Following a disastrous end to the Don Treadwell era at Miami with one of the worst seasons in program history in 2013, the athletic department wanted to hit the reset button on the program and bring in a head coach that could change the culture and breathe new life into the winningest football program in MAC history. Enter Chuck Martin, the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame, who was given the unenviable task of bringing viability to one of the worst teams in college football.
2014 was a mixed bag for the RedHawks: despite going 2-10, they were competitive in almost every game and had breakout performances seemingly all season from Quinten Rollins, Andrew Hendrix, and David Frazier III. For 2015 to be a success, Miami needs to be able to replace the production of these three players as well as making more plays late in games in order to take some of those one-score games.
|@ Western Kentucky
|@ Kent State
|vs. Northern Illinois
|@ Western Michigan
|Oct. 29 (Thur.)
|vs. Eastern Michigan
Miami faces a fairly stiff out of conference schedule, opening with a Presbyterian team that beat two ranked FCS teams in 2014 before heading up to take on #18 Wisconsin. The RedHawks then return home for their homecoming game against rival Cincinnati prior to rounding out their non-conference slate with a road game against Western Kentucky, who are the favorites to win the Conference USA East Division.
As for must-see #MACtion, the RedHawks have a mid-week match-up with a Buffalo team that only won by eight points a season ago, as well as a big three-game stretch where they head to Athens for the Battle of the Bricks with Ohio, return to Oxford to host Northern Illinois, and pack their bags the following week for Western Michigan.
Despite going 2-10 in his first season at the helm at Miami, Martin has won everywhere he has coached as he coached in seven of the last 14 national championship games and boasts a 74-7 record at Division II Grand Valley State as well as back-to-back national titles in 2005 and 2006. A prolific recruiter, Martin reeled in the third-best class in the MAC in 2015 according to Rivals.com as he is positioning the RedHawks as a highly competitive program for seasons to come.
Five Key Players
- Heath Harding (CB): The junior put together a strong 2014 campaign despite playing out of position at safety as he led the team in tackles with 98 and was second with two interceptions. A Third Team All-MAC preseason pick by Phil Steele, Harding anchors a strong secondary that looks to make an impact on Miami's season in 2015.
- Bryson Albright (DE): A starter on the defensive line for the past two seasons, Albright has been arguably Miami's best pass rusher as he reeled in 11 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Also a Preseason Third Team All-MAC selection, the long senior from Cincinnati looks to wreak havoc on quarterbacks with fellow pass rusher J'Terius Jones, who was second on the team with five sacks in 2015.
- Kent Kern (LB): Despite injuring his knee against Kent State and missing the rest of the season, Kern made an impact manning the middle of the defense with his eight tackles for loss, tying Albright for second-most on the team. Joining the end and Harding on the Preseason All-MAC Third Team, the backer looks to come back and lead the RedHawk defense against some very good offenses in 2015.
- Rokeem Williams (WR): A big play threat in 2014 with a team-high 19.5 yards per catch, Williams looks to help replace the lost production of Frazier. Whoever the quarterback happens to be, the passing game for Miami will remain potent with the 6'1" junior leading the receiving corps.
- Trevan Brown (OL): The most experienced of the RedHawk linemen with 31 starts, Brown was part of a unit that protected for a 3,300+ yard passer in Hendrix in 2015. For the team to finish better than 96th in the country in total offense, the senior has to lead the unit with more physicality in the running game.
The RedHawks' Strong Suit
The secondary looks to be the calling card for Miami in 2015 as Harding will be returning to a more familiar position at corner while Marshall Taylor, who had a pick and tied for the team lead with nine passes broken up, will be manning the other side of the field.
Buchi Okafor and Tony Reid will be the starters at the safety spots, giving the the RedHawks some much-needed length and athleticism on the back end. The two were primarily special team specialists in 2014, with Reid getting starts late in the year after Jarrell Jones went down against Kent State and nabbing an interception against Ohio.
The unit had 11 interceptions a season ago, but replacing Rollins production will be huge for the group moving forward. The pass defense still has plenty room for improvement as it allowed the third-highest completion percentage in the MAC at 61.7% as well as 23 touchdowns.
Miami has several questions on both sides of the ball to answer as it heads into year two of the Martin era. Who will the quarterback be: will it be senior Drew Kummer, untested Gus Ragland, or true freshman Billy Bahl? This is a quarterback race that probably won't be decided until camp is over as Kummer went 4-for-10 with an interception last season as Ragland was redshirted in 2014. While it may be tempting to trot out the talented Bahl for the opener against Presbyterian, it's hard to see him as a day one starter when the other two already have a season's worth of experience under Martin's system.
Can the running game be more of a factor this season? Miami hasn't had a player rush for 100 yards in a game since 2011, but with the transition at quarterback a larger commitment to the ground game is expected. Spencer McInnis leads the returners in the backfield with 249 yards but the addition of speedster Kenny Young and the more powerful Alonzo Smith gives some optimism that the running game won't finish 122nd in the nation. Doing a better job on the ground is on the shoulders of the offensive line, which has gotten bigger since Martin arrived in Oxford but time will tell if the unit has gotten better.
Can the run defense hold up against the rushing attacks of teams like NIU and WMU? Miami was 99th in rushing yards per game last season and the two of the best running attacks in the MAC exploited it to the tune of 92 points in 2014. The depth and the size along the defensive line is still an issue, but adding redshirt freshman Deion Cineus and true freshman Nate Trawick helps with the girth in the middle. The depth is a little better at linebacker as the defense plans to have a rotation for the group in 2015, but there is some inexperience in the group and the defense may have to lean on Kern (if he's healthy) and Joe Donlan for a majority of the snaps.
TL;DR: Season Outlook
In Martin's second season, it's hard not to feel a sense of optimism for this team as the linemen are getting bigger and Miami is slowly but surely improving its roster. With all that the RedHawks are returning this season, the days of double-digits in the loss column are coming to an end. It may not result in a MAC title in 2015, but Martin has made Miami a viable program again and that is reason enough to sing the fight song.