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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Key Storylines: Miami RedHawks

The defending MAC champions have some questions to answer this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 MAC Championship Game Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The reigning, conquering, defending champions of the MAC, the Miami RedHawks, are set to make their title defense in an unprecedented six-game season. This team has no shortage of things to watch as they move through uncharted waters in 2020 and we are going to go through the main storylines for the Red and White.

Gabbert the GOAT?

In his first season at the helm of the offense, Brett Gabbert delivered a MAC title to Oxford as a true freshman, ending a nine-year championship drought. He did this with a rifle arm (7.6 yards per attempt) and an incredible amount of poise (no turnovers in the championship game against CMU). For the 2020 season, Miami needs Gabbert to make the jump from good to great and become a more efficient passer. He had a 55% completion percentage for the season, broke the 200-yard passing mark in just four games, and had two multiple-interception games in conference play.

In the 2019 campaign, Miami rode their elite defense and special teams to a MAC title, with the offense doing just enough to win games. With the amount of departures that Miami has had in those phases, Gabbert needs to be the reason they win games in 2020. The experience of last year and being more comfortable in the offense will make a big difference and if he can lead the RedHawks to another MAC title, he’ll be approaching Zac Dysert/Ben Roethlisberger territory.

New Hawks in the Nest

Speaking of the defense, the departure of Doug Costin up front leaves a big, disruptive hole that Miami needs to fill if it wants to continue to have one of the MAC’s best defensive units. Replacing a DL that’s coming off of 12 TFLs and four sacks is never easy, but the RedHawks are in a unique position to do it. Kameron Butler terrorized offenses last season with 14.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks, while Andrew Sharp, Ben Kimpler, and Lonnie Phelps all had at least 4.5 TFLs and a sack in 2019. With the 2020 season being conference-only, having that defensive line be completely healthy going into MAC play will be a nightmare for offenses in the league.

Going to the third phase, it was an end of an era in 2019 as Sam Sloman, Kyle Kramer, and Maurice Thomas all left Oxford, leaving some big cleats to fill on special teams. Miami currently has five kickers on the roster but only two that saw the field in 2019 (Henry Beckett, Jacob Swartz). It would stand to reason that those two players would be in the mix to start for the ‘Hawks, but stranger things have happened. It’s more clear who the return man for 2020 is going to be, as Jalen Walker is the only player on the roster with multiple returns on kickoff and punt in 2019. We’ll have to keep an eye on the kicking battle as that can have huge ramifications on the 2020 season.

Flying to the Finish

After seemingly never being able to win one-score games, Miami flipped the script and went 5-0 in such games in 2019 (including the MAC Championship game). There’s a lot of reasons that can explain this away, but I think the most prevalent reason for this turnaround is that there was a perfect marriage of personnel and staff. Most of the staff was there Day One of this rebuild, which was never going to be a fast rebuild. It took years to build a roster that fit their vision of Miami football: they wanted a physical running game with some pro-style concepts in the passing game (with some sprinkling of RPOs later on), and a pressure-heavy, athletic defense that’s versatile enough to hold their own against the variety of MAC offenses, not to mention sound special teams.

Despite the fact that we as fans had never seen Miami handle big successes under Chuck Martin, the roster is uniquely built to win against anything the MAC throws at it, and that’s a credit to the coaching staff for staying the course and making this a sustainable, comprehensive rebuild. Their labor has paid off with a MAC title, and now it looks like Miami won’t be going away anytime soon.