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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. 83: Miami (Ohio)

Top floor, please. Express, no stops. Miami (Ohio) took the elevator from the basement to the penthouse, eschewing the ladder-style stops that accompany such a massive rebuilding project: from one win to four, to six, to eight, to 10. It was done in one fell swoop, not just revitalizing an extremely proud program but also granting a measure of respectability to a coach who had more than just a few detractors after his 1-11 debut. It turned out that Mike Haywood did know what he was doing after all, and he wisely parlayed his newfound respect into a B.C.S. conference promotion – it didn’t last long, but Haywood did get the call. Unfortunately, he was not afforded a mulligan: there’s no coming back once you walk out that door, and in Don Treadwell, his replacement, Miami rapidly identified a coach with the background and experience needed to keep this program pointing upwards.

Conference
MAC, East

Location
Oxford, Oh.

Nickname
RedHawks

Returning starters
15 (6 offense, 9 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 112

2010 record
(10-4, 7-1)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 36

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    at Missouri
  • Sept. 17
    at Minnesota
  • Sept. 24
    Bowling Green
  • Oct. 1
    Cincinnati
  • Oct. 8
    Army
  • Oct. 15
    at Kent St.
  • Oct. 22
    at Toledo
  • Oct. 29
    Buffalo
  • Nov. 3
    Akron
  • Nov. 9
    at Temple
  • Nov. 16
    Western Michigan
  • Nov. 22
    at Ohio

Last year’s prediction

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.) 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.

2010 recap

In a nutshell So Miami beat only two winning teams all season. Who cares? Regardless of the manner with which Miami went from 1-11 to 10-4, whether the RedHawks feasted on the weak, whether the RedHawks were still outscored on the season – that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we witnessed one of the most unbelievable, unpredictable, unforeseeable one-year turnarounds in the history of college football, and that’s no understatement. Just think back to how bad this team was in Haywood’s debut season: completely uncompetitive. And then think about how low the expectations were heading into 2010, even from the most optimistic slice of the fan base: maybe seven wins, if you were in a good mood, but no one saw the RedHawks going from the bottom to the top of the MAC so quickly. This is why they play the games, of course. Past Miami teams have been better, but no one team made fans as happy – that’s what an unbelievable, unpredictable and unforeseeable one-year turnaround will do.

High point Miami made major waves down the stretch, moving from a spotty 7-4 to a stronger 10-4. A 23-3 win over Temple on Nov. 23, in conjunction with an Ohio loss, gave the RedHawks the MAC East crown. Two weeks later, a late score gave Miami a 26-21 win against Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. N.I.U.’s defensive alignment on the game-winning play remains a mystery.

Low point Miami had played four good teams through mid-November and lost each by substantial margins, lending some credence to the early belief that while a nice story, this team wasn’t very good. That all changed down the stretch, of course. The four losses came to Florida, Missouri, Cincinnati and Ohio, and each came by at least three touchdowns.

Tidbit Six new Miami coaches have degrees from the university, if we include the two graduate assistants. That’s a whole lot. Treadwell is one, of course, but he’s joined by the following, in chronological order by date degree received: linebackers coach Jay Peterson, tight ends and running backs coach Mike Bath, defensive line coach Matt Edwards and graduate assistants Jared Elliott and Eli Wicklund.

Tidbit (turnarounds edition) How impressive was Miami’s turnaround in 2010? Well, the RedHawks became the first team in F.B.S. history to win 10 games one year after losing 10, which tells you all you need to know. Miami was also the first MAC team to go from the conference cellar to conference champs in the span of one season since Kent State did so from 1971-72. This was also the seventh double-digit win Miami team in program history, joining teams from 1973 (11-0), 1974 (10-0-1), 1975 (11-1), 1998 (10-1) and 2003 (13-1). The RedHawks ended the year with a six-game winning streak, which would have tied a program-high for wins in a season since 2006.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) It’s that time again. Here’s how it works: I give you a quiz question; you become the first person to answer the question; you win the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of your favorite team when it appears on the Countdown. Get it? Good. Here’s the question:

A two-part question. First: Miami’s nine-win turnaround from 2009-10 tied an F.B.S. record. Which team did Miami tie, in what year, with what record and with which coach? Second: Can you name Miami’s previous best single-season turnaround, with the year, the record and the coach?

Teams already spoken for: Texas (Burnt Orange), Pittsburgh (htp2012), Iowa (M Meyer).

