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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. 87: Miami (Ohio)

Two years ago, Miami scored 21.6 points and allowed 23.2 points per game. Last fall, Miami scored 21.3 points and allowed 22.9 points per game. In 2010, the RedHawks averaged 352.0 yards of offense per game; that total jumped to 372.9 yards a year ago. Mike Haywood’s last defense allowed 338.2 yards per game while Don Treadwell’s first allowed 363.7 – a jump, but not a huge jump, and one certainly in the realm of inflation given how MAC offenses moved forward as a whole in 2011. So given how statistically similar last year’s team was to the 2010 squad that made an unforeseeable leap to the top of the MAC, how was it that Treadwell’s debut ended with only four wins? Two factors: the schedule and an inability to win close games. Miami couldn’t control the former; the latter was likely a result of a first-year head coach learning his new gig on the fly.

Conference
MAC, East

Location
Oxford, Oh.

Nickname
RedHawks.

Returning starters
16 (8 offense, 8 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 83

2011 record
(4-8, 3-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 94

2012 schedule

  • Sept. 1
    at Ohio St.
  • Sept. 8
    Southern Illinois
  • Sept. 15
    at Boise St.
  • Sept. 22
    UMass
  • Sept. 29
    at Akron
  • Oct. 6
    at Cincinnati
  • Oct. 13
    at Bowling Green
  • Oct. 27
    Ohio
  • N0v. 3
    at Buffalo
  • Nov. 10
    Kent St.
  • Nov. 17
    at Central Mich.
  • Nov. 23
    Ball St.

Last year’s prediction

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. 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.

2011 recap

In a nutshell Miami’s best football might have come over the year’s first four and last three games – seven games that the RedHawks would lose, as a matter of fact. While Miami would win four of five from October through early November, the four victories came against teams that would combine to win 11 games on the season: Army, Kent State, Buffalo and Akron. Good teams beat bad teams; great teams beat good teams. So Miami wasn’t a great team: Miami was a fairly good team, however, albeit one that struggled getting in the win column against the stronger teams on its MAC and non-conference schedule. The eight losses included three against B.C.S. conference competition, another four against MAC opposition that would reach postseason play and only one, to Bowling Green, against a MAC foe that would fail to reach postseason eligibility. You need to win non-conference games to go 10-4, as Miami did two years ago. To reach bowl eligibility, Miami needs to take care of business during conference play. Last year’s team was close to getting there.

High point The RedHawks hung very tight with Missouri and Minnesota, losing by a combined 17 points, which did seem to bode well for Miami’s fortunes once the calendar turned to MAC play. The RedHawks would open with three conference wins in five tries, moving their record to 4-5 after the first Thursday of November.

Low point Needing two wins to become bowl eligible, Miami would lose three straight to cap the regular season. Not that the MAC made it easy on the RedHawks; they closed at Temple, home for Western Michigan and at Ohio. Miami made a game of each, losing to the Owls, Broncos and Bobcats by three, three and seven points, respectively.

Tidbit After going 7-0 in games decided by 12 points or less in 2010, Miami stumbled to 2-5 in such games a season ago. There’s your difference between nine wins heading into bowl play and an early winter vacation. The RedHawks hadn’t lost five or more games by 12 points or less in a season since 2006, when they lost seven such games during Shane Montgomery’s second year with the program.

Tidbit (MAC dominance edition) With Temple gone for the Big East, Miami now holds a winning record against every current team in the MAC minus Massachusetts; the two will meet for the first time on Sept. 22, when the Minutemen travel to Oxford. Miami has dominated five teams: Akron (15-5-1), Bowling Green (42-21-5), Buffalo (12-2), Eastern Michigan (17-4) and Kent State (46-13). Another two series are relatively one-sided: Ohio (51-35-2) and Western Michigan (37-19-1). Another four teams are within six games of reaching .500 against the RedHawks: Ball State (16-10), Central Michigan (12-10-1), Northern Illinois (8-7) and Toledo (28-22-1).

Former players in the N.F.L.

5 OG Brandon Brooks (Houston), TE Tom Crabtree (Green Bay), WR Chris Givens (New Orleans), TE Jake O’Connell (Kansas City), QB Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh).

Arbitrary top five list

MAC quarterbacks, 2001-11 (career started post-2000)
1. Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio).
2. Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan.
3. Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois.
4. Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo.
5. Tim Hiller, Western Michigan.

