MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) -Ball State has been ranked in the Top 25 less than three weeks now, and coach Brady Hoke already has perfected his response to the inevitable questions accompanying the Cardinals' rise among the nation's college football elite.
No, the ranking isn't important, he says. No, he has no vote and no control in the BCS standings that determine major postseason bowl consideration. No, it's way too soon to think of anything besides his only stated goal, which is winning the Mid-American Conference championship.
``I think we've made strides, I think we've made progress in the program,'' Hoke says. ``You can't evaluate anything you do until it's done, so we're in the midst of evaluation. We've got the teeth of our schedule coming up, and it's awfully challenging, starting this Saturday. So we'll see when it's done.''
off to their best start since 1965.
Ball State already has enough wins to qualify for a bowl game, even without star receiver, Dante Love, whose career ended with a spinal injury against Indiana five weeks ago. Strong-arm quarterback Nate Davis is still finding a flock of other receivers and MiQuale Lewis is among the nation's leaders in rushing, giving the Cardinals a two-pronged offense averaging 37.4 points a game.
And with last week off, Ball State had time to heal some bumps and bruises and to refocus its objectives.
``As a team, we evaluated where we're at and what we need to do better,'' Hoke said. ``We went back to work on some of those things, fundamentals, techniques. ... Right now, we've played well enough and prepared well enough to win to this point. Now we'll see if we're mature enough, if we have the leadership enough to keep those wins going.''
Davis, only a junior but already Ball State's career passing leader in yards and touchdowns, is ninth in the nation in passing efficiency this season and has thrown for at least one TD in 23 of 24 games since 2006. Lewis, also a junior, has rushed for at least 100 yards in six straight games and is fourth in the nation in scoring (11.1 points a game) and eighth in rushing (130.6 yards).
``We're going to have to do a much better job fundamentally,'' Eastern coach Jeff Genyk said of the Eagles' defense against the Cardinals.
Lewis is a very good back. And regardless of what type of offense you run, if you can run the ball in the interior part of your offense, that's all you'll do. So we've got to do a great job of doing anything we can to stop the run to unfortunately force Nate Davis to pass, which is obviously not very easy to defend either.''
Leading the Eastern Michigan defense is senior linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw, who is averaging 9.5 tackles this season and leads the nation with 406 career tackles. Eagles quarterback Andy Schmitt passed for 258 yards and three touchdowns in last week's 42-35 loss to Akron.
``You look at the tape last week against Akron ... they've got a good team, they've got a good system,'' Hoke said. ``They've got good players, they've got skilled players.''

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