It was a tale of two halves for the Miami RedHawks last season. After losing the first six games, head coach Chuck Martin’s team completely turned things around reeling off six straight wins to earn the program’s first bowl appearance since 2011. Eight starters return on both sides of the ball, putting Miami in great shape to challenge for its first MAC championship since 2010.
Previewing Miami Football’s Offense for 2017
After seeing what the RedHawks looked like with Gus Ragland at quarterback for the last six games of the 2016 season, Miami fans can’t wait to get a full season from the junior in 2017. Ragland was the surprise starter in Game 7 after an 0–6 start and sparked a historic six-game winning streak that led to a berth in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Miami’s average points-per-game leaped from 17.0 during the losing streak to 29.8 during the winning streak. What was most impressive about Ragland was his efficiency — 17 touchdowns and just one interception in 179 throws.
Ragland is one of eight returning offensive starters, including leading rusher Alonzo Smith, wide receivers James Gardner and Jared Murphy, tight end Ryan Smith and four offensive linemen. Left guard Jordan Diamond, a transfer from Auburn who was granted a sixth season of eligibility, is the team’s top offensive lineman. Smith started in place of Nate Becker, who was expected to be the first-team tight end before suffering a season-ending injury.
Previewing Miami Football’s Defense for 2017
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Eight starters return from one of the top defenses in the MAC. In conference games, the RedHawks allowed a league-low 334.0 yards per game, including only 125.4 on the ground.
Linebackers Junior McMullen and De’Andre Montgomery both earned all-conference honors, while former walk-on Brad Koenig finished with 73 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss. Montgomery has a nose for the ball, recording four interceptions on the season and scoring two touchdowns against Buffalo.
Koenig’s penetration skills could help make up for the loss to graduation of defensive ends Austin Gearing and J.T. Jones, who combined for 10.5 of Miami’s 24 sacks last season. Returning tackles Nate Trawick and Ikeem Allen combined for 3.5 sacks.
First-team All-MAC pick Heath Harding teams up with Deondre Daniels to form perhaps the conference’s best cornerback tandem, and safety Tony Reid led the RedHawks last season with 98 tackles. Josh Allen started seven games at the other safety position.
Previewing Miami Football’s Specialists for 2017
Nick Dowd missed five extra points last season, which could be crucial if the RedHawks play as many close games in 2017 as they did in 2016 (six games decided by one score). Kyle Kramer took over the punting duties midway through the season and averaged 41.7 yards while placing 14 of his 30 kicks inside the 20-yard line. Maurice Thomas was named third-team All-MAC after averaging 24.6 yards per kickoff return, including a 94-yard burst against archrival Cincinnati.
Fourth-year coach Chuck Martin has the RedHawks on the right track. They closed 2016 with a rush — since the NCAA allowed teams to start playing 12 games in 2006, no team had ever finished 6–6 after starting 0–6, and their 17–16 bowl loss to Mississippi State almost felt like a win. They won’t be sneaking up on opponents next season, but they seem to have the experience to handle the spotlight.
Indeed, the entire program is experiencing a renaissance. In February, Miami opened a new 56,000 square-foot Athletic Performance Center, including a plush 6,000 square-foot locker room, an 8,200 square-foot weight room, a 5,000 square-foot athletic training and rehabilitation area and a 1,400 square-foot players’ lounge. It’s connected to the newish indoor practice facility, and both will help with recruiting while enhancing the RedHawks’ on-field performance.
There’s no reason to believe Miami will regress. With 16 starters returning, the future looks bright as the RedHawks try to restore the luster to a program that once was the pride of the MAC.
National Ranking: 78
MAC East Prediction: 1
(Tony Reid photo courtesy of Miami Athletics)