Coaching

Don Treadwell (Miami ’82), 4-8 after his first season. Miami won six fewer games than in Mike Haywood’s final season, but as noted earlier, there was not much chance that Treadwell — or even Haywood — was going to match 2010’s success. Treadwell knew he was inheriting an enviable situation, though one fraught with the chance for disaster. On one hand, Treadwell took over a program on the up-and-up, thanks to the miraculous rebuilding job done by his predecessor. 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 came back to his alma mater from Michigan State, where he spent 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 in 2010 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 map, 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 was extensive, and while he had only spent that short span in 2010 as a head coach, he impressed enough to more than deserve this opportunity. Miami’s not rebuilding, but Treadwell still has some work to do in order to lead the RedHawks back to the top of the MAC East.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Treadwell shuffled duties among his six returning staff members to make up for the loss of three assistants. Defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis left for the same position at Florida Atlantic; quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher left for the same position at Penn State; and in April, special teams and recruiting coordinator Zak Willis left the program. The shuffling begins with linebackers coach Jay Peterson, who replaces Rekstis. Co-defensive line coach Matt Edwards will coach the linebackers and serve as Miami’s special teams coordinator. The other former co-defensive line coach, Nick Siatras, will handle line duties on his own while coordinating Miami’s recruiting efforts. Wide receivers and tight ends coach Mike Bath will coach the quarterbacks.

The new members of Miami’s staff: offensive line coach Ed Stults, who once held the same spot at Ball State; defensive backs coach Ron Carpenter, an all-conference safety as a player at Miami who comes over from Indiana; and a wide receivers coach to be named later. It was reported in mid-May that Valparaiso defensive coordinator Robert Lee was joining Miami, but the university has not announced any additions to Treadwell’s staff. Seeing that the RedHawks need a wide receivers coach, Lee would be a strange choice.

Players to watch

He was tentative, wobbly and prone to mental errors as a freshman. He was improved as a sophomore, cutting down on his turnovers and throwing for at least 221 yards in five straight MAC games before missing the year’s final four games due to injury. As a junior, he put together one of the finest statistical seasons by a quarterback in program history. Steady, steady progress – the sort of by-the-book improvement seen in countless quarterbacks who are thrown into the mix early yet are better for it as an upperclassman.

Zac Dysert enters his senior season within striking distance of Ben Roethlisberger’s school record for passing yards in a career; barring injury, he’ll surpass the finest quarterback in school history in early November. Heading into 2012, Dysert ranks third in the F.B.S. in career passing yards (8,350), second in completions per game (22.5), fourth in touchdowns (48), third in completion percentage (64.1) and second in attempts (1,192). He threw for at least 215 yards in 10 of 12 games last fall; he cracked the 300-yard mark seven times, including in each of Miami’s last three games.

This is a way to make two points: Dysert is an extremely underrated quarterback not just in the MAC but also nationally – he’s also underrated in the history of this program, though that might change as he continues his climb in Miami’s record book. Dysert is also growing better and better with every week, lending credence to the idea that he’s due for yet another step forward during his senior season. Where does he need to improve? Dysert still needs to cut down on his turnovers: he threw at least two picks in three MAC games. In addition – and this is related to his turnovers – Dysert needs to do a slightly better job taking what’s given to him rather than forcing the action. These are small tweaks, not big-picture changes. There are several quality quarterbacks in the MAC; Dysert might be the best of them all.

You can turn out the lights, pump up the volume, wet the field and scuff up the football, but it won’t matter: Dysert’s going to find junior receiver Nick Harwell. Harwell took on a key role in Miami’s passing game midway through his freshman season, which he closed with 62 receptions over his last eight games, and jumped straight into the void atop the depth chart as a sophomore with a breakout, all-conference season. Last fall, Harwell made 97 receptions for 1,462 yards – both totals good for second in the MAC – in 11 games, missing the season opener following a violation of team rules. He enters 2012 hotter than any receiver in college football: Harwell made 47 receptions for 647 yards and 7 scores over Miami’s last five games.

Harwell could be an all-American in 2012, though he’ll have a tough time leapfrogging past those B.C.S. conference receivers with a higher profile but a smaller impact between the white lines. With the way he and Dysert are progressing, there’s no reason why Harwell can’t post a 100-grab, 1,500-yard junior campaign. The RedHawks need to find a replacement for Chris Givens, a steady second option as a senior, but have a number of returning contributors. Senior Andrew Cruse (43 catches for 391) and sophomore Dawon Scott (20 for 424) will join Harwell in the starting lineup on a permanent basis after combining to make 12 starts last fall. The RedHawks also return a promising sophomore in David Frazier (28 for 259) and used converted running back Willie Culpepper, another sophomore, at the position during the spring.

Miami’s offensive line can’t protect the quarterback or pave the way for the RedHawks to taste any success on the ground. Outside of those two facts, everything is rosy up front. But the line should be a little better in 2012 despite losing senior right guard Brandon Brooks, a three-time all-MAC selection. The reason for any projected improvement comes in part thanks to the development of two true sophomores on the left side of the line. After taking their lumps as rookies, left tackle Zach Lewis and left guard Marcus Matthews – he started the last eight games of 2011 at guard – should have an easier go of things as second-year contributors.

