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Way-Too-Early 2018 Season Preview: Miami RedHawks

Will Year Five of the Chuck Martin Experience result in an outright MAC East title?

Eastern Michigan v Miami Ohio Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Sept. 1 vs. Marshall Thundering Herd

Marshall v Middle Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Miami RedHawks will start the season at home in one of the three Saturday games in Oxford against a veteran Marshall squad. The Herd will bring 18 (!!!) returning starters from the 2017 team and will feature a graduate transfer QB calling signals in Alex Thomson.

However, Miami boasts some experience as well with 16 returners of their own, which will make this battle between old MAC foes highly competitive. Both teams will have something to prove as 2017 did not go the way that either side had hoped.

Miami had the yardage edge (429-267) on Marshall last season but ultimately came undone due to a pair of kickoff return TDs and a pick-six. The talent edge belongs to the ‘Hawks and the Herd are 1-9 in road openers over the last ten years, so this should be a game that sets the tone for the year on Homecoming. MU 1-0

Sept. 8 vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (at Paul Brown Stadium)

Temple v Cincinnati Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Bearcats should see some improvement in Year Two of the Luke Fickell regime as they bring back 12 starters from a year ago with seven of those starters being on defense. Having three new starters on the offensive line can be problematic early in the season, especially in a loud environment such as PBS in the Battle for the Victory Bell.

The elephant in the room: Miami has lost to UC for 12 straight seasons, but the games have been much closer in Chuck Martin’s tenure as the last four contests were decided by a touchdown or less. Last season, the Red and White led 17-6 in the latter part of the fourth quarter, but a touchdown drive and an interception return for a touchdown erased the hopes of an upset.

Miami returns five of six first- to second-level defenders while Cincy five members of its front seven, so running the ball will be a challenge for both teams. QB play will determine the outcome of this game and the match-up of true freshman Ben Bryant (the projected starter over Hayden Moore) against Gus Ragland works in the RedHawks’ favor. The fact that they have the best player on the field James Gardner doesn’t hurt either. MU 2-0

Sept. 15 at Minnesota Golden Gophers

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The trek up to Minnesota against P.J. Fleck’s squad can be challenging for the RedHawks against a B1G opponent. However, the Gophers have to replace three DLs, two DBs, and are projected to have redshirt freshman QB Tanner Morgan start for them, which can make things interesting.

Fleck was 2-0 against Miami when he was running the show at Western Michigan, but he has not yet established himself in the B1G as the team went 2-7 in conference play. The challenge for Miami will be to contain Rodney Smith, who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last season.

The ‘Hawks have the more experienced team, but it’ll be hard for them to close it out on the road against a B1G team. It’ll be closer than most people will assume. MU 2-1

Sept. 22 at Bowling Green Falcons

Bowling Green v Miami Ohio Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The RedHawks were a clean center-quarterback exchange from coming up with the victory over a rebuilding BG squad, but a fumble return for a TD resulted in one of the Falcon’s two wins in 2017. Bowling Green returns 13 starters, including QB Jarret Doege.

A point of weakness in the BG offense may be up front as they have to replace two positions, including the ever-important position of center. Miami may be able to have some success running the ball this year as the Falcons only return four of their front seven defenders.

The RedHawks undoubtedly will have a chip on their shoulder entering this game based on the way last year’s game went. BG is still a year or two away from being really competitive in the MAC East, so this a game that Miami should win. MU 3-1 (1-0 MAC)

Sept. 29 vs. Western Michigan Broncos

Western Michigan v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

In the first of its crossover games with the MAC West, Miami will have a tough road to hoe against a WMU team that returns 13 starters. The eight returners on offense will present a challenge, but their may be opportunities for stops with a projected true freshman at left tackle.

Defensively, the Broncos only bring back two members of their front seven, so the trio of Kenny Young, Alonzo Smith, and Maurice Thomas can have some success on the ground. Also, a projected sophomore at corner could pay dividends for James Gardner and the receiving corps based on how the coaching staff wants to attack WMU.

This will be an evenly played game all the way to the end, but with a veteran QB and proven WRs the Broncos should escape with the win as they have more experience in these spots. MU 3-2 (1-1 MAC)

Oct. 6 at Akron Zips

Akron v Miami Ohio Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The defending MAC East champion Akron got upended 24-14 in Oxford last season as the RedHawks sacked Kato Nelson six times and the offense went off for 420 yards of offense. The Zips will be coming off of a bye in 2018 so that adds a layer of intrigue to the game.