Former players in the N.F.L.

4 OG Jacob Bell (St. Louis), TE Tom Crabtree (Green Bay), TE Jake O’Connell (Kansas City), QB Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh).

Arbitrary top five list

2010′s most surprising double-digit win teams
1. Miami (Ohio), 10-4.
2. Michigan State, 11-2.
3. Hawaii, 10-4.
4. Northern Illinois, 11-3.
5. Missouri, 10-3.

Coaching

Don Treadwell (Miami ’82), entering his first season. He inherits an enviable situation, though one fraught with the chance for disaster. On one hand, Treadwell takes over a program on the up-and-up, thanks to the miraculous rebuilding job done by his predecessor. The pieces are in place for continued success, which is rare for a first-year coach. On the other hand, the benchmark for success has been set, and Treadwell could go .500 for three years and still be viewed as a bit of a disappointment. He comes back to his alma mater from Michigan State, where he spent the last four seasons as Mark Dantonio’s offensive coordinator. Treadwell earned very well-deserved praise for the work he did as Michigan State’s interim coach last fall when Dantonio missed several games with health issues, leading the Spartans through a difficult stretch and keeping the team on pace for an 11-win finish. His ties to Dantonio go back another two years, from 2005-6, when he was his offensive coordinator at Cincinnati. Treadwell has been all over the coaching, from the F.C.S. — where he coached under Jim Tressel at Youngstown State — to the MAC, A.C.C., Big East and Big Ten. He’s been a coordinator at Boston College (1997-98) and Ball State (2003-4) in addition to his work under Dantonio, and has even worked at Miami; from 1992-93, he was the RedHawks’ running backs coach and receivers coach. So his experience is extensive, and while he has only spent that short span last fall as a head coach, he impressed enough to more than deserve this opportunity. The pieces are there but the standards are high, so while Treadwell has the talent to deliver he cannot afford not to do so. But the stakes are the same everywhere; Treadwell merely must do so from the start.

Players to watch

There’s still no sign of which quarterback Treadwell will use, but he’s in an enviable situation: Zac Dysert can start, as can Austin Boucher, and you couldn’t fault the first-year coach for going with either option. Dysert was the starter in 2009 and for much of 2010 – he threw for 2,406 yards and 13 scores last fall – ceding the job to Boucher after suffering an injury against Bowling Green. Boucher delivered despite his youth, leading Miami to a 4-0 stretch to end the year. So who’s it going to be in 2011? Both can and should play, but all signs do point towards Dysert reclaiming his role come September. This is probably the right move: Dysert is the better passer, and his early struggles with interceptions should resolve itself as he gains more experience. Regardless, Boucher is a terrific second option. Many, many teams in the F.B.S. are envious of what Miami has under center.

Whether it’s Dysert or Boucher might not matter all that much when considering two factors: one, both have proven themselves to be solid college quarterbacks; and two, both would have a very nice receiver corps to work with. There is some turnover here, however, as the RedHawks lost leading pass-catcher Armand Robinson. His shoes will be filled by sophomore Nick Harwell – if he didn’t already become the team’s top target over the second half of 2010. It must have taken Harwell a few weeks to get used to the college game, but once the light turned on, look out: Harwell made at least five grabs in seven of his last eight games and posted at least 62 yards receiving in seven of his last eight, becoming in the span of two months one of the most electric receivers in the MAC. So this is his receiver corps now, and look for him to pick up right where he left off in early January.

Harwell is far from the only option. Miami can probably go five or six deep at the position, which should more than allow Treadwell to maintain the three-receiver sets that worked so well a year ago. Senior Chris Givens (26 catches for 385 yards) also had a strong finish to 2010, making a key grab in the MAC title game win and posting another 4 catches for 60 yards and a score in the New Orleans Bowl. Another senior, DeMarco Paine (32 for 270), is more steady than flashy, but he’s a fine secondary option. Most of junior Andrew Cruse’s damage in 2010 came against Central Michigan, but he did show in that win – 179 yards of damage – just what kind of mismatches his size can present. Even without Robinson, this receiver corps will continue to hum along.

The offensive line continues to be a concern, though pay attention to how well this group played over the final month of 2010; the running game improved along with the line, which was a huge factor behind Miami’s strong finish. All told, however, the line was a disappointment: about 90 yards per game on the ground and spotty pass protection. The line’s strength is on the left side, where undersized junior tackle Matt Kennedy joins all-MAC guard Brandon Brooks. Kennedy found a home at blind side tackle midway through the year after being misused – thanks to his lack of size – on the right side; Brooks was hobbled during the spring but should be fine.

