#118 Kent State Golden Flashes





HEAD COACH: Paul Haynes, 9-26 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Don Treadwell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ben Needham

With just nine wins in three seasons, head coach Paul Haynes is squarely on the hot seat at . The Golden Flashes welcome back 17 starters from 2015's 3-9 team, including eight on a defense that ranked among the top in the MAC. The key to a significant turnaround, however, is getting more out of an offense that struggled mightily to move the ball or score last season.

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Previewing Kent State’s Offense for 2016

Nine starters return on this unit, but optimism about 2016 should be tempered by the fact that Kent State ranked 127th in the nation in total offense last season at 270.8 yards per game. That spoiled a solid defensive effort and doomed the Golden Flashes to their third consecutive losing season and a tie for last place in the MAC East.

An early season injury to 2014 leading rusher Nick Holley and an ineffective Trayion Durham at fullback meant Kent State needed to pass more to move the ball. That failed miserably, as quarterbacks Colin Reardon and George Bollas completed only 51 percent of their passes and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine). KSU finished No. 121 nationally in passing efficiency.

Reardon and Bollas are back, but coach Paul Haynes hopes that redshirt freshman Mylik Mitchell or true freshman Justin Agner will emerge in fall camp. Reardon played some at receiver in the spring.

Improvement at quarterback could mean a relative resurgence on offense, because many playmakers are back. Holley returns at tailback, and quality backups Myles Washington, Will Matthews and Justin Rankin are behind him. In addition, Kent State has recruited well at receiver and tight end in recent years. The top nine pass catchers are back, led by Antwan Dixon, Kris White, Ernest Calhoun, Johnny Woods and converted running back Raekwon James.

The offensive line returns four of five starters. Seniors Reno Reda and Wayne Scott and juniors Nathan Puthoff and Brock Macaulay are building blocks.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Kent State’s Defense for 2016

This unit is loaded with eight returning starters and plenty of reserves who saw productive time in 2015. That defense was dominant at times last season and finished No. 27 nationally in total yards allowed at 350.1 per game.

The top returnees are three first-team All-MAC performers: end Terence Waugh, free safety Nate Holley (Nick’s twin brother) and corner Demetrius Monday. Waugh led the team in tackles for a loss (12) and sacks (9.0) despite missing two games with injuries. Holley led in tackles (141), and Monday led in interceptions (six).

The front four also brings back Chris Fairchild, Jon Cunningham and Theo Eboigbe. The linebacking corps will miss Matt Dellinger in the middle, but productive senior Elcee Refuge will move there from the outside.

Holley and Monday give Kent State a secondary that has the potential to be one of the conference’s best. In addition, senior Najee Murray (team-high nine pass breakups) is a returning starter at the Apache position, a combination of corner and linebacker.


Previewing Kent State’s Specialists for 2016

The state of the Kent State offense is reflected in the fact that returning placekicker Shane Hynes led the team in scoring with 34 points. He did that despite not coming close to overusing his leg, attempting only 13 extra points, making them all, and hitting 7-of-11 field goals. One of the best punters in school history, Anthony Melchiori, is gone, leaving the position up for grabs.

Final Analysis
Haynes is popular in the Kent State community, but this may be his make-or-break year. His 9–26 record in three seasons puts him squarely on the hot seat.

It is not an overstatement to say that the success of this team rests on improvement at quarterback. More mediocrity at the position would doom the offense to another season of frustration despite the presence of an experienced line and playmakers at running back, tight end and receiver. The defense likely will continue to be a strength, but there is always the uncertainty of whether the success of 2015 can be duplicated, especially since there is a new coordinator in Ben Needham.


#116 Ball State Cardinals





HEAD COACH: Mike Neu, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Joey Lynch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Daoust

A disappointing 3-9 showing was followed by the unexpected departure of former head coach Pete Lembo. Mike Neu returns to his alma mater, looking to return  to the top of the MAC. The Cardinals should be productive enough on offense, but the key to a significant turnaround lies on the other side of the ball.

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Previewing Ball State’s Offense for 2016

Mike Neu spent the last 12 years in New Orleans and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Saints as a scout in 2009, so it was going to take someplace special for Neu to leave the Big Easy. Then Ball State head coach Pete Lembo opted in December to become Maryland’s assistant head coach. Neu jumped at the chance to return to Ball State, where he won the MAC’s Offensive Player of the Year award while leading the Cardinals to the 1993 conference title.

Neu retained offensive coordinator Joey Lynch and plans to merge the Cardinals’ previous offense with the Saints’ passing game concepts that fit Ball State’s personnel. Judging by Neu’s thoughts on sophomore quarterback Riley Neal, who threw for 2,276 yards, rushed for 399 yards and accounted for 18 TDs, everything might fit. “He has got a big, big, big-time arm,” says Neu, who coached for two seasons at Tulane before rejoining the Saints in 2014. “He can make all the throws. He has a great combo of arm strength and touch.”

Ball State’s top receiver (Jordan Williams) has graduated, but Neal can count on a big target in KeVonn Mabon (70 catches) and slot man Corey Lacanaria (45). 

The Cardinals also welcome back all of their running backs. Elusive junior Darian Green and powerful sophomore James Gilbert split the carries last year, but Neu envisions senior Teddy Williamson giving Ball State a three-headed monster in the backfield.

The Cardinals must replace a trio of graduated offensive linemen, including second-team All-MAC center Jacob Richard. The battles at center, right guard and right tackle could extend throughout camp, which could put additional pressure on senior left tackle Drake Miller and junior left guard Vinnie Palazeti.


Previewing Ball State’s Defense for 2016

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On the recommendation of Saints offensive line coach and former Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Roushar and former Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer, Neu interviewed Orange assistant head coach Tim Daoust for the defensive coordinator job. “In the first five minutes, I knew he was the guy I wanted to hire,” Neu says.

Daoust has implemented an attacking 4-3 style that resembles Michigan State’s scheme. He has nine returning starters to fill the new roles, but it’s a group that surrendered 518 yards and 35.8 points per game.

First-team All-MAC linebacker Sean Wiggins finished last season in the middle, but he’s moving to the weak side alongside fellow seniors Zack Ryan and Aaron Taylor. They’re the strength of this bunch.

Senior defensive end Joshua Posley also earned first-team All-MAC honors last year with nine tackles for a loss and six quarterback hurries. The Cardinals aren’t afraid to give newcomers such as junior college transfers John Swisher and Reggie McGee and freshmen Chris Crumb and James Jennette III the chance to carve out roles on the defensive line.

The secondary didn’t lose any starters, but roles are changing to fit the scheme. Senior boundary safety Martez Hester (22 starts) and senior cornerback Tyree Holder (21) bring the most credentials.

Previewing Ball State’s Specialists for 2016

Sophomore kicker Morgan Hagee drilled 14-of-15 field goals inside 40 yards but hit just 2-of-6 of his long-distance tries. Four-year punter Kyle Schmidt’s averaged dropped to 39.7 yards, but he put 21 inside the 20-yard line. Mabon earned third-team All-MAC kudos as a returner.

Final Analysis

Ball State has enough offensive talent to get back to .500, but it’s very difficult to win when allowing opponents to average 5.3 yards per carry and complete 70 percent of their passes. It’s going to take time for Ball State to put Michigan State’s schemes to good use.


#112 Miami-Ohio RedHawks





HEAD COACH: Chuck Martin, 5-19 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: George Barnett, Eric Koehler | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Hauser, Matt Pawlowski

improved its win total by one in head coach Chuck Martin's second season, but the RedHawks still have a long ways to go. This is still a relatively young team, but plenty of sophomores and juniors saw significant playing time last season. Will 2015's growing pains produce better results and a few more wins in '16?

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Previewing Miami’s Offense for 2016

Returning a quarterback who started the last seven games of his true freshman season would suggest long-term stability, but coach Chuck Martin considers Billy Bahl and the more-versatile Gus Ragland to be still in competition for the starting job. Bahl is a traditional pocket passer, while Ragland also is a running threat who threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in 2015. Bahl threw for eight touchdowns with 13 interceptions.

Not that Miami should need the quarterback to run the ball. The five running backs who lettered last season all return, led by sophomore Alonzo Smith, who led the RedHawks with 498 yards and five touchdowns. Miami returns 98.2 percent of its rushing yards from last season.

The wide receiver corps is similarly experienced, with two starters returning, along with 98.3 percent of the receptions and 99.2 percent of the receiving yards. Senior Rokeem Williams was the primary target with 33 catches for 543 yards and two touchdowns.

The tight end tandem of sophomore Nate Becker and junior Ryan Smith also is back. Becker started 11 games, while Smith led Miami with five receiving touchdowns.

Four starters return on the offensive line, and Martin is hoping that a year of maturation will help sophomores such as center Mitch Palmer stay healthy.

, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Miami’s Defense for 2016

Senior end J.T. Jones returns after finishing second in the MAC with 10 sacks. Juniors A.J. Burdine and Ikeem Allen split time at one defensive tackle slot last season, but Allen has staked his claim to the full-time job. Junior Zach Smierciak has big shoes to fill at right defensive end with the graduation of dependable Bryson Albright.

Junior outside linebacker Paul Moses finished third on the team with 71 tackles in his first season on defense after being converted from running back. T.J. Williams is a returning starter at the other outside linebacker slot, which will help make it easier for sophomore Junior McMullen to take over at middle linebacker.

The RedHawks have some answers at cornerback. Heath Harding missed the last seven games of the 2015 season after being named Miami’s Defensive Skill Player of the Year in 2014. Junior Bert Birdsall took over for Harding and will enter the season with hopes of locking down a starting spot. And Tee Shepard, a graduate transfer from Ole Miss, is expected to join the team in the summer. Senior Buchi Okafor’s return at safety will help ease the transition of junior Tony Reid as he takes over for Brison Burris at the other safety slot.


Previewing Miami’s Specialists for 2016

Miami’s kicking game faces a complete overhaul after losing starters at kicker, punter and long-snapper. Sophomore Nick Dowd takes over as the placekicker after making his only kick, a 22-yard field goal, last season. He still has more experience than the new punter, sophomore Justin Martin, whose next punt will be the first of his college career. Maurice Thomas is a budding threat on kickoff returns after averaging 17.3 yards on 27 returns last season.

Final Analysis

Martin continues to work on building depth through recruiting so that the RedHawks don’t have to lean so heavily on freshmen whose bodies still are developing, especially on the offensive line. “We’re in a bad cycle,” he says. “The true freshmen aren’t ready and they get hurt. Hopefully, we’ll be able to redshirt some of the freshmen this year and all of them next year. You can’t keep playing true freshmen.”

Miami improved from two wins in Martin’s first season to three last year, including the first on the road since 2012. The experience gained last season should pay off this year, and some of those one-score losses should turn into wins.

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