UA brings back 14 starters, including a staggering nine on defense. The offense is projected to start five underclassmen this season, including the key positions of QB, TE and C. The two holes on defense will be replaced by seniors, so the defense should be very stout in 2018.

Points will be at a premium in this game with the play of the two defenses, so it will be the offense that plays mistake-free football that will win this game. With all the experience on the offensive side of the ball for Miami, the edge is with the RedHawks. MU 4-2 (2-1 MAC)

Oct. 13 vs. Kent State Golden Flashes

Kent State v Louisville Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s a new era for the Flashes as Sean Lewis takes over the program after coordinating the offense at Syracuse in 2017. He will have 13 returning starters at his disposal, including three along the offensive line.

KSU squeaked past Miami 17-14 for one of its two wins last season, but it’ll have to replace its QB, C, and LT on offense as well as three of its four 3-4 LBs on defense. The ‘Hawks have the advantage on the Flashes if they don’t turn the ball over, which they did in 2017. MU 5-2 (3-1 MAC)

Oct. 20 at Army Black Knights

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - San Diego State v Army Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A rock-solid Army team can be very dangerous due to the style of offense that they play and the team returns eight starters on defense. Interesting note: Army coach Jeff Monken and Martin were teammates at Millikin in the late 1980s.

The Knights have to replace eight players on offense, but all but two will be upperclassmen. Last season, Army led all of college football with 362.3 rushing yards per game on its way to a 10-3 record and an upset of Navy.

This could very well be the RedHawks’ toughest non-conference game this season due to the quality and the offensive scheme of Army. It will be difficult for a 4-2-5 defense to adjust to a flexbone offense in the span of a week, and it will be nearly impossible if Army returns to its 2017 form. MU 5-3 (3-1 MAC)

Oct. 30 at Buffalo

Buffalo v Western Michigan Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Buffalo should be a tough test for the ‘Hawks as it returns eight starters on offense, including junior QB Tyree Jackson. However, three of the Bulls’ front seven defenders are underclassmen so there will be opportunities to run the ball.

The RedHawks won 24-14 in last season’s match-up as UB’s Kyle Vantrease got sacked three times and was picked off in his first career start. Miami will be coming off a bye this season, so this veteran group should emerge victorious. MU 6-3 (4-1 MAC)

Nov. 7 vs. Ohio Bobcats

Ohio v Massachusetts Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

This edition of the Battle of the Bricks will likely determine who will be representing the MAC East in Detroit. The Bobcats will again be a tough out this season as it returns eight offensive starters, but a inexperienced center on the road can prove to be problematic. Ohio only has one returner from last year’s front season, which can present some issues in stopping the run.

Miami ultimately fell 45-28 last season, but the team battled back with a backup QB to tie the game up twice on the road. With the stakes being what they are in this game, the ‘Hawks should put forth its most spirited effort in this rivalry under Martin. The experience and the venue could very well be the deciding factor. MU 7-3 (5-1 MAC)

Nov. 14 at Northern Illinois Huskies

Duke v Northern Illinois Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

NIU should return to the top of the MAC West in 2018 as it returns eight starters on offense, including all five members of the offensive line. However, the Huskies have to replace its whole LB corps, which could present some complications in run defense.

NIU could be looking ahead as it wraps up the season with WMU following this game, but it will be hard to topple a veteran offense and coaching staff on the road. It will come down to which defense can make the most stops, and the experience of NIU in these situations will show up here in the first edition of the Mallory Cup. MU 7-4 (5-2 MAC)

Nov. 20 vs. Ball State Cardinals

Toledo v Ball State Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

This year’s version of the Redbird Rivalry will be much more competitive than last season as the Cards bring back 16 starters in a desperation season for Mike Neu and company. BSU will have to replace the right side of the offensive line and and three members of the defensive line, which could be critical against the veteran teams of the MAC.

Last year was a 28-7 Miami rout, but the ‘Hawks were +3 in turnover margin and that’s not something you can count on every meeting. The game will likely go down to the wire in true #MACtion fashion. MU 8-4 (6-2 MAC)