INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Brady Hoke has used the same mantra all season.
Forget about records, rankings or the excitement surrounding Ball State. Ignore the discussion about perfect seasons or rumors Hoke could be headed to another program next year. Just keep playing football.
Why change now?
With the 15th-ranked Cardinals still chasing a perfect season and a conference championship game bid Tuesday night, Hoke has reverted to the same, steady them to keep his players focused for their regular-season finale.
``Our goal has been to win the championship since we came here in 2003, so when we meet at the beginning of the year, we talk about our expectations and what investment we're going to make as a team,'' he said Monday. ``Believe me, it's been a conversation. But I like our team because of how they care about each other and how they play for each other, and that's what we're going to do on Tuesday.''
ot just another Senior Day at Ball State.
The Cardinals are 11-0 for the first time in school history, one win from reaching their first Mid-American Conference title game. They have been ranked seven consecutive weeks after never being ranked previously, are 15th in the BCS standings and remain among a handful of unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision - a list that does not even include perennial powers such as Florida, Oklahoma, Texas or Southern Cal.
Plus, there's still hope, albeit a longshot, they could sneak into position for a BCS bid.
But any chance of that must start by beating a Western Michigan squad that envisions pulling a major upset on national television.
``I think our kids are really excited about the game,'' Western coach Bill Cubit said. ``It will probably be the marquee matchup in our league, so it's good for our guys. I tell them all you can control is what you're doing, take care of business.''
For the Cardinals, this season has been all business.
They've won week after week despite playing a schedule designed to get them maximum exposure. Midweek games have become the norm, and last week's 31-24 victory at Central Michigan, the two-time defending league champs, was the highest-rated college football game ever shown by ESPN2 on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.
But the Cardinals are all about winning.
Ball State (11-0, 7-0) has not produced a perfect conference record since 1978, when Hoke played for the Cardinals.
And while emotions will be high as the teams says goodbye to a host of seniors, including receiver Dante Love, who sustained a career-ending spinal cord injury in September, most fans will show up expecting to see win No. 12.
The Cardinals, winners of seven straight home games, are 10 1/2-point favorites.
But Western Michigan could force a three-way tie atop the MAC West, and the Broncos (9-2, 6-1) could turn the game into their own audition for bowl representatives.
``I think it's good for the league,'' Cubit said. ``When you look at what the league has done, and I'm sure they didn't do it purposely, but they've got a lot of good matchups this week. For me, personally, I like it because it keeps the kids' attention.''
Hoke, however, hasn't wavered from his regular routine.
His biggest concern Tuesday is slowing down Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller, who leads the conference with 307.5 yards passing per game and 33 touchdowns.
``Tim's decision-making is something we're really impressed with as a staff,'' Hoke said. ``That's going to be a big challenge for us. We've got to play a lot tighter coverage than we have been if we're going to be successful.''
Cubit has other problems to contend with.
Ball State leads the conference in scoring offense and scoring defense, passing efficiency and passing defense efficiency and third-down conversions.
And he gave his team a much-needed two-day respite last week to help them heal and get a short mental break.
``I think they needed to get away and catch their breath,'' Cubit said.
Ball State doesn't have that luxury, not that Hoke's team needs it.
He simply wants Nate Davis, MiQuale Lewis and the rest of his Cardinals to continue doing what they've always done best - play football and ignore the rest.
``We have a lot of work to do,'' Hoke said. ``They have a tremendous offense. This is going to be a huge test for us.''

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