‘We’re trying to get there’ -- Miami needs win over Ball State in finale to become bowl eligible

Two words.

Bowl bid.

That’s basically what’s on the line Tuesday when Miami closes out its regular season with a “Redbird Rivalry” matchup with the Ball State Cardinals – the Muncie, Ind., program closest to Miami geographically with roughly 70 miles separating the two schools – at Yager Stadium in Oxford. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Both teams are 5-6 overall and 3-4 in the Mid-American Conference – Ball State in the West Division, Miami in the East. Both teams are out of the running for berths in the MAC Championship Game, but a victory would leave the winner with the minimum number normally needed to qualify for one of the 43 post-season bowl games.

The RedHawks played last season in the Frisco (Texas) Football Classic, beating North Texas, 27-14, on December 23, 2021.

“We’ve got to do more things right than Ball State,” ninth-year Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “For our seniors, this is their last home game.

“We’re very similar. Ball State is as good as anybody in our league. We know they’ll be hungry. We’re excited.”

The “Redbird Rivalry” concept was conceived four years ago as a way of embellishing a neighborhood rivalry that dates back to a 1931 meeting in Oxford but didn’t truly gain momentum until Ball State joined the MAC in the mid-1970s. The two teams played annually from 1985 through 1998, but because of MAC expansion, Tuesday’s game will be only the 11th since 2000.

The Cardinals have lost two straight games and three of their last four, including a 32-18 home loss to East Division champion Ohio on Wednesday during which sophomore running back Carson Steele was injured. Steele remains the MAC’s rushing leader with an average of 125.1 yards per game, but his status for the Miami game remained uncertain.

Even if he was healthy, he would likely have found the going rough against a stingy RedHawks defense that leads the MAC with averages of 23.0 points and 124.0 total offense yards allowed per game.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals rank last in the 12-team MAC in rushing defense, allowing an average of 188.0 yards per game. Miami gains an average of 144.6 yards per game on the ground – seventh in the conference.

Redshirt-freshman Aveon Smith is projected to make his eighth start of the season at quarterback for Miami with fourth-year junior Brett Gabbert struggling with an ankle injury he suffered on the last play of the RedHawks’ 37-21 loss to Ohio on Nov. 8. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Smith ran for and passed for a combined 290 yards and three touchdowns in the RedHawks’ 29-23 win at Northern Illinois on Wednesday. The Lexington, S.C., native ranks second on the team with 419 rushing yards.

The RedHawks have won two of their last three games after losing two straight and three of four – all of them one-score outcomes. Six of Miami’s last eight games have been decided by one score, starting with the 17-14 non-conference win at Northwestern on Sept. 24.

Miami has won five of its last six games against Ball State and is hoping to qualify for the 14th bowl bid in program history and third in the last four years under Martin, who has coached more RedHawk games than any other coach in Miami history. Tuesday’s game will be is 103rd, four more than Randy Walker.

“We’re trying to get there,” Martin said.

TUESDAY’S GAME

Ball State at Miami, 7 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 1450

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