JM Rieger, Staff Writer

For the first time since the 2007 season, the Miami University football team will not face a Southeastern Conference (SEC) opponent to start the year. However, last year’s most improved team is still riding high after winning their first Mid-American Conference (MAC) Title since 2003 and reaching their first bowl game since 2004.

The Red and White return 17 starters from last year’s squad that went from “worst to first,” and became the first program in college football history to go from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in consecutive seasons. Incoming Head Coach and Miami alumnus Don Treadwell, formerly the Offensive Coordinator at Michigan State University, will face high expectations this season after being selected in the MAC Football Preseason Poll to win the MAC East Division.

The RedHawks will look to continue their strong passing attack from a season ago, which finished 32nd in the nation. Redshirt junior quarterback Zac Dysert and redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Boucher both return alongside wide outs Chris Givens, Andy Cruse and Nick Harwell.

Harwell emerged as one of the premier wide outs in the MAC last season, catching 64 passes for 871 yards and six touchdowns, almost all of which came during the final nine games of the 2010 season. Harwell was recently named to the 2011 Biletnikoff Award Watch List, which is the award given annually to the nation’s best wide receiver.

The receiving corps will likely have to produce even more this season though, after the RedHawks second-leading rusher from a season ago, Tracy Woods, was officially released from the team back in June. Woods was expected to start this season at tailback following the departure of senior running back Thomas Merriweather, but now the Red and White must look elsewhere to solidify a rushing attack that has struggled the past few seasons.

Meanwhile, the defense will look to solidify its secondary that allowed over 210 yards per game through the air last year with returning starters Dayonne Nunley and Pat Hinkel. The front seven for the Red and White once again will be the heart and soul of the defense, led by returning captain and defensive lineman Austin Brown, as well as the team’s two leading tacklers, linebackers Jerrell Wedge and Evan Harris.

The nation’s 28th ranked defense from a season ago will once again look to use its quick linebackers and defensive linemen to pressure the quarterback, a strategy that led to 35 sacks a season ago.

Miami has another tough non-conference schedule this year, with games at the University of Missouri and at the University of Minnesota, as well as a home contest against the Black Knights of Army. Miami opens the season September 3 at Missouri, who pummeled the Red and White 51-13 last year in Columbia.

However, two of the RedHawks toughest matchups may come at the end of the year with two games at Temple University and at Ohio University, which may once again determine who takes the MAC East crown and ends up in Detroit in December. A total of nine votes separated these three teams in the MAC Football Preseason Poll, each of whom finished in the top three in the MAC East just one season ago.