
As the rivalry is rejuvenated, returning to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time in nine seasons, we take a look back at the past 20 years of this big brother/little brother rivalry.
1999: Indiana - 21 Ball State - 9
1999 was a historic season for the Cardinals in all the wrong ways. A 12-point loss to the Hoosiers in Bloomington Sep. 4 kicked off the worst finish for Ball State Football in 48 years. The team didn’t win a single game.
However, the first matchup for the Cardinals against Indiana was viewed as a positive start to an optimistic view of the season. While Indiana built up an early lead of 21-0 in the first half, the Cardinals outscored them 9-0 in the second half and nearly matched the Hoosiers in passing yards, 154-149.
“Time will tell, but I feel like we're a football team that played hard and we gained a little confidence, and that's what this football team needed," then-head coach Bill Lynch told The Ball State Daily News after the loss. "We just got beat, but I feel good about our guys. I like this team, and I feel like they're going to keep battling."
The team could not prepare for the results of its next 10 games. The Cardinals lost all of their games by an average of 18.5 points, including a 50-10 loss to Wisconsin and 28-0 against Western Michigan.
"It's very disappointing," Lynch told The Ball State Daily News after a season-ending loss to Central Michigan Nov. 20. "There isn't any way you can describe how we feel. We've continued to work hard and battle, and when you don't get any reward for your hard work, it's disappointing."
While Indiana kicked off its season with a win, the team only amounted to four more wins for the rest of the season. Victories over Iowa and Northwestern were the only highlights for the Hoosiers, and they settled with a 4-7 record.
2006: Indiana - 24 Ball State - 23
Those big, black, bold letters stood tall on the cover of The Ball State Daily News Sep. 11.
The Cardinals’ first matchup against the Hoosiers for the first time in seven years was a big one as the Cardinals played host to the Big 10 squad. A then-record 23,800 fans packed Scheumann Stadium for what looked to be a Cardinal blowout by halftime.
A 23-7 halftime lead saw Ball State sitting pretty and about to pick up their first power five win in school history. However, the Hoosiers had other plans. Indiana’s 17 unanswered points in the second half, a missed field goal by Ball State kicker Brian Jackson in the first half and a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from IU’s Marcus Thigpen left Ball State players and fans in shock.
“Kicking game, kicking game, kicking game,” then-Ball State coach Brady Hoke told The Ball State Daily News after the loss to Indiana. “We talked about that being the difference all week. Kickoff return for a touchdown can’t happen because we had some really good momentum. We let them back in the game. We just didn’t execute some kicks that we normally do.”
The Cardinals did have one last chance to turn the tide and win the game, but the hearts of the Cardinal faithful broke even more as Ball State's Williams Wise went offside to give Indiana a first down and eventually run out the clock.
“It’s a tough one for the kids, but we’ll move forward because you have to,” Hoke told The Ball State Daily News. “And we want to.”
Things didn’t get easier for the Cardinals that season. The following week, Ball State lost at Purdue by only 10 and the next weekend to North Dakota State by five. The rollercoaster season ended with a 5-7 record for the Cardinals, just outside of bowl game contention.
The Hoosiers walked away with the win that night but also ended their season with a 5-7 record. A week later, Indiana was upset by Southern Illinois, 35-28, and upset again by Connecticut, 14-7.
2007: Indiana - 38 Ball State - 20
If you’re looking at matchups between these two teams over the past 20 years, the 2007 midseason meeting stands out the least.
Both teams were having great seasons, both finished with regular season records of 7-5 and both went to and lost bowl games. Ball State came into the game off of an 11-point loss to Illinois and one win away from bowl eligibility. Indiana was coming off of its third straight loss to Wisconsin, 33-3, and was also a win away from bowl eligibility.
Ball State came out hot to finish the first quarter up 10-3, but Indiana took over from there and eventually rode to an 18-point win over the Cardinals. Ball State wide receiver Dante Love marked a career-high with 177 receiving yards, but his statement wasn’t enough for the win.
“It’s very disappointing,” Love told The Ball State Daily News after the loss. “Indiana was a good team, but we just didn’t capitalize.”
Ball State followed the loss with a pair of wins over Toledo and Northern Illinois to punch its ticket to its first bowl game in 11 seasons. The Cardinals faced Rutgers in Toronto in the International Bowl and lost, 52-30.
After Indiana punched their ticket to a postseason game, Northwestern punched their ticket off of a win over the Hoosiers next week. Indiana wrapped up the regular season with a win over rival Purdue and would face Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl. Indiana fell to the Cowboys, 49-33.
2008: Ball State - 42 Indiana - 20
For almost 10 years to this point, Indiana had dominated Ball State in this state rivalry. Here’s where everything changed, not just for the rivalry, but for Ball State Football as well.
Both teams came into the game undefeated, but only one was going to leave that way. Ball State was still looking for its first win over a power five team, and to stir the pot even more, some members of the team were really playing into the rivalry.
“I hate when I’m walking through campus, and I see other people wearing different school’s [apparel],” quarterback Nate Davis told The Ball State Daily News in a game preview. “I’ll be like, ‘Why can’t you wear Ball State stuff? I mean, you’re on Ball State’s campus. You go to Ball State. Why do you rep other schools?’ ... I’m just saying, if you go to this school, why don’t you represent your own school?”
The Cardinals not only won the game, but they dominated the Hoosiers as well. Ball State put up 42 points against Indiana and clinched its first-ever win against a power five team. While the win was historic, there was a somber feel as Dante Love fractured his spine, eventually ending his career.
