The 2011 college football season is bearing down on us at breakneck speed, with the RedHawks kicking off the year this coming Saturday at #21 Missouri. With that in mind, it’s high time we took a look at this year’s roster and what we can expect from the ‘Hawks.
2010 in a Nutshell
The RedHawks were a huge surprise last year, and not just in the MAC. Coming off of a 1-11 season in Mike Haywood’s first year as head coach, Miami shocked pretty much everyone by going 10-4 (7-1), winning the MAC Championship in dramatic fashion over Northern Illinois, and then going on to defeat Middle Tennessee State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. That made Miami the first program in D-I history to win 10 games one year after a 10-loss season. The ‘Hawks nearly went undefeated at home and in conference play, as an October loss to bitter rival Ohio University in Oxford was the only blemish on both those marks. But the year was not without drama, as Haywood (who was named MAC Coach of the Year) would depart from the team prior to the bowl game, accepting a new job as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh (a job he would lose 16 days later as a result of a felony domestic violence charge). Former Michigan State offensive coordinator and Miami alumnus Don Treadwell was appointed his successor, and he takes the reins of a Miami team looking to defend its title and prove that 2010 was no fluke.
The New Regime
While Haywood’s forte was the running game, Treadwell comes from the passing school, having played as both a QB and WR. Yet as the offensive coordinator at Michigan State, Treadwell had the Spartans ranked in the conference top five in rushing, passing and total yardage, as well as points per game in 2010. The Miami squad he takes over team was 6th in scoring in the MAC last year, but lost a great deal of leadership to graduation. This year the ‘Hawks seem more likely to be a passing team (see below), playing to the strengths of their new coach.
Treadwell does have one problem that some other coaches would love to have: he’s got two QBs who have proven they can compete. Last year, Zac Dysert led the ‘Hawks to a 6-4 record, throwing for 2,406 yards, 13 TDs and 12 interceptions. But when he went down with a lacerated spleen, Austin Boucher took over and won the last four games of the year, including the MAC Championship game and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. The lefty threw for 1,120 yards, 6 TDs and 3 interceptions and looked very comfortable out there despite his freshman status. Dysert (named team captain for the second straight year) has been named the starter for the season opener, and the job seems to be his to lose. But should he struggle, you know Coach Tread has to feel pretty confident knowing he can throw Boucher in when things go bad.
Now, the RedHawks did lose nine starters from 2010, and seven of them played offense/special teams:
(2010 stats except where noted; [Career ranks in Miami program history])
K Trevor Cook (16-of-23 FGs, 25-of-27 PATs; Career: 180 points [10th-most], 38 FG made [3rd-most], .655 FG% [8th-best], 66 PATs [8th-most])
OL Bob Gulley
RB Thomas Merriweather (921 rush yards, 12 TDs)
K Seth Philip (kickoff specialist)
WR Armand Robinson (single-season program record 94 rec., 1,062 rec. yards, 6 TDs; Career: 210 rec. [2nd-most], 2,550 rec. yards [4th-most], 15 TDs [8th-most])
WR Jamal Rogers (19 rec., 178 yards, 1 TD; Career: 134 rec. [5th-most], 1,950 kickoff return yards [1st], 3,325 all-purpose yards [8th-most])
OL Nate Williams
Replacing Merriweather is definitely the biggest question mark heading into 2011. With his departure, Tracy Woods was the next-leading rusher (94 carries for 397 yards and 1 TD in 2010), but he transferred away from Miami. The remaining backs have a combined 90 carries between them, and 87 of those are owned by Dan Green. He is in fact one of only three upperclassmen rushers, as there are five freshmen (both red-shirted and true) and two sophomores competing behind him for playing time. Since there also seem to be some decisions to be made about filling holes on the offensive line, one shouldn’t expect big things from the running game, at least not right away. Hopefully someone will surprise and establish himself as the starter.
