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 Brady Hoke decided to turn Ball State's debut in The Associated Press Top 25 into a history lesson.
``I told them in 1997 Michigan was the 17th ranked team in preseason and ended up winning the national championship,'' Hoke said. ``In 1998 Michigan was picked preseason No. 1 and lost their first two football games.''
The message: that prosperity is fickle and fleeting, so forgive the sixth-year head coach if he's not turning Ball State's best start since 1965 into proof the Cardinals (6-0) have arrived.
``Winning is so fragile in this business and I think our kids have been focused at the task at hand,'' Hoke said. ``I can't speak for a lot of 18-23 year-olds, but they know what is important and what our goals are.''
Namely, making sure Ball State's appearance among the nation's elite isn't a cameo. The Cardinals travel to Western Kentucky (2-4) on Saturday trying to keep the same mind-set that's brought them so far, so fast.
don't mean anything,'' he said. ``It is where you end up at the end of the year. If you make your goals and ... if you can match them then you will be successful.''
Times have rarely been so good for the Cardinals, who have overcome the loss of wide receiver Dante Love to a career-ending spinal injury on Sept. 20 against Indiana to become the breakout team in the muddled Mid-American Conference.
Love has been steadily improving since taking a head-on hit during the Cardinals' 42-20 win over the Hoosiers. He underwent surgery the day after the game and Hoke said Love could be released from the hospital soon.
Even without their emotional leader, the Cardinals have thrived. Briggs Orsbon has become quarterback Nate Davis' new go-to receiver and Ball State hasn't missed a step offensively, though Hoke is quick to point out that while the Cardinals' record is perfect, the team is not. Ball State started slowly in a 31-0 win over Toledo last week before coming to life in the second half.
Hoke wouldn't call it a wake-up call, though he said his team has to be plenty wary of WKU.
``They have probably played the hardest schedule as anyone in this country,'' he said.
bdivision to the FBS and will be a full-fledged member of the Sun Belt Conference next year.
Western Kentucky has already played at No. 2 Alabama, No. 18 Virginia Tech, Kentucky and Indiana. They've gone 0-4 in those games, but have shown signs of progress and are eager for a chance to show off renovated Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium, which has undergone a $49 million facelift as part of the program's move to college football's top level.
The move, however, hasn't been without its growing pains. Sophomore quarterback K.J. Black, who won the starting job over David Wolke during training camp, was granted a release from his scholarship earlier this week after losing the job back to Wolke following the Kentucky loss on Sept. 27.
Last week Virginia Tech defensive end Orion Martin claimed the Hilltoppers played dirty during Tech's 27-13 win, an accusation coach David Elson brushed aside.
Still, things could get testy on Saturday. The Hilltoppers hung tough against the Cardinals last year before falling 35-12. Hoke said afterwards that the Hilltoppers had played ``on the fringe,'' though Elson said he doesn't think there will be a problem.
The bigger problem for the Hilltoppers will be finding a way to slow down Davis, who threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns in last year's game. He is ninth in the country in pass efficiency and 17th in total offense.

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