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2019 Miami RedHawks: Key Storylines

The Red and White have some questions that needs answering this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Miami OH at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2018 was a lackluster season for the Miami RedHawks as they went 6-6 and missed an opportunity at a bowl game. This season, the ‘Hawks bring back a plethora of experience but there is a big questions around the program that make the 2019 season a pivotal one for the direction of the program. Here are storylines that will be worth following in Miami’s latest campaign on the gridiron.

Getting a Replacement for the Victory Bus

There is no possible way that one can understate what quarterback Gus Ragland (who is now an offensive analyst at Notre Dame) has meant to this program. He was a part of Chuck Martin’s first recruiting class at Miami, reeling off six straight wins in 2016 to get the ‘Hawks to a bowl game after suffering an ACL injury, earned All-MAC Third Team honors in 2018, and ended his career top-ten in program history in pass attempts, completions, passing yards, completion percentage, passing touchdowns, and total offense despite playing only one full season. Replacing Ragland will be a tall order, especially when the quarterbacks competing for that spot have never attempted a pass in college.

However, Jackson Williamson and AJ Mayer both have strong pedigrees that would make either one of them an asset at the position. Williamson was an all-state performer in South Carolina (a state that’s deep in football talent) while Mayer won a state championship at Covington Catholic in Kentucky and is the school’s all-time record holder in career passing yards. It’s likely that Williamson has a slight edge in the QB battle due to being in his third year in the program, but things can change over the course of fall camp.

Close Game Crisis

The elephant in the room for Martin’s RedHawks has been the team’s performance in one-possession games. Over the last five seasons, Miami has gone 7-20 in such games. In 2018, the Red and White went 2-3 in one-possession games with all of the losses coming in different ways: you had the slow start in the opener against Marshall that they couldn’t overcome, you had Western Michigan where Jayden Reen could’ve done whatever he wanted in the passing game in addition to some special teams miscues, and you’ve got the double-overtime game against Army and its backup quarterback.

These were all winnable games and Miami has to improve in close game situations, whether it’s playcalling, game management, player execution, whatever it is. In 2019, there’s not going to be room for error with their schedule being what it is so Miami’s only chance to get to bowl game with a young quarterback is better performance in close game situations.

Bad Optics

It’s never a good thing to have a coach leave to take a job laterally in conference, but that’s exactly what happened when special teams coordinator (and former Miami LB) Joe Palcic took the same job at Western Michigan (coincidentally, former Miami QB and coach Mike Bath is also the RBs coach at WMU). Eventually, Miami filled Palcic’s spot with Doug Shearer, who was the quality control assistant for special teams at NC State last season. For a special teams unit that was one of the best in the MAC, undergoing change and transition is not ideal but Shearer has been coaching special teams at the D1 level since 2013, so it could turn out alright.

What’s not alright, however, is having a lateral move compounded by a number of players transferring out of the program and former players having a negative view of the coaching staff:

These are not things that a program should be experiencing. It’s entirely possible that Palcic saw a better opportunity at WMU and took advantage of it. The transfer bug is not a Miami problem, but it’s a college football problem that has no easy solutions. The tweet above points to a larger topic of a difference in coaching styles across college football, which is a lengthy article in and of itself. These are all bad optics, but winning big in 2019 can cure a lot of ills.