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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 112: Miami (Ohio)

Last year's mess made Woody Hayes, a former coach at Miami, roll over in his grave.

There’s something to be said for lowered expectations. If you fail, hey, don’t worry about it. No one thought you’d do anything worthwhile anyway. Have a cookie. If you succeed, however, watch out. You’re a hero! You did it, even when no one thought you could! If you overcome the odds and win, say, six games one year after going 1-11, people may even forget about the job you did in losing 11 games in the first place! What a country. This is Mike Haywood’s kind of place.

Conference
MAC, East

Location
Oxford, Ohio

Nickname
RedHawks

Returning starters
17 (9 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 101

2009 record
(1-11, 1-7)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 116

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 4
    at Florida
  • Sept. 11
    Eastern Michigan
  • Sept. 18
    Colorado St.
  • Sept. 25
    at Missouri
  • Oct. 2
    Kent St.
  • Oct. 9
    at Cincinnati
  • Oct. 16
    at Central Michigan
  • Oct. 23
    Ohio
  • Oct. 30
    at Buffalo
  • Nov. 10
    at Bowling Green
  • Nov. 17
    at Akron
  • Nov. 23
    Temple

Last year’s prediction

Similarly to Brady Hoke at San Diego State, Haywood will need to reverse this culture before the Hawks can be expected to return to being among the MAC’s elite. I have little doubt that Haywood can do this, but I don’t believe it will happen in 2009. believe Miami will be far better in MAC play, but will finish below .500 for the fourth consecutive season: 4-8, but 4-4 in the MAC. This record could increase with a non-conference upset or drop with an extra loss in conference play.

2009 recap

In a nutshell Among the low points of Mike Haywood’s inauspicious debut season at Miami: most losses in a single season (11); second-fewest points scored (187) since 1990; most points allowed (410) in school history; largest scoring differential (minus 223) in school history, as you’d imagine; the nation’s worst turnover margin; and the most sacks allowed (59). And that’s just the offense and the defense. This consistent inconsistency extended to the special teams, as Miami finished the season last in the country in kickoff returns, 118th in net punting, 75th in punt returns (not that bad, in comparison) and 93rd in punt return defense.

High point One-win seasons make this section pretty simple. A 31-24 win over Toledo was clearly the high point, even if less than 9,000 fans were present at Yager Stadium to bear witness. Since I’m a generous soul, I’ll include the two losses that came by less than 10 points: by five to Northern Illinois and by two to Temple.

Low point That Miami lost four games despite totaling more yardage than the opposition. The most egregious? A 29-19 loss at Kent State that came about despite a 552-yards output. Five turnovers will do that to you.

Tidbit Miami allowed 125 points before tallying a single point of its own in 2009. If you’d like to check my math, it goes 42 (a 42-0 loss to Kentucky) plus 48 (a 48-0 loss to Boise State) plus 35 (a 35-0 start to the Sept. 19 game at Western Michigan). The RedHawks joined the ranks of the scoring 157 minutes and 51 seconds into the season thanks to a 13-yard touchdown pass. And promptly had the extra point blocked.

Tidbit (ugly start edition) No Miami coach had ever lost more than seven games in his debut season prior to Haywood’s 11-loss rookie year in 2009. In fact, 12 of the previous 14 Miami coaches – all since the start of the modern era – had a winning record in their first season, and eight lost three or fewer games as a first-year coach. The six Miami coaches from 1951-82 (Ara Parseghian, John Pont, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, Dick Crum and Tom Reed) combined to lose 12 games in their first seasons.

Former players in the N.F.L.

6 OG Jacob Bell (St. Louis), S John Busing (Houston), TE Tom Crabtree (Green Bay), TE Jake O’Connell (Kansas City), P Jacob Richardson (Cincinnati), QB Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh).

Arbitrary top five list

Top coaches in school history
1. Woody Hayes. Later at Ohio State.
2. Ara Parseghian. Later at Notre Dame.
3. Bo Schembechler. Later at Michigan.
4. Sid Gillman. Later at Cincinnati and the N.F.L.
5. Bill Mallory. Later at Colorado and Indiana.