Center will open up if Brad Bednar moves outside from center, where he’s started the first 26 games of his career. I’m not sure if that’s a great move: Bednar seems comfortable at center, and the RedHawks could always stay with sophomore Josh Harvey out at tackle. If the decision is to move Bednar to tackle, Harvey would move inside and challenge an inexperienced option like Jeff Tanner for the starting nod. Continuing the game of dominoes that would follow Bednar’s move, JoJo Williams would then take over at center.

The linebacker corps is the best in the MAC, and senior Jerrell Wedge is a top three linebacker in the MAC. Wedge is a top defender in the MAC, in fact, and the headliner on a defense that took a substantial step forward a year ago. Nine starters return, but none bigger than Wedge, the team-leader in tackles (101) and tackles for loss (15) a year ago. The only question surrounding Wedge – as his talent and production is unquestioned – is where he’ll play, whether on the strong side or in the middle. I like him more outside, where he’ll have more freedom in space, but one thing is clear: no matter where Wedge lines up, he’s going to make plays. Evan Harris (94 tackles, 9.5 for loss, team-best 6 picks) is a bit overshadowed by Wedge, but as those numbers indicate, he’s a player. Health is a concern for senior Ryan Kennedy, who missed eight games a year ago, but his ability to produce is not in doubt – he just needs to stay on the field. In six games in 2010, Kennedy made 35 tackles (8.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks.

You don’t question the talent or the heart of Miami’s two sophomore cornerbacks, Dayonne Nunley and Demetrius Quarles. And you don’t question the production, either: Nunley tied Harris for the team lead with six interceptions, and Quarles made 28 stops in a reserve role last fall. But you do wonder about the pair’s lack of height – both are about 5’8 – especially against some of the bigger receiver corps on Miami’s schedule. Again, you can’t doubt the talent, but that’s something to watch. That pair, along with junior D.J. Brown, constitute the heart of Miami’s team of cornerbacks.

Strong safety Jordan Gafford’s departure means junior Pat Hinkle will move over from free safety, where he made 72 tackles and 3 interceptions in 2010. It’s not an altogether difficult move, and one that Hinkle, with his size, should be able to make with relative ease. But it does open up a hole at free safety, which the RedHawks hope to fill with part-time starting strong safety Anthony Kokal (39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 interception).

Looking for one statistic to explain Miami’s defensive turnaround from 2009-10? It’s simple, really: from 14 sacks to 35. That propelled the RedHawks up 102 spots nationally, from 114th to 12th, and goes a long way towards explaining how each level of the defense seemed to improve in 2010. And as we know, a good line leads to a good linebacker corps, which in turn leads to a good front seven, which in turn leads to a stout run defense, which in turn leads to a solid pass rush, which in turn leads to an improved secondary. It’s all connected.

Most of the line is back this fall, making a repeat of last year’s numbers a distinct possibility. There are two all-MAC level performers here, one inside and one outside: the first is junior tackle Austin Brown (53 tackles, 10.5 for loss); joining him is junior end Jason Semmes (48 tackles, 6 sacks). Brown’s ability to stand up against the run and be a disruptor in the backfield makes him absolutely invaluable. It also makes senior Jordain Brown’s job easier on the nose: all he has to do is occupy blockers, leaving Brown, Semmes and other linemen free to make plays. Junior Mike Johns could also start on the nose, but Brown started over the final two months of 2010.

Semmes, a former Iowa transfer, is certainly the most consistent producer at end. But he might not be the end with the largest potential for the big play: that looks like senior Will Diaz (12 tackles, 3 sacks), who has the best combination of pure pass rushing skills on the team. Junior C.J. Marick moved down from linebacker, where he made 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks last fall, and will battle fellow junior Wes Williams for the starting role opposite Semmes.

Position battle(s) to watch

Running backs Miami finished 113th nationally in rushing last fall even with Thomas Merriweather, though the paltry numbers are also thanks to an offensive line that never found a rhythm, as noted above. The RedHawks lost a challenger to fill his shoes withe the loss of Tracy Woods, a would-be sophomore whose 376 yards on the ground was good for second on the team last fall. His departure, along with Merriweather’s, leaves Miami without any one back with significant game experience. The only back with any experience, in fact, is junior Danny Green (41 yards), though he’s made a far bigger impact thus far as a return man. Senior Tyrone Jones, a former walk-on who began his career on defense, could be more of a big-play threat than Green but does not have the size to be a every-down back. So the task of beefing up this ground game might fall to a pair of redshirt freshmen, Willie Culpepper and Orne Bey, both of whom joined the team along with Woods but did not see time a year ago. Like Jones, however, both are on the smaller side.