“It was obviously a tremendous win,” Hoke said in the 30-second opening statement he gave before leaving without taking any questions. “I thought our kids played hard. I thought they responded well, and they kept getting after it ... I appreciate your understanding, but I’m going to the hospital.”
Love’s loss was felt throughout the team, but the Cardinals rallied for the most successful finish in Ball State Football history. The Cardinals finished the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record and peaked as high as No. 12 in the Associated Press top 25 rankings.
Things eventually fell back to Earth when the Cardinals were upset by Buffalo, 43-24, in the Mid-American Conference Championship and lost to Tulsa, 45-13, in the GMAC bowl.
After its loss, Indiana dropped seven of its last eight games with its lone Big 10 win over Northwestern. The Hoosiers finished their season at 3-9.
2011: Ball State - 27 Indiana - 20
The rivalry between these two schools took an interesting turn in 2011 when neither team met in Muncie or Bloomington. For the first time, the two played at the then-three-year-old Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
In the state capital, Ball State continued to roll for its second straight win over the Hoosiers. 40,000 people showed up for the opening season tilt and saw a second-half surge guide the Cardinals to a win. Quarterback Keith Weinning was spot on, completing 79 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
“That’s football right there,” Pete Lembo told The Ball State Daily News after the win. “That’s what we told the kids that tonight would be like. We told them that there’s going to be highs and lows when you’re playing a Big 10 team.”
At the end of the game, Ball State players ran across the field to sing the fight song with almost 6,000 students. The win was not only big for the program, but it was a victory for football culture at Ball State.
“We want football games to be a big deal, whether they’re on campus or down here,” Lembo told The Ball State Daily News. “And this was a big deal.”
The win at Lucas Oil was the highlight for the team that season as they narrowed out to 6-6 on the season, ineligible for a bowl game. Indiana had it even harder as a 38-21 win over South Carolina State two weeks later would be the Hoosiers’ only win of the season. The team finished at 1-11, the worst finish in program history in 27 years.
2012: Ball State - 41 Indiana - 39
The Cardinals continued their winning ways with Indiana in a dramatic finish in 2012 when a 42-yard field goal from Steven Schott as time expired gave Ball State its third-straight win over the Hoosiers. Schott’s late-game heroics came after Indiana’s Sahne Wynn gave the Hoosiers a 39-38 lead with 49 seconds left in the game.
“This is a very humbling experience right now,” Lembo told The Ball State Daily News after the win. “This is a great place. Indiana is much improved, and this was a great college football game.”
The game was back-and-forth from the beginning as the lead changed eight times. Indiana dominated in passing yards with 423 to Ball State’s 234, but the Cardinals combatted in running the ball, racking up 206 rushing yards to Indiana’s 135.
Another win over Indiana signified the start of another milestone season for Ball State Football. A week later, the Cardinals won another stunner over South Florida in Muncie off of a 19-yard grab from Willie Sneed with 1:02 left in the game. Ball State finished the regular season at 9-3 and faced UCF in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. The Cardinals fell, 38-17, and ended the season at 9-4.
Indiana didn’t qualify for a bowl game but began to show growth from the prior season. A 4-8 finish saw the program pick up three more wins from the 2011 season.
The Mike Neu Era
2016: Indiana - 30 Ball State - 20
2018: Indiana - 38 Ball State - 10
Over the past 20 years, this rivalry has made shifts from program to program. Wins between the two have not just stood out in the rivalry, but have also stood as statements to which direction the program is moving in.
In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Indiana edged out the Cardinals in three straight meetings. In the late 2000s and 2010s, Ball State dominated on the field and set milestones for the program. Now, the rivalry sits in favor of the Hoosiers.
In 2016, early success from the Hoosiers set the Cardinals too far back and gave Indiana its first win over Ball State in four meetings. The Cardinals did make a comeback in the second half, tacking on 20 points, but time ran out on them.
In Mike Neu’s first season as head coach in Muncie, Ball State had a 4-8 record with one conference win over Buffalo. Indiana ran through 2016 for a second straight bowl game. The team also pulled off an upset win over Michigan State in week four.
Last season, Ball State came to Bloomington with some confidence behind the team after losing to then No. 9 Notre Dame by only eight. At the same time, so was Indiana. The Hoosiers were 2-0, coming off of a victory over Virginia in monsoon conditions.
The Cardinals and Crimson ended the first quarter in a 3-3 tie, but 21 unanswered points in the second quarter and 14 more in the second half gave Indiana a dominant win, 38-10. Indiana would fall short of a bowl game that season at 5-6 and Ball State would match their 2016 record of 4-8.
“We did a good job coming out in the second half defensively but not offensively in responding to the score,” Neu told The Ball State Daily News after the loss. “We didn’t respond well to that first drive in the second half, and then they would get another one going. It was really just a consistent theme the entire day for us, which was disappointing.”
2019: Ball State v. Indiana @ Lucas Oil Stadium
Saturday’s game acts as another turning point in this rivalry. The matchup heads back to Lucas Oil after a seven-year hiatus, Indiana is looking to become a contender in the Big 10, and Neu, in his fourth season with the Cardinals, is looking to get Ball State back to its winning ways.
A win on Saturday could continue the dominance of one team in this rivalry or turn the tides in favor of another. It’s not one of college football’s storied rivalries, but it is one that has defined the history for these two programs.
Contact Jack Williams with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jackgwilliams.