The loss of Robinson is also big, but the ‘Hawks have a deep corps of receivers ready to step up and fill his shoes. Nick Harwell garnered lots of praise following his impressive freshman campaign (64 catches for 871 yards and 6 TDs), and has been named to the watch list for the 2011 Biletnikoff Award (given annually at season’s end to the nation’s best receiver). Look for him to have a huge year. Upperclassmen Andy Cruse, Chris Givens and DeMarco Paine will be the other go-to receivers for Dysert. Not to mention there’s no less than six hungry sophomores and freshmen below them on the depth chart and just about any/all of them could see significant playing time. If no serviceable RB emerges, the RedHawks could be a very pass-heavy team in 2011.
No one talks much about the kickers, but the fact is that Cook and Philp were very good at what they did. Cook was one of the most accurate kickers in program history, and Philip was great on kickoffs, averaging just under 60 yards per. Red-shirted sophomore Mason Krysinkski is expected to take over the duties of both, and by all accounts is impressing coaches with his aim and accuracy in drills, reportedly making 85% of his kicks and from as far away as 55 yards.
The RedHawks retained all but two defensive starters from 2010:
S Jordan Gafford (40 tackles, 1 sack, 1 int., 1 fumble recovered)
CB Brandon Stephens (38 tackles, 1 int., 1 fumble recovered)
So the starting defense is almost entirely intact from last year. One of the anchors on that side of the ball will be LT Austin Brown. He started every game for the ‘Hawks last year, and has been named to the watch list for the 2011 Rotary Lombardi Award (given annually at year’s end to the nation’s top lineman). Another man to watch will be team captain S Anthony Kokal, who will take over for the departed Gafford. He had 39 tackles last season, 2.5 sacks one interception and recovered two fumbles. There’s likely to be some competition to fill Stephens’ starting spot, but there’s a host of young backs ready to take it over.
The RedHawks will have back their top eight tacklers from 2010, including Jerrell Wedge, who led the team with 101 tackles. Also included there are CB Dayonne Nunley and LB Evan Harris, who were tied for the team lead with 6 interceptions apiece.
New defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis even brings valuable insider information, as he spent the previous seven seasons in the same position at Kent State. So while he may be new to Oxford, he is no stranger to the MAC. Under his tutelage last year, the Golden Flashes ranked second in the nation in tackles for loss (8.3), fifth in rushing defense (97.2), 11th in sacks (2.9) and 13th in total defense (306.7), setting a new school record with 35 sacks.
So with most of last year’s starters returning, it’s fair to assume that the RedHawks defense will be at least comparable to last year’s stingy squad. Miami allowed only 143 points in conference play, a total bettered by only Temple and Northern Illinois. With an experienced core and a proven coordinator at the helm, the defense should undoubtedly be a strength for the ‘Hawks this year. If there’s one aspect of this team you shouldn’t worry about, this is it.
So what can we expect in 2011?
The RedHawks are getting a lot of preseason love. The ‘Hawks were named the #1 team in the conference by the MAC media, and are predicted to win the East Division. They even claimed a few votes naming them the winners of the championship game. The praise is all well and good, as it does wonders for player morale and confidence. But when it comes down to it, repeating is always a difficult thing. The bottom line is that this is a team transitioning under a new coach with a new offensive scheme, and there are some question marks as to how effective that offense will with regards to the ground game. If the offense becomes too one-dimensional, it won’t matter how many talented receivers there are and opposing defenses will know they don’t even have to bother guarding against the run. Hopefully the stalwart RedHawk ‘D’ can keep the offense in the close games.
The good news is that Miami’s schedule this year is not a particularly intimidating one. The conference schedule isn’t that bad, since the ‘Hawks play in the admittedly weaker East Division (three MAC East teams suffered 10-loss seasons last year). The only West Division opponents they’ll face this year are Western Michigan and Toledo. As far as non-conference opponents go, take away Missouri’s 10-3 record, and the other three schools (Minnesota, Cincinnati and Army) went a combined 14-23 in 2010.
My own prognostications tend to lean to the cautiously optimistic side. I still expect the ‘Hawks to contend for the East Division title, and possibly even for the conference championship. But don’t be surprised if Miami regresses a little bit in the first season under the new head coach.
Projected 2011 finish: 8-4 (6-2 MAC) 2nd place in East Division