Game(s) to watch

Three B.C.S. conference foes in non-conference play, same as in 2010. There’s also Army, which is a harder challenge than Colorado State, which rounded out the non-conference slate from a year ago. Miami’s quest for a MAC repeat will hinge on how it fares in three very tough road games: Toledo, Temple and Ohio. The schedule is tougher.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell What do you do for an encore after such a magical season? You win 11 games, of course. This team will lose 11 games before it wins 11, in my mind, though not to say that Miami doesn’t have the pieces in place to repeat as the MAC East and overall MAC champs. But I think we’ll see a step back in the win column under the first-year coach, most notably because of a schedule that’s far more imposing than the cakewalk that allowed Miami to leap to 10 wins a year ago. There are four very tough games in non-conference play; I think the RedHawks will go winless outside of MAC play, though Army is certainly beatable. Then there’s the fact that Miami gets three of the MAC’s best on the road – just as of today, I’m seeing at least six losses right off the bat, and thanks to a conference that won’t have quite as many weakling as it did last fall, the potential is there for more. And there’s the matter of pulling out close games: Miami won six games by a touchdown or less last fall, needing a fourth quarter score to win all but one, and that’s a concern. Why? Because the RedHawks aren’t creeping up on anyone in 2011; the MAC has its sites set on taking down the defending champs, and Miami had better be ready for every opponent’s best shot. Then there’s the first-year coach, one who won’t tinker with that much but who is sure to undergo the sharp curve associated with his first head coach position – though last fall’s experience at Michigan State will benefit Treadwell greatly. Now, this team is not any less talented in the least – though there are those continued issues up front and in the running game – so it’s not going to fall off the face of the map. But getting back to bowl play might be tougher than most expect.

Dream season Though not quite as surprising, the RedHawks return to the top of the MAC with a 9-3 finish, 7-1 in conference play.

Nightmare season Miami slides back from a MAC title to also-ran status: 3-9, 2-6.

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.

Word Count

Through 38 teams 104,528.

Up Next

Who is No. 82? The acronym for tomorrow’s university might also stand for an obsolete European currency.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Redwolf4life says:

    East Carolina University is next then. European Currency Unit.

    Paul: You’re right, but I was thinking the ecu, a defunct former French currency. Went the way of the monarchy during French Revolution.

  2. NUwildcat09 says:

    Miami’s turnaround tied the record set by the 1999 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors under June Jones when they went from an 0-12 under Fred von Appen the previous year to 9-4. The second-best turn around by the RedHawks was in 1977 when they went from 3-8 to 10-1 under Dick Crum. If right, I will take the Northwestern Fighting Methodists!

    Paul: Winner. I’ve reserved Northwestern for you.

  3. Matt Farren says:

    Down with the RedHens
    Go OHIO!

  4. wildcat6 says:

    Good job NUwildcat09 and congratulations. I’ll look forward to your preview.

  5. [...] Myerberg also has a the countdown thing going on, focusing the other day on Miami of Ohio and the Cradle of Coaches who appear at #83 on his list. Myerberg’s [...]

  6. Chaz says:

    Boucher is actually left-handed so when Kennedy moved to LT, he actually wasn’t always protecting the blind side.

  7. Robert says:

    Really enjoy your analyses–even this one–though I’m a Miami grad and fan, and while I agree with many of your points, I disagree with your conclusion on Miami. With 17 starters and two proven QBs back, your assessment of Miami’s likely standing in the MAC seems harsh. Yes, last year’s team got some breaks–it’s football. But MU fans are weary of hearing about how lucky Miami was to beat NIU. Yes, a tipped pass on 4th down enabled them to continue the game-winning drive. But when that drive began, the stats were dead even, so one pass can’t account for their performance. Second, they throttled Temple–in every respect…rushing, passing, TOP, stats. They’ll have a tough go again this year against Missouri and UC, but they’ll play better against both and could certainly beat both Minn and Army. The major improvement last year from 2010 was attitude. If this year’s team continues on that path, they’ll be very respectable.

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