Miami of Ohio Redhawks
Head Coach: Terry Hoeppner
2003 Record: 13-1
Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense, kicker, and punter
2003 Mac Champions
Projected Conference finish: #1 East, #1 Overall
Miami likes to run out of multiple formations but the one you will see the most is the three-wideout set. The Redhawks return five wide receivers that are all experienced and talented, so they will try to play to their passing strength. I don't expect they will throw nearly as much as they did last year, obviously with Ben Roethlisberger departed. The running game should be very solid, and the Redhawks could return to their former run heavy offense if Betts doesn't have a smooth transition into the passing game.
Josh Betts has the big task of filling the void left by "Big Ben" at quarterback, but I expect him to do a serviceable job as the team’s new starter. He's a mobile kid who is smart and puts Roethlisberger like velocity on his throws. He also has some experience, playing in nine games last season and three games in 2002. If Betts can shore up his marginal mechanics and become more consistently accurate, the offense could be the finest in the MAC.
Returning at tailback will be Mike Smith, who rushed for 849 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Smith combines quickness and power, and although he doesn't have home run speed, he is a consistent performer. Also look for Luke Clemens to see some playing time. He's returning from a medical redshirt year but gained over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2002. Miami doesn't use a full time full back in their backfield but Adam Cirborowski is the closest thing to it. Look for him to rotate in at tailback for his pass blocking and to carry the football in short yardage situations.
Martin Nance will return at starting wide receiver. Nance is a rare athlete because of his huge size (6'5) and 4.35 speed. Last season Nance caught 90 passes for 1,498 yards and 11 touchdowns averaging 16.6 yards per catch and in my opinion is one of the top receivers in the entire country. Nance has reliable hands and also has improved his route running and ability to create after the catch…the total package at wideout. Mike Larkin was Roethlisberger’s go-to guy and should form a nice combo with Betts. Larkin is Miami's all time leading receiver and it's interesting to note that he has caught a pass in every single game he's played in. Although Larkin is only 5'8, he's an aggressive blocker and tough over the middle. Also look for Ryne Robinson, Ryan Busing and R.J. Corbin to rotate at the three spot. Robinson is probably the best deep option the team has. He's a playmaker in every sense of the word…a track star speed with incredible elusiveness. Busing is a converted quarterback who brings size and a knack for finding soft spots in coverage to the fold. Corbin will probably get the start at slot receiver. He's one of the up-and-coming stars in the MAC and he's very physical. Last season Corbin caught 35 passes for 357 yards. Dan Tyler will take over at tight end for the departed Matt Brandt, Tyler can do a adequate job as both a blocker and receiver and will be counted on to make plays this year.
The offensive line took a hit with three seniors departing and the new starters will need to step up big. Todd Londot (center) and Mark Kracium (tackle) are the returning starters, are both solid players and excel at pass blocking. Guard Nate Bunce has moved from tackle and brings size and toughness to the middle and could become one of the top guards in the MAC given some time. The pressure will be on Charles Norden, the RS freshman that will start at right tackle. Charles has star potential and had a strong spring but just needs to time to grow and become an experienced player.
Pat Narduzzi employed an aggressive scheme last year and it paid off, and although Narduzzi has moved on to coach at Cincinnati, new coordinator Brian George will run his system using much of Narduzzi's already laid groundwork. The Redhawks run out of a base 4-3 defense, but like Mark Ouimet alluded to in his piece, the Hawks will load up the box in order to stop the run on occasion. The Hawks personnel fits the scheme well. Linebackers John Busing and Terna Nande have elite speed and are fit for aggressive assignments. Expect Miami to blitz their linebackers early and often and also look for strong safety Matt Pusateri to move up in the box in running situations.
MVP: OLB Terna Nande
Biggest Weakness: Defensive line (It's still pretty darn good though)
Key to success: DE Jarrod Rich
Surprise Player: DE Tranaine Sills
Leading the defensive line will be returning tackles Will Rueff and Larry Burt. Rueff had arguably the best spring of anyone on the team and has really elevated his game. He plays with excellent leverage for a big man and can really help out against the run. Burt is a classic big body run stuffer who want do much in the backfield but is very hard to move in the middle. Look for John Glavin to see time as well, he's only 5'11 but plays with a mean streak and has deceptive strength and penetrating ability. On the ends will be Jarrod Rich and Tranaine Sills. Sills has excelled as a situational pass rusher in the past and now takes over the starting job. He's young but made six sacks in a limited role last season. Sills doesn't play well against the run, but his first step is very quick and he has a knack for getting to the quarterback. Jarrod Rich, the other end, will need to step up. He has played decently against the run but will need to show more of a pass rush. Marcus Johnson is an athletic “tweener” type who could see time at end.
The linebackers, as I said before, are very athletic. John Busing has a big frame and outstanding coverage skills. He picked off five passes last year. He is also active in pursuit, and tallied 101 tackles last season. At the other outside linebacker position will be the "Nigerian Nightmare" Terna Nande. Nande is the definition of a playmaker. Just look at his stats from last season as a sophomore: 5.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and 109 tackles. He is a rare athletic specimen, clocking in at 4.36 in the forty, benching 500 pounds and a 37-inch vertical. Nande can stack and shed as well as pursue sideline to sideline. Offenses can't escape him. Starting in the middle will be Derek Rehage who has been a solid reserve in the past and should do a good job in the starting role. He's big and fast and had a very strong spring. Watch for Bryan Tyson to get on the field. He's a former safety who has excellent speed and will be used in several spots in the aggressive scheme.
The secondary is probably the best in the MAC conference. On the corners will be returners Darrell Hunter and Alphonso Hodge. Hodge really elevated his game last year, and is the top cover corner in the league. He is a physical player who has speed to boot. He gets his hand on the ball quite a bit, breaking up 19 passes in his career. Hunter is an NFL prospect with great size and speed…in fact he's the fastest football player ever at Miami (4.25 forty). He doesn't have great cover skills but his athleticism allows him to cover alot of ground. Safety Matt Pusateri plays like a linebacker, which is why he will see alot of time inside the box. He's also decent in coverage. Pusateri has led the team in tackles the last two years and can really help out against the run. Steve Burke is a solid starter at free safety, he recorded over 100 tackles last season and has playmaking ability.
Jared Parseghian is a consistent and reliable kicker who holds the MAC record for consecutive field goals made. Punter Matt Wafzig does a decent job, averaging 41.1 yards a kick last year. Ryne Robinson is a big time threat as a returner, averaging 17.2 yards on punt returns and taking three of to the house last season.