OXFORD, OHIO - NOVEMBER 20: Jaylon Bester #1 of the Miami of Ohio Redhawks runs the ball during the second quarter against the Akron Zips at Yager Stadium on November 20, 2019 in Oxford, Ohio. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Photo: Justin Casterline
Photo: Justin Casterline

College football: MAC East-champion Miami set to wrap up regular season at Ball State

Jaylon Bester isn’t afraid to admit that he looks ahead.

No “one game at a time” for Miami’s junior running back.

Bester was recently asked when he started looking at bowl games in which the RedHawks might play this season.

“When we got to six wins, I started looking at all of them,” Bester said.

»RELATED: RedHawks hold off winless Zips

Teams normally need to win at least six games to be eligible for a bowl game. Miami (7-4, 6-1 Mid-American Conference) reached that mark on Nov. 13 with a 44-3 MAC win over East Division rival Bowling Green.

The RedHawks also clinched a berth in the conference championship game against the West Division champion on Dec. 7 at Ford Field in Detroit.

First, though, they will wrap up the regular season with a game against their closest conference rival, the Ball State Cardinals, in Muncie on Friday at noon. The game in 22,500-seat Scheumann Stadium is the 33rd between two schools that are separated by just 70 miles and third in what recently was dubbed the Red Bird Rivalry with the winner earning possession of a traveling trophy.

Miami has won the last three games between the two teams and leads the series, 19-12-1.

Ball State (4-7, 3-4) has lost four straight MAC games after winning its first three. The last three Cardinal losses have been by a combined eight points, and they haven’t lost any game by more than 13 points.

Led by junior running back Caleb Huntley and fourth-year junior quarterback Drew Plitt, who won an Ohio Division II state championship with Loveland, the Cardinals rank second in the MAC with averages of 34.3 points and 452.4 yards of total offense per game. Huntley ranks fifth in the MAC with an average of 103.7 rushing yards per game.

“Plitt can beat you with his legs and his arm,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “He’s tough. They don’t throw it much because they run the ball so well.”

Ball State’s defense ranks 10thin the 12-team MAC with an average of 31.8 points allowed per game and ninth with an average of 438.2 yards of total offense allowed per game. The Cardinals are yielding an average of 252.1 passing yards per game, which ranks 11thin the conference.

“Their defense has made giant strides,” Martin said. “It used to be you had to outscore them. They’ve really improved their rush defense.

“Three weeks ago, they were 3-0,” he added. “They won at Northern Illinois and had just beaten Toledo, 52-14. They’ve had three close losses. A score here and a score there and they could be 5-1.”

Ball State’s roster also includes Chris Beech, a 6-foot-1, 289, fourth-year junior offensive lineman from Alter, and Mitch Larsen, a 5-11, 203-pound fourth-year junior safety from Fairfield.

Bester professed a preference for the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl, which is one of the six with which the MAC has ties. The others are the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Bowl, the Dollar General Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl and the Quick Lane Bowl if the Atlantic Coast Conference or Big Ten can’t fill a slot.

The matchups are based on the best possible games and geography. The MAC went into the week with six teams owning six or more wins.

Martin expects the RedHawks, who are riding a five-game winning streak, to be as healthy as they’ve been all season, especially with a couple of extra days between games. He was hopeful that fifth-year senior wide receiver Luke Mayock would be ready after missing the last two games. Junior safety Mike Brown returned for the Akron game after playing just the first two series against Bowling Green.

“We tried our best to keep Mike out, but he forced his way into the game,” Martin said. “He didn’t ask. He said, ‘I’m playing.’”

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