The million dollar question in Oxford is who will be the next starting QB? Since 1999 Miami has received stellar quarterback play from Mike Bath, Ben Roethlisberger, and most recently, Josh Betts. Entering into the fall, the torch looks to be passed to junior Mike Kokal. Kokal has not played much but has proved to be very mobile. He does not have the arm strength of his three predecessors though. Sophomore Jared Elliott (6-5, 222) could also emerge as the starter. Elliott is a big, strong, pure passer who has overcome shoulder problems and will get his shot to earn the job this August. Daniel Raudabaugh spent last year on the scout team and most likely will be the 3rd string QB. On the surface, Miami is not as strong at quarterback as they have been over the past seven seasons. The RedHawks ranked 15th in the country in passing offense in 2005, that ranking will drop in 2006.
Running Backs Despite questions in the QB area, there is no question that there is a lot of talent at running back. Brandon Murphy (5-7, 190) returns after posting a 1,000-yard season in 2005 and scoring nine TDs. Murphy was also the 4th leading receiver for MU. There are solid backups with Jimmy Murray (6-2, 214), Jimmy Calhoun (6-1, 224) and Andre Bratton (5-11, 190). In certain alignments, Miami uses a FB - Matt Vogele, Nick DeBartolo and Austin Sykes. All of the FBs are in the 240-pound range. This group of running backs should be very solid and Miami will most definitely average more than 134-yards per game on the ground this fall.
Receivers/Tight Ends Senior speedster Ryne Robinson will replace the graduated Martin Nance as the team’s ‘go-to’ receiver. Robinson had a 1,100-yard receiving season last year, with nine TDs and averaged 15-yards per catch. He is a treat to watch after the catch. Josh Williams, Sean McVay, Patrick O’Brien and Ryan Busing are the other starters. These three, along with senior RJ Corbin, combined for 649 yards and four TDs. Look for redshirt freshman EJ Morton-Green (6-5, 210) to be a real factor this fall with his size, speed and hands. Tom Crabtree is the TE and is a terrific athlete. This group of receivers is one of the MAC’s very best.
Offensive Linemen Steve Meister and Charlie Norden are the lone starters s Miami must replace three players due to graduation. Steve Kosky, Matt McKeown and David DiFranco are likely the new starters. The coaching staff if very high on DiFranco (6-6, 323), a converted TE who has grown into a fine OT prospect. Pete Walters (6-6, 320) is another solid prospect who will be earning playing time this fall and John Buckman (6-8, 330) is a JUCO who will press for playing time. Historically Miami has one of the best offensive lines in the MAC. This fall may be a transition for this group but there is solid potential to have a fine year up in the trenches.
Defensive Linemen DE Craig Meister is the lone D-line returning starter. Meister recorded 5 QB sacks and 7 tackles for loss last season. Former linebacker Joe Coniglio and pass rush specialist Tranaine Sills are the other DEs. Otto Linwood has the potential to be very good run stopper at 6-1 306 pounds while the other DT is Seth Painter. Painter moved from DE and is undersized at 6-2 254, but very quick. Travis Craven and Ben Huddle are the backups, but look for several true freshmen to see the field this season. Miami recruited this area very hard and scored big with the following prospects; DE Jordan Stevens, DT Alex Stewart, DT Martin Channels and DE Mark Paun. Expect at least two of these players to see significant playing time this fall.
Linebackers Miami graduated a very talented group of LBs, including Terna Nande who is now in the NFL. No area of this team is more unproven and more untested than this new group of LBs. Dontae Wright, Joe Hudson and Clayton Mullins are slated as starters. Together they accounted for 37 total tackles in 2005. Brad Goatley, Chris Shula and Jeff Cleveland could all get the starting nod sometime during the year. Without question this area of the team should be classified as “the great unknown.”
Defensive Backs FS Joey Card is the lone returning starter in the defense backfield. Card is very physical and had 67 tackles last year, 3 INTs and 3 pass break ups. His leadership will be needed to carry over throughout the entire “D.” Sean Kavanaugh and Robbie Wilson are the SS. The corners are Frank Wiwo (6-3, 200), Bryan Roland and speedy Jarrid Gaines (4.3/40 speed). Highly recruited true freshman Peris Edwards may make the two-deep roster in August. Miami was a respectable #41 against the pass last season and has a shot to be that good again this fall given the speed and athleticism of this group.
Special Teams The place kicking duties will fall to either sophomore Nathan Parseghian or freshman Trevor Cook. Neither has kicked in a college game. Sophomore Jacob Richardson look decent at times last year, averaged 38-yards per punt, including ten kicks pinned inside the 20-yard line. Ryne Robinson is one of the nation’s top punt returners and may very well end up in the NFL as a kick return specialist. Sean McVay is dangerous at kickoff returns and has terrific speed.
Final Thoughts Few teams in the nation return so few starters as Miami. The RedHawks return just four players on offense and only three on defense. This could prove to be a big problem with a schedule as difficult as Miami’s. On the offensive side of the ball, there is major talent at receiver and running back, but question marks at QB and offensive line. If a quality QB can be found between Kokal and Elliott, there are plenty of playmakers to make their growth much easier. The offensive line may be better than some prognosticators believe since MU has recruited that area very well over the past three seasons. Defensively, there are questions all over and that is what may prove to be the difference between a bowl bid or a five win season. Replacing the entire LB corps and most of the line and defensive backfield will be challenging. Again, Miami has recruited these areas well recently, but these players are unproven. Expect an up and down season for the RedHawks all year long.
Mark it down! The RedHawks will beat Northwestern – again! Through the years, Miami has played the Wildcats six times since 1955 winning five, including a 44-14 ‘thumping’ in 2003. Look for the RedHawks to beat former MU coach Randy Walker - again – this time in Oxford.
Schedule Analysis Miami has a difficult non-conference schedule playing two Big Ten teams (Purdue & Northwestern) and two Big East teams (Cincinnati & Syracuse). Only one of those four games is in Oxford. Cross over MAC games are NIU, Ball State and Western Michigan. Within the East, Miami travels to both Akron and Bowling Green. Overall, this is one of the more difficult schedules in the MAC.
Most Important Game At BGSU on November 15. Last year the RedHawks were drilled on ESPN by the Falcons 42-14; that loss kept Miami from playing in their third straight MAC Championship Game. It should come as no surprise that playing at BG will be as much as a payback game as it will be for divisional contention. A win over Falcons could put Miami into one of the three MAC bowl games. A loss could spell a ruined bowl holiday for Miami faithful.