True measures of quality sometimes stray pretty far beyond wins and losses. With an oddly-shaped ball and, at the mid-major level, such little difference in overall talent and quality, single plays and odd bounces can make an enormous difference in a team's season. For that matter, so can schedule strength.
For no single team in the country is this more true than the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. Here are their records and official F/+ rankings for the past six years:
- 2006: 2-10 (96th)
- 2007: 6-7 (102nd)
- 2008: 2-10 (112th)
- 2009: 1-11 (113th)
- 2010: 10-4 (93rd)
- 2011: 4-8 (82nd)
While nothing was saving those 2008-09 teams, the other four years in this sample are fascinating. Generally speaking, there was very little difference in quality between the 2006 team that went 2-10 and the 2010 team that went 10-4. But one went 2-5 in one-possession games (and played Northwestern, Purdue, Syracuse, and Cincinnati in non-conference play), while the other one went 6-0 (and sneaked in an easy non-conference win over Colorado State).
The 2011 squad was no less confusing. In theory, it was possibly their best team since 2005. But the Redhawks went just 4-8 in Don Treadwell's first season in Oxford, in part because they won just two of six one-possession games. The 2010 team probably shouldn't have squeezed out ten wins, but the 2011 team shouldn't have ended up with eight losses. But fate doesn't tend to worry too much about "should" and "shouldn't."
So Miami will enter the fall trying to "recover" from a "disappointing" season, but in reality, they return a ton of weapons from what was truly a decent team. They are loaded with experience in the trenches, and they have one of the best mid-major defensive lines in the country. They have two seasoned quarterbacks and some interesting passing weapons on both sides of the ball. With Temple leaving the conference and Northern Illinois and Toledo replacing a ton of talent, there might be a bit of a power shift in the MAC this season. If they come through in those close games, the Redhawks might be as well-positioned as anybody to steal back some of that power.
Or, who knows, maybe they will improve another 10 spots and finish 3-9. Nothing has to make sense in the home of MACtion.
There is quite a bit to like about Miami this year -- an outstanding front seven, two solid quarterbacks, and a potential go-to receiver, to name three. But it is certainly worth reiterating that the Redhawks went 6-0 in close games last year and, from an F/+ perspective, really did not improve as much as their record would indicate. The improvement they did make is likely rather sustainable, but it was still only a step or two forward.
I really, really like Don Treadwell. I like the job he did in a fluid situation at Michigan State last year (head coach Mark D'Antonio suffered a heart attack, and Treadwell served as interim coach, beating Wisconsin in the process), and I think he could be capable of very good things in Oxford (and, therefore, the major conference job that he would naturally inherit in a few years). They are by no means a runaway favorite in the MAC, but they'll have a very good chance to defend their East Division crown. Our initial projections suggest an impressive four-way race between Miami, Temple, Ohio and Kent State, and that sounds about right to me.
Thanks to Miami's close-game struggles (they lost to Temple and Ohio by a combined 10 points) and the simple fact that both Temple and Ohio were damn strong teams, the East was more of a two- or three-team race, with Ohio going 6-2, Temple going 5-3, and Kent State going 4-4. Miami was a bystander, and while I am talking them up here, there is still work to be done -- they couldn't run the ball, and they were a bit too leaky on passing downs. Still, they were better than their record, they improved significantly at the end of the season, and they are looking strong for 2012.
At Michigan State, Treadwell engineered almost perfectly balanced offenses, running on standard downs and passing on passing downs. Offensive coordinator John Klacik, meanwhile, was almost 50-50 in rushing and passing as head coach at Lock Haven University before his hiring at Miami. Naturally, then, the two combined to field one of the most pass-happy offenses in the country in 2011. Makes perfect sense, right? They threw 13 percent more than the national average on standard downs, eight percent more on passing downs and nine percent more in the red zone.
This shift toward the pass could have been for any (or all) of three different reasons:
- They wanted to do this at their previous places of employment but either didn't have the personnel or backing to do it.
- They couldn't get their entire offense installed, so they went with what the personnel knew.
- They couldn't run the ball to save their lives.
Honestly, I lean heavily toward the third reason, with a dash of the second. The Redhawks ranked a respectable 72nd in Passing S&P+ but were just 107th in Rushing S&P+. Five Miami backs carried the ball at least 15 times in 2011, and they combined to average a wretched 3.2 yards per carry. The backs were both completely lacking in explosiveness and kneecapped by an iffy offensive line. It is quite conceivable that, given their druthers, Treadwell and Klacik would have called more rushes; but knowing that it wouldn't work, they just put the ball in Zac Dysert's right arm and asked him to make plays.
When Dysert remained upright, he did, in fact, make plays. He completed 66 percent of his passes at a decent 11.9 yards per completion. And in Nick Harwell, Chris Givens, Andy Cruse, Dawan Scott, David Frazier and Willie Culpepper, he had six receivers who posted interesting to great per-target averages. The problem was, he spent more time on his back than anybody in the country not named Tino Sunseri. He was sacked on a ridiculous 9.3 percent of his pass attempts, 46 times in all. That Miami ranked 64th in Passing Success Rate+ (an efficiency measure) is astounding considering he went down once out of every ten passing attempts.
