Miami RedHawks (2000: 6-5)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programWhen Miami head coach Terry Hoeppner took over the program, he said he had “some strong ideas about offense.” And those strong ideas included a lot of what we’ve seen at Purdue the last few seasons. It’s been a strange turn for Miami fans used to the between-tackle antics of Travis Prentice and Deland McCullough.
With graduated quarterback Mike Bath at the controls the last two seasons to ease the learning curve, the guys in Red and White have made progress. But this spread offense needs a star to make it work. And instead of a halfback, that guy will have to be a quarterback.
Hoeppner is a former defensive coach who’s been on the watch as the once-vaunted Miami defense has faded. The 1999 and 2000 seasons were marred with injuries to the defensive front and not enough help from a Miami defense that lacked an All-MAC defensive back for the first time in a decade.
Those gaps on defense and the change of offensive system make the coach’s first two seasons look fairly good at 6.5 wins per. But now, with fans expecting excitement and production, he must turn the reins over to a bundle of new faces on both sides of the ball -- only six returning starters are seniors and only a couple more figure to see meaningful playing time.
While the coach refused to complain about last year’s road trip-oriented schedule, he might wonder about this season. Things start rough with four of the first five games on the road. Then come two MAC West games against Western Michigan and resurgent Ball State. The year ends with Marshall and a throwaway game 12 at Hawaii. Don’t forget that this happens on 12 consecutive weekends.
It’s going to be hard for Miami to contend given the youth on this squad, but a win over Ohio or Marshall would again make the RedHawks a late-season player in the run to the MAC Championship game.
OffenseThe numbers guy is redshirt freshman Ben Roethlisberger (6-5, 210), who brings a pedigree as fine as any quarterback ever to snap on a helmet in the MAC. In just a single season as quarterback at Findlay (Ohio) High School, the former wideout broke the state’s single season marks for yards and touchdowns (54) working from a spread passing attack. But his only experience at the Division I-A level is wearing out a scout team last fall and 15 practices in the spring of 2001.
The other half of Miami’s future at quarterback is sophomore Ryan Hawk (6-2, 195) from nearby Centerville, Ohio. Hawk also ran his share of the scout offenses last year, but was called on against Ohio to run some option and try to change the pace of the offense in that critical MAC East game.
“Ben and Ryan are both the real deal,” Hoeppner said. “They have different strengths, but both are established as winners. They both have such great intangibles and both can throw the ball or run.”
Senior Steve Little (5-10, 206) missed the spring with recurring back problems, but led the team with 986 rushing yards last fall, punctuating that total with 222 to close the year at Buffalo. It was the first time Miami went without a 1,000-yard rusher since 1993.
Sophomore Luke Clemens (5-10, 195) was the hero of the spring practices and may force Hoeppner’s hand when it comes to playing time.
Hoeppner has his share of niche receivers -- a tall guy, a fast guy, some little guys who can sit down in a zone. But who will step forward to be the every down player that Miami has had in past years with Trevor Gaylor, Jay Hall or Sly Johnson?
Junior Jason Branch (6-6, 218) looks a lot like Gaylor in terms of build, and last year broke the hearts of the guys in Green with his two late scores against Ohio. He scored four touchdowns and gained 465 yards on 31 catches last fall.
Defense and special teamsJunior Ryan Terry (6-2, 315) gets the nod at right tackle in the 4-3 look. A starter in 19 games his first two years, Terry is potentially the best and biggest down lineman in the MAC. He had 68 stops, including 11 at Ohio State and 11 tackles for loss.
In the middle was a wonderful surprise for Hoeppner and Miami fans. Sophomore Terrell Jones (5-10, 220) arrived from the St. Louis area, forced the coaches to dispatch his redshirt in game four and led the nation’s freshmen with nearly 12 tackles a game for the rest of the year.
Miami has gone a while without a big star in the secondary.
Junior Milt Bowen (6-2, 213) is the top returnee here and moves over from corner to play some safety. He is well known as a stopper on special teams and runs very well for a run-stopping strong safety. He returns the teams only interceptions from last fall (two).
Junior kicker Andy Brumbergs (6-5, 225) has to get more consistent. Though he has a decent leg, Brumbergs’ misses last year seemed to happen at inopportune times en route to a 12-for-17 season kicking field goals.
Bottom lineDespite inconsistent play, Miami had a shot to steal the MAC East title very late in the season after beating Ohio.
Roethlisberger will make this team fun to watch if he wins the starting quarterback job, and this entertainment value will keep Miami fans from noticing that this team is not there -- yet. Next year it could be. The players keep getting bigger, graduating and winning enough. But could this team have a breakout year like the 10 wins in ’98? Absolutely not.
There could be surprises, but this team will be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s finish and could have real problems if it doesn’t get at least two wins in September.