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2017 Way Too Early Predictions: Miami RedHawks

Can the ‘Hawks finally break through in the MAC East in 2017?

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Miami (Ohio) Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Following a season in which they won six straight games to close the regular season and were a play away from winning a seventh over Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl, the Miami RedHawks are flying high into the 2017 season with a roster that is primed for a MAC East title run.

Offensively, the ‘Hawks only lost two starters on the unit with offensive tackle Collin Buchanan and wide receiver Rokeem Williams graduating, but the team should have plenty of options to fill both of those spots. Jarrett LaRubbio is now eligible after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, which make the battle for right tackle interesting with him and the six other players that received playing time last season while Zach Hovey and Zach Swarts had to miss time due to injury.

Miami will have plenty of answers at wide out despite the loss of Williams as James Gardner and Jared Murphy accounted for 1,302 yards and 11 touchdowns between them. Sam Martin is capable of developing into that other threat, but the wild card of this group is Chris Hudson, who had every ligament torn in his knee against Eastern Illinois last season and was a big target for Gus Ragland in the passing game.

On the other side of the ball, the Red and White need to replace pass rusher J.T. Jones as the defensive line could very well determine the season for them. Quin Calcagno and Dean Lemon saw action at the end spot last season while Ben Kimpler could earn that spot during spring ball and fall camp.

Now that the table’s set, let’s start making game-by-game predictions on how Miami will do this season.

Week 1 - September 2 - @ Marshall

NCAA Football: Marshall at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing 2016 campaign, the Thundering Herd would love to start its season off with a home win over a bowl team. The defense should be relatively stout while the passing game with Chase Litton throwing to Michael Clark can be a deadly combination. However, the running game was a problem last season and Miami should be able to take advantage of a one-dimensional attack.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 2 - September 9 - Austin Peay

NCAA Football: Austin Peay at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

While the initial reaction may be to be leery of this game due to the ‘Hawks recent struggles with FCS schools, the Governors gave up 47 points per game in 2016 while managing under 24 per game. Open-and-shut case.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 3 - September 16 - Cincinnati

NCAA Football: Memphis at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This season’s Battle for the Victory Bell will feature a new head coach as Luke Fickell is now in control of the Bearcats after serving as a long-time assistant at Ohio State. This is a golden opportunity for Chuck Martin to end UC’s winning streak over Miami after some close call in the first three games in the rivalry, and he should have the advantage this year with the home crowd and a loaded roster.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 4 - September 23 - @ Central Michigan

NCAA Football: Miami Beach Bowl-Central Michigan vs Tulsa Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This potentially could be a trap game for the Red and White with the trip to South Bend looming next week, and with some decent quarterback play CMU could really throw a wrench into the MAC season. However, with a question mark at quarterback combined with an inconsistent defense, this is a game Miami should win.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 5 - September 30 - @ Notre Dame

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Oh boy. In one of the bigger games on the MAC’s non-conference calendar this season, Martin takes on his former boss Brian Kelly (who is coming off of a 4-8 campaign in 2016, in case you weren’t aware). The ‘Hawks should be competitive, but the Irish have home field and quarterback Malik Zaire Brandon Wimbush on their side, which will prove to be too much.

Prediction: RedHawks lose.

Week 6 - October 7 - Bowling Green

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Despite losing to Miami by two scores at home last season, BG ended 2016 on a three-game winning streak with an average margin of victory of 18 points. Fred Coppet came alive on the ground in those games, and if James Morgan can take that next step in his development, this can be a very dangerous team. It’ll likely be a shootout, but the stability of Miami’s defense should give them the edge.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 7 - October 14 - @ Kent State

NCAA Football: Kent State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The Flashes seem to have played the RedHawks in close games for years now, with their defense keeping them in those games. KSU is just too talent-deficient on offense to take advantage of those opportunities, which a shame.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 8 - October 21 - Buffalo

NCAA Football: Buffalo at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Tyree Jackson has the potential to be one of the MAC’s better QBs in 2017, but with so little around him, it could be another year before Lance Leipold’s team can legitimately be a contender in the MAC East.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 9 - October 31 - @ Ohio

NCAA Football: Dollar General Bowl-Ohio vs Troy Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

The ‘Hawks head to Athens for the Battle of the Bricks as the Bobcats look to defend its MAC East title with Quinton Maxwell taking snaps and Quentin Poling wreaking havoc on defense. OU lost its top three receivers from a season ago, so couple that with a young quarterback who know what you could end up with at this point in the season. A healthy A.J. Oullette would definitely help the cause against a MU defense with inexperienced ends.

It’ll end up being close with special teams playing a factor, which doesn’t bode well for Miami given it’s recent history.

Prediction: RedHawks lose.

Week 10 - November 7 - Akron

NCAA Football: Akron at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Akron looked like a MAC East contender before the injury bug ate the team up last season, and the Zips should be poised for a big 2017 if they can stay healthy. The general lack of depth could potentially hurt this team late in the year, and the UA defense has some questions at the end spot.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 11 - November 15 - Eastern Michigan

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This could be a very tricky game. Despite losing starters along the offensive line, EMU brings back Brogan Roback (who should have another big year at QB) as well as a dynamic backfield duo in Shaq Vann and Breck Turner. With Pat O’Connor and DaQuan Pace graduating, the Eagle defense will have to find a way to get stops against a Miami offense that has plenty of ways to hurt a team.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Week 12 - November 21 - @ Ball State

Western Michigan v Ball State Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The second edition of the Redbird Rivalry takes place in Muncie to round out the season as Riley Neal and James Gilbert would like to avenge their one-possession loss in Oxford a season ago. The Cardinals are thin at receiver and graduated eight starters on defense, so it’ll likely be another year or two before Mike Neu gets his program rolling at a high level.

Prediction: RedHawks win.

Yes, I know predicting 10-2 can be considered a stretch, but this team really doesn’t have a lot of flaws. You’ve got an efficient passing game with Ragland as well as explosiveness in the running game with Kenny Young and Maurice Thomas. Defensively, there’s still a lot of athleticism on the back end, but the new starters at defensive end could make or break this season for the Red and White.

If Miami could at least get an above average performance from the position, 2017 has the makings of a very special year.