Experience should be an incredible asset for the 2011 Redhawks. Both Dysert and Austin Boucher, who capably replaced him late in Miami's 2010 MAC title run, return, as do three of the top four running backs, five of the aforementioned six receivers (everybody but Givens), and seven offensive linemen with starting experience (107 career starts in all, one of the country's highest totals). But for that to matter, "experience" has to turn into "improvement" for an offensive line that ranked in the triple digits in both run blocking (100th in Adj. Line Yards) and pass protection (106th in Adj. Sack Rate). (It isn't a coincidence that Treadwell brought in a new offensive line coach, Ed Stults, this offseason.)
Yes, most of the two-deep on the line returns, but that two-deep wasn't very good last year. Plus, three-year starter and second-team all-conference guard Brandon Brooks is gone, and two-year starting tackle Matt Kennedy (a skinny 266 pounds) has moved to tight end, which technically removes 27 career starts from their overall total. Improvement up front is not guaranteed, but if it comes, Miami has some serious potential, at least in the passing game. Nick Harwell is one of the best No. 1 receivers in the country -- he averaged 14.7 yards per catch but still managed a healthy 75-percent catch rate -- and is a quick-strike weapon on standard downs. And if he has a quarterback who is comfortable in the pocket, he could do bigger and better things, as could a trio of sophomores (Scott, Frazier, Culpepper).
(And it wouldn't hurt if Miami backs could average at least four yards per carry. It isn't fair to Dysert for him to get sacked a lot AND be the only reliable ball-carrier.)
While I am only one or two "ifs" away from talking myself into believing in the Miami offense, I need none to get into a Miami defense that ranked a healthy 47th in Def. S&P+. They struggled to close out drives (they were 30th on standard downs but just 87th on passing downs), but they had a lot to offer, and they return quite a bit.
It starts up front, where a line that ranked 11th in the country in Adj. Line Yards and 17th in Adj. Sack Rate returns four of its top five and five of its top eight and adds two three-star freshmen to boot. Three seniors lead the way -- ends Jason Semmes and Luke Kelly (combined: 50.5 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss) and playmaking tackles Austin Brown and Mike Johns (43.0 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss). The departure of rush end C.J. Marck hurts but can be overcome. Meanwhile, first-year tackle David Deleon and end Wesley Scott could crack into the second string alongside young players like sophomore tackle Mwanza Wamulumba.
As well as the line performed in 2011, cracks began to occur once the ball got past the line of scrimmage. The Redhawks were occasionally gouged for big plays, especially on the ground, which, along with the fact that their pass rush was a bit worse in blitzing situation, indicts the linebacking corps a bit. It is difficult, then, to figure out how big the losses of linebackers Jerrell Wedge and Ryan Kennedy are. They combined for 120.0 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss, but they were a bit all-or-nothing. If replacements like Jaytee Swanson, sophomore Tyler Tucker and redshirt freshman Sean Breard can bring a little bit of consistency to the table, they don't have to make a ton of plays for Miami to absorb the turnover in this unit.
As with the line and linebackers, Miami loses its leading tackler in the secondary as well: free safety Anthony Kokal. He led the team with 70.0 tackles and threw in five tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and three passes defended. He was a "safety valve" safety who was capable of making plays, but while his loss hurts, it, too, could be absorbed by the simple fact that Miami returns every other defensive back of consequence. Junior cornerback Dayonne Nunley was rather successfully aggressive, picking off three passes and breaking up 16 more. Only Toledo's Desmond Marrow defended more passes than Nunley in the MAC. Big strong safety Pat Hinkel also returns, giving new defensive backs coach Ron Carpenter some fun toys.
In all, while some star power has departed, pure depth should allow for quick recovery. In fact, the biggest departure comes on the sideline, where coordinator Pete Rekstis was drawn to Florida Atlantic by Carl Pelini; linebackers coach Jay Peterson takes over, and while it seems continuity won't be much of an issue, you never truly know in advance about coaching changes. With as many as eight senior starters, the 2012 Miami defense will be incredibly experienced. If the line plays anywhere near as well this fall, and if Peterson can keep up Rekstis' good work, this could be the best defense in the MAC.
The departure of Temple has left the MAC East a bit in flux. Miami gets two of the division's better teams (Ohio, Kent State) at home, and with a conference road slate that includes visits to extremely beatable Akron and Buffalo teams, it isn't difficult to envision Miami's path to the MAC title game. A return trip to a bowl game, with or without a division title, would certainly be considered successful following a 4-8 campaign, but it would be at least a hair disappointing not to take full advantage of such a potentially easy path.
I like Kent State, I think Dave Clawson is at least a bit dangerous at Bowling Green, and I think Ohio has built a well-established program, but it appears I'm going all-in for Miami in the MAC East. Experience can be a devastating weapon in a conference full of similarly talented teams, and Miami is as well-seasoned as anybody in the MAC. Whereas last year's Miami team had 13 total seniors, this year's might have as many as 13 senior starters. They were better than their record last year, and they return a good portion of their playmakers. Just keep Dysert upright and unleash the defensive line once again, and the results should come in Treadwell's second season.
While we're here, let's watch some college football videos from SB Nation's new YouTube channel together: