Ball State lost a game, not a season

Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson
DETROIT -- Ball State started the season with one clear goal -- a MAC championship.

It wasn't about going undefeated or possibly being a BCS buster. Dreams like those weren't even a thought for a team that was coming into the year fresh off a 7-6 season, the first winning campaign since 1996.

So when Ball State fell 42-24 to Buffalo in the MAC championship game, it was hard to keep a record-breaking season in focus, since the one thing the team had concentrated on was now gone.

"We've got to start again, we've got to start over," Ball State coach Brady Hoke said. "It's going to hurt for a little bit, I'll promise you, but our kids will bounce back and be resilient and start over again and get ready for what's next."

Taking the Cardinals into the next phase will be quarterback Nate Davis, who announced after the game that he was coming back for his senior season. There had been speculation most of the year that Davis would leave early for the NFL since many believe he could be a first-round draft pick. But Davis was adamant about getting Ball State back to this position again next year.

"I will come back, there's no doubt about it," Davis said. "That's been the plan. I've never thought about coming out."

Davis' promise to return could have been fueled by the fact that he had one of the shakiest games of his career on Friday. Although he completed 31 of 48 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown, he also had two fumbles that were run back for touchdown, an interception late in the game, and he was part of a team fumble that was a result of a botched snap.

Davis said the flu-like symptoms he experienced earlier in the day had no bearing on his performance.

"I made some dumb decisions," Davis said.

The Cardinals will have to wait until Sunday to find out which bowl will be their winter destination. It will either be the Motor City Bowl or the GMAC Bowl. The International Bowl offered Buffalo a bid after the game.

Motor City Bowl representative Ken Hoffman said the loss did not hurt Ball State's chances of playing in Detroit, but that the opponent would determine Ball State's destination.

It's at least one final opportunity to end the season on a high note and continue to an amazing season even if its course was slightly altered.

"If you look at the season, it speaks for itself," defensive end Brandon Crawford said. "We came out, did what was asked of us week in and week out. We competed in 12 games straight and we got to this 13th game and we had a bad game. It doesn't take away from, as far as our minds, what we worked at and what we've been working for. We just fell short and we can't do that. We understand what happened tonight. We understand that they capitalized off the mistakes we made... It's very disheartening, but at the same time, I feel that we pushed this program a long way from where it has been."