Lewis moves over to left tackle as a replacement for senior Brad Bednar, who will supplant Brooks at right guard. Senior JoJo Williams returns at center, leaving only right tackle still up for debate: Miami can go with either Josh Harvey or Andrew Muller, both juniors. More important than the starting lineup is Miami’s quest for a more physical mentality in the running game. The RedHawks’ inability to get a push at the line of scrimmage isn’t a new thing; it’s lasted through several coaching staffs, and the program’s consistent rushing woes is one of the most illogical and unexplainable deficiencies in college football. Will the light turn on in 2012? Greater experience might help, but pardon me if I take a wait-and-see approach.

One week, this defense would be outstanding – the group opened strong against Missouri, for example, and had two or three nice performances during MAC play. One week later, however, and Miami’s defense would fail to do anything right: get stops on first down, limit the big play, get to the quarterback, what have you. The key heading into 2012 will be to lessen the dips, like those taken against Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan, and become a more cohesive and consistent unit. The RedHawks must do so while serving under a new defensive coordinator, though it does help that Peterson, last year’s linebackers coach, knows the roster and this system.

Peterson is given some talent to work with up front, where Miami returns the majority of last season’s two-deep. The lone starter that must be replaced is end C.J. Marck, though he lost his grip on the starting role in November. Marck’s replacement, senior Luke Kelly (24 tackles, 2.5 for loss), enters the summer second on the depth chart at end behind junior Wes Williams, who started the first three games of last season before suffering a season-ending leg injury. Kelly will be a nice reserve at end behind Williams and senior Jason Semmes (42 tackles, 4.5 sacks) – the latter is a clear all-MAC candidate heading into his final season.

Miami also returns three-fourths of last year’s interior rotation, including starters Austin Brown (33 tackles, 8.5 for loss) and Mike Johns (23 tackles, 6.5 for loss). Junior Kelvin Jackson, sophomore Mwanza Wamulumba and redshirt freshman Zack Shane round out the top group inside. With this sort of returning talent along the defensive line, could Miami improve upon last year’s middling effort against the run? About that: Miami’s run defense wasn’t overly terrible despite ranking 75th nationally. When it comes to stopping the run, the RedHawks merely need to do a better job handling the spread teams – Ohio, most notably.

A more pressing issue might be the pass rush. But Miami’s defensive line will get some help in this area from a rebuilt linebacker corps, where the RedHawks are poised to bring three new starters into the regular season. One has starting experience, to be fair: Jaytee Swanson (30 tackles, 4.0 sacks), a senior, made three starts on the weak side in 2011. He’ll get the nod in the middle, replacing Ryan Kennedy.

There’s a looming hole on the strong side, where Miami needs to find a way to replicate Jerrell Wedge’s impact. The RedHawks will give junior Chris Wade first crack at the position, though I think that senior Evan Harris, Swanson’s backup in the middle, could also get a look at the position. The player to watch on the second level is senior Pat Hinkle (70 tackles), who moves down to the weak side from the secondary after making 12 starts a year ago. Miami could use more speed and athleticism along the front seven; Hinkle brings that to the table.

But Hinkle’s move is questionable in one respect: Miami will now have two new starting safeties. One new starter, senior free safety D.J. Brown (30 tackles), move over from cornerback, where he made seven starts last fall. Hinkle’s replacement will be sophomore Brison Burris, who made the most of his time on the field as a freshman – including a 10-tackle game in the win over Army. In fact, Burris’ strong play in spurts might have made Miami more amenable to the idea of moving Hinkle down to linebacker.

The RedHawks are engaging in a bit of a game of musical chairs in the secondary. Hinkle moves to linebacker. Brown moves to safety. Brown’s position change means one thing: sophomore Chrishawn Dupuy had better be ready for prime time. Dupuy might be even more inexperienced than your normal sophomore, seeing that he spent most of his debut campaign at running back, rushing for 97 yards on 30 carries. There’s no doubting his athleticism; nevertheless, he’s going to hit more than a few speed bumps as a first-time contributor, let alone a first-year starter.

And Dupuy will come under fire with junior cornerback Dayonne Nunley (58 tackles, 3 interceptions) holding down the fort on the other side. Nunely isn’t just Miami’s best defensive back and the only member of this secondary with a proven track record of making plays; he’s also one of the MAC’s best defenders overall, let alone the league’s best cornerback. In an otherwise questionable secondary, Nunley is the one piece of the puzzle that Miami can rely upon without compunction.