Coaching

Michael Haywood (Notre Dame ’86), 1-11 after one season. It’s never good to judge a rookie coach on the success – or the lack thereof – in his debut season. It’s far wiser to wait for a larger sample size before drawing a conclusion. Take this into account when I say this: The jury is still out on Haywood, but his first season was a disaster. That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s plenty of room for improvement. This is Haywood’s first head coach assignment on any level, though he brought a very impressive resume as an assistant on the F.B.S. level. This experience came at some of college football’s most prestigious programs (L.S.U., Texas, Notre Dame), and under some of the country’s top coaches. His latest assistant position came at Notre Dame, where he served as offensive coordinator under Charlie Weis from 2005-8. While Weis retained play-calling duties from the majority of that stretch, Haywood still earned the respect of his peers for the job he did reversing the run-based culture the new N.D. coaching staff faced upon their arrival. In 2005, the American Football Coaches Association named Haywood the F.B.S. Assistant Coach of the Year. In 2008, Weis granted Haywood control of Notre Dame’s play-calling duties; while this new status didn’t last the entire season — Weis eventually took it back — the Irish did average 103 more yards of offense per game than in 2007. Prior to his time with Notre Dame, Haywood served under two great college coaches in Mack Brown at Texas and Nick Saban at L.S.U. He coached the running backs at both stops, while also serving as special teams coordinator with the Tigers (1995-2002) and recruiting coordinator for the Longhorns (2003-4). Haywood brought big-time college coaching experience to Miami, as well as a reputation for being one of the nation’s most determined recruiters. Maybe last season was merely an example of a young, inexperienced coach attempting to radically remake a roster less talented than Miami teams of year’s past. Then again, maybe Haywood is in over his head.

Players to watch

An offense can only go as far as its line, as we all well know. The bad news for Miami is that last year’s offensive line wasn’t, well, very good. The RedHawks averaged only 70.1 yards per game on the ground and allowed 59 sacks — those numbers do the line’s performance in 2009 justice. The good news is that all five starters, as well as a handful of key reserves, return in 2009. The most experienced of this group is left tackle Brandon Brooks, who enters his junior season with 24 career starts, followed by senior left guard Bob Gulley, with 22 career starts. Two freshmen started all 12 games on the line in 2009: center Brad Bednar and right tackle Matt Kennedy. Such a group — two juniors (Gulley and right guard Nate Williams), a sophomore and two freshman — might have been a poor mix in 2009, but with another year in the system under their belts, this group could surprise in 2010.

Daniel Raudabagh entered the 2009 season as the incumbent starter, but then-redshirt freshman Zac Dysert took over under center four games into the year and never looked back, eventually posting five of the program’s top 25 passing performances in school history during his short, nine-game starting season. He was impressive, though his touchdown-to-interception ratio — 12 scores, 16 picks — needs improvement. Yet he was a freshman, after all, and such missteps are to be expected. There’s no doubting the talent. In his first career start, against Kent State, Dysert threw for 337 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another 107 yards, giving him the seventh-best single game performance (in terms of total yardage) in school history. That’s an auspicious debut. The key to Dysert’s development will be his avoiding the up-and-down performances that defined his rookie year: one week after throwing for three touchdowns against Temple, for instance, Dysert threw for no scores and three interceptions in a loss to Bowling Green.

Miami lost a few contributors at receiver, but return enough talented targets to speed along Dysert’s development. After leading the team with 67 receptions for 788  yards and 4 scores last fall, Armand Robinson will again be the leader of the receiver corps. Those totals eclipsed the senior’s previous career totals heading into 2009, as Robinson combined to make 49 receptions for 700 yards as a freshman and sophomore. He’s a contender for all-conference honors in his final season. Fellow senior Jamal Rogers finished second to Robinson in catches last year with 54; for his career, Rogers has 128 receptions for 1,329 yards. The RedHawks will also welcome back Chris Givens, who was lost for the season after suffering a shoulder injury against Boise State on the season’s second weekend.

The star of the defense is undoubtedly linebacker Jerrell Wedge, a player whose 2009 numbers, on a better team, would certainly have qualified him for conference defensive player of the year honors. On the year, Wedge posted a team-best 114 stops — his nine and a half tackles per game ranked fourth in the MAC — and a conference-leading 18.5 tackles for loss. He best performance came against the best team in the West division: against Ohio, Wedge totaled 12 tackles (4 for loss), 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He’s a monster; unfortunately, Miami’s lack of success on defense allows him to get lost in the shuffle. He’ll be joined at linebacker by Evan Harris (61 tackles) and DeAndre Gilmore (34 tackles), while Luke Kelly and Austin Moore will be the group’s top reserve.

The defensive line, on the other hand, is not in great shape. The line remains an extremely young group, as illustrated by the two-deep on the final weekend of the season: six freshman and a sophomore. The good news is that the majority of last season’s contributors return, obviously, though it would be wise to expect this inexperienced group to again struggle in 2010. While the starting lineup remains up for debate, sophomores Will Diaz and Mike Johns return at end, while fellow second-year players Wes Williams and Anthony Shoemaker will figure heavily in the mix for playing time. The two Browns — Jordain and Austin, no relation — return on the interior of the line, though D.J. Svabik, the lone senior aiming to start at tackle, will be counted on for major snaps in his final season.

