O’Boyle: Miami (Ohio)’s success flies under the radar
Daniel O'Boyle | Tuesday, November 29, 2016
In any college football season, there’s always plenty of stories occurring at the same time. It’s one of the great things about the sport. The huge number of different teams, often competing for very different goals, means you can find something interesting almost anywhere you look.
This year, you’ve got Alabama’s crushing dominance of everything in its way; Michigan’s continued success under Jim Harbaugh making The Game the biggest moment of the season; potentially the biggest playoff conundrum the committee has faced so far; the massive disappointments of Texas, Michigan State and Notre Dame; the rise and fall of Lamar Jackson and Louisville.
Look to the Group of Five and there’s a few more stories: Houston’s big game victories and shocking defeats, Navy’s offense rolling under Will Worth after Keenan Reynolds graduated and his replacement got injured, star running backs Jeremy McNichols and Donnel Pumphrey, P.J. Fleck’s incredible success with Western Michigan. Or how about the team with the fifth-best record in the same conference as Fleck? How about a 6-6 MAC team, what’s the story there?
Well, Miami (Ohio) isn’t just any 6-6 MAC team.
The Redhawks have been FBS bottom-feeders for the previous five seasons, with their last bowl-eligible season coming in 2010. In 2013, they lost every game, and they won only five in the next two seasons combined. Miami has had its moments of success, being coached by Bo Schembechler in the 1960s and quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger at the start of this decade, but has experienced a decade as one of the worst teams in the FBS. To most fans, its claims to fame in football would come from confusion with their more successful namesake in Florida — or for trivia aficionados, being one of four schools to count both a U.S. President and a Super Bowl winning-quarterback as alumni. This year looked to be no different. The Redhawks started off 0-6, including a loss to Eastern Illinois, who have found consistent FCS mediocrity since star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo left.
In their fifth game, against Ohio, the Redhawks lost sophomore quarterback Billy Bahl to a shoulder injury and hopes of even matching 2015’s three wins became slim. At 0-6, with Bahl’s true freshman replacement Noah Wezensky looking unimpressive, ESPN’s Football Power Index rated Miami as the 114th-best team in the country, with a 0.3 percent chance of winning out.
But win out they did, thanks in part to new sophomore quarterback Gus Ragland, who has quietly become one of the best players outside the Power-5 conferences. After missing the spring with an injury, Ragland has thrown 15 touchdown passes for the Redhawks this year, and is still yet to throw a single interception in 149 attempts this year and 178 career attempts. A shot at winning the MAC was too much to ask, as Ohio’s head-to-head victory over the Redhawks will see them face Fleck’s Central Michigan team, but Ragland has earned Miami a bowl game and a perfect springboard for greater success next year.
At first glance, a .500 record for a team in a small conference and a chance to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl with another Group of Five opponent isn’t one of the memorable stories from 2016. But if you look closely, there’s always something interesting going on.
That’s the great thing about college football.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.