Position battle(s) to watch

Running back Just how bad was Miami’s running game last fall? Sixty-nine individual rushers — from Oregon’s LaMichael James to Maryland’s Davin Meggett — rushed for more yards than Miami’s 886, which came on 375 carries and resulted in 11 touchdowns. Another seven teams (Oregon, Temple, Northern Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas State and Texas A&M) had two ball-carriers top Miami’s total as a team. The situation in the backfield isn’t necessarily about one back stepping forward, though the RedHawks could certainly use a lead back to take the reins at the position; the story is more about an offense-wide inability to pound away on first and second down, an issue that begins with the offensive line. I don’t believe that Treadwell wants to throw the ball 65 percent of the time, merely that he feels that his team has no other choice. Miami won’t be a MAC contender until the offense can run along a more balanced split.

The RedHawks bring back junior Erik Finklea (328 yards), last year’s leading rusher. All but two yards of Finlea’s rushing total came over the year’s first half; he was injured, done for the year, in the first quarter of Miami’s lopsided loss to Toledo. The injury pushed junior Justin Semmes (170 yards), then buried on the depth chart, into the starting lineup. Semmes gave Miami a boost: he rushed for 100 yards in the win over Akron and another 69 yards against Temple before suffering his own season-ending injury.

It’s not a great situation. But Semmes proved that he can carry the running game when called upon, and Finklea was on pace for a 700-yard season before going down against Toledo. You take all the good news that you can get. The RedHawks can also call on Treadwell’s son, Spencer, a redshirt freshman, as well as sophomore Robert Williams III, who made a move up the depth chart with a nice spring. Miami inked three running backs in February, and given how unsure the coaching staff feels about the position, there’s no reason to think the one or two can’t crack the rotation.

Game(s) to watch

You can write Miami in for a 1-3 record outside of MAC play. There’s a better chance that the RedHawks lose to Southern Illinois – 4-7 in the Missouri Valley last fall – than there is a chance of an upset win at Ohio State, Boise State or Cincinnati. In all, the first two-thirds of the year will place Miami in a hole heading into November. But unlike in 2011, the RedHawks aren’t stuck with a tough close to the regular season. The November slate includes road games against Buffalo and Central Michigan and home games against Kent State and Ball State. Such an easy finish could put Miami in a great spot to reach bowl eligibility if it can be 3-5 through eight games.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell You can’t take Miami seriously as a MAC contender until it improves in two areas: one, in running the football – this is an annual concern – and two, in stopping the league’s spread-based teams. I won’t believe that the RedHawks can run the ball with consistency until they, well, actually do it. And not just once, but over a multiple-game span during conference play. Until the offense can play more balance, it’s impossible to picture this team leapfrogging back to the top of the MAC East. And as for this defense: it’s not terrible by any measure, merely too prone to bouts with ineffectiveness. In fact, it’s safe to say that Miami’s season will be defined by its consistency – or lack thereof – on both sides of the ball. So no, I don’t see the RedHawks taking one of the top two spots in the East. But I can see this team making a run towards bowl play. In this case, everything hinges on how Miami fares in November. If the RedHawks close 4-0, assuming they beat Akron and UMass over the first half, this team will squeeze into bowl play. The could make things easier on themselves by notching an upset, or by beating Bowling Green on the road, but regardless: If Miami does reach bowl play, it won’t be by a wide margin. But I can see several reasons for optimism. The pitch-and-catch duo of Dysert and Harwell is superb. There’s returning talent along the defensive line. Hinkle could flourish on the weak side. Nunley’s a star at cornerback. Miami is by no means a bad team; the RedHawks simply aren’t as well-built or consistent as the top portion of the MAC.

Dream season Miami goes 2-2 in non-conference play, beating Cincinnati for the first time since 2005, and wins the MAC East with a 7-1 conference mark. For the first time since 2003, Miami wins nine games during the regular season.

Nightmare season Miami goes 1-3 in non-conference play. That’s not the bad news. The bad news is that sandwiched between Boise State and Cincinnati are two hard-to-believe losses to Akron and Massachusetts, which sends the RedHawks into a tailspin. While this team recovers to win two games in November, Miami drops one game off of last year’s win total.

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

Miami (Ohio)’s all-name nominee DE Mwanza Wamulumba.

Word Count

Through 38 teams 133,086.

Up Next

Who is No. 86? The original site of the National Archives and Record Administration is located on Constitution Avenue in our nation’s capital. Eighteen years ago, the N.A.R.A. opened a second facility in the city that houses tomorrow’s university.

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Comments

  1. Joel says:

    I think Maryland is next, home of the National Archives at College Park

  2. Eksynyt says:

    Has to be Maryland.

  3. Miami U. says:

    It’s Miami University or Miami U. or Miami.

    That facsimile in Florida is the University of Miami or U. Miami or “The U” or Miami (FL).

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