As y0u’d expect from a defense that struggled so terribly against the run, free safety Anthony Kokol got plenty of a workout in 2009. Kokal finished the year with 105 tackles, second on the team, adding an interception. In a perfect world, Kokol — as a free safety — would make far fewer tackles while playing better against the pass (only two pass breakups on the year); however, it is comforting to know he is not unwilling to mix it up against the run, and he’s a solid last line of defense. He’ll be joined at safety by Jordan Gafford, the team captain, who missed four games last fall due to injury. He played well when healthy, however, finishing with 64 tackles and a sack. Gafford has a nose for the big play, as shown by his game-changing forced fumble against Toledo, which clinched Miami’s lone victory on the season. The RedHawks lost a pair of contributors at cornerback, but return starter Brandon Stephens. The team leader in interceptions with two, Stephens will likely be joined in the starting lineup by sophomore D.J. Brown, who made four starts in his debut season. Safety Justin Bowers will be a key secondary reserve after making 29 tackles as an injury replacement for Gafford in 2009.

Position battles to watch

Running back Talk about a lack of production. Miami received little from its stable of running backs in 2009, averaging 2.4 yards per carry as a team with a 32-yard carry constituting the longest run of the season. That’s not good. As one would expect, the position is up for grabs. The RedHawks return last year’s leading rusher, Thomas Merriweather, but the junior was pedestrian in 2009: 291 yards rushing and 3 scores, but only a 2.8 yards per carry average. As noted, Dysert can do a little while his legs, but it will key for Miami to find a lead ball-carrier before September. There are options. In addition to Merriweather, Haywood can call upon Roman Lawson, who had 70 yards rushing and 78 yards receiving a year ago; Miami also has Danny Green, who leads all returning running backs with a 4.2 yards per carry average in 2009. However, while Lawson and Green may see plenty of action, the ground game will continue to go through Merriweather, barring injury. He can get the job done — a better offensive line will help — as he showed in 2008, when he rushed for 547 yards.

Game(s) to watch

Road games against Buffalo and Akron. Before overtaking Ohio or Temple, the top two finishers in the East division in 2009, Miami should focus on leapfrogging past the two teams that finished ahead of them in the standings last fall.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell A handful of MAC programs aim to make rapid turnarounds in 2010, with Miami’s hopes hinging on the return of 17 starters, nine of the offensive side of the ball. This alone is reason to expect at least a moderate improvement. How much better can the RedHawks be? Clearly, even with monumental strides made on each side of the ball, Miami will not challenge a team like Temple for the West division crown. Such a turnaround — a division title, for instance — would be shocking; if it were to occur, Haywood would be a clear pick for conference coach of the year. (If Miami won, say, 10 games, he’d have my vote for national coach of the year.) But there are reasons to think Miami could surprise. The offensive line will be better, if only because of last season’s growing pains and the experience of spending another season in the system. The defense has a few play makers, such as Jerrell Wedge, though the unit was atrocious in 2009. However, if last season is any indication, Haywood’s rebuilding process will not take one season; the process will take at least two, and I expect Miami to again struggle finding its way in 2010. I’m not going to say I believe in Haywood’s ability to eventually return Miami to its historic place atop the MAC. However, I do think he deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least for one more season, as the RedHawks try to become more competitive in a top-heavy East division.

Dream season The ugliness of 2009 yields a pleasant 2010: 8-4, 7-1 in the MAC.

Nightmare season A slight improvement, but a 2-10 mark leaves Haywood 3-21 through two seasons.

In case you were wondering

Where do Miami (Ohio) fans congregate? There is an undisputed king of Miami football coverage: Miami Hawk Talk. As I’ve said in years past, the site is chock full of relevant information for every Miami sport, especially the football team. Which is good, because there aren’t very many other options for Miami chatter.

Up Next

Who is No. 111? This program shares its name with a Broadway show recently nominated for eight Tony Awards.

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Comments

  1. WagsLax9 says:

    my guess for #111:

    Nebraska

  2. Dr. Norris Camacho says:

    Oklahoma?

    But seriously, I think it’s Memphis.

  3. Mike says:

    I like Mike Haywood and I like the real Miami (OH). But what bothers me is the past season appeared to be so similar to ND’s 2007 season that I wonder if it is just a coincidence. I forget but ND didn’t score a TD until, I think the third game that year, (I don’t want to remember either). I sure hope – hope isn’t what is required is it. It didn’t work in South Bend. A .500 season is at best minimally acceptable if he expects to keep his job. It’s a tough world out there, time to sink or swim. That is all.

  4. Grumpy says:

    Woody Hayes the best coach in school history? No, and Hell No. In the list you presented he’s #4 at best.

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