By MIKE SMITH
It's easy to understand why Toledo and Ohio got the 2023 MAC football head coaches poll nod to win their respective divisions.
Both schools made it to the title game last year and return a ton of talent. Add to that, the fact that Ohio has homefield advantage when it meets the Miami RedHawks this year.
Sure, MU pulled out a 24-21 win in Athens back in 2019, but that . . .
. . . was Miami's 2019 MAC East championship team. You'd have to go all the way back to 2005 to find the next most recent Miami win at Ohio. The Bobcats' 2021 squad managed just three wins in the wake of head coach Frank Solich's summer resignation that year. One of those three was a 35-33 victory over Miami.
There are, of course, a bunch of reasons for fans to like Ohio as 2023 MAC East champs, and readers can explore them when MAC Reporter Online runs its preseason preview series. That will begin in early August. However, the previews will also be able to point out a number of reasons to believe the Miami RedHawks also deserve some serious love. Athon's preseason football magazine, for example, is among those who favor MU to win the MAC East. MAC Media Day host Michael Reghi also gave Miami his nod Thursday.
Like Toledo, who pulled seven votes to Ohio's four among head coaches predicting an overall MAC champions, the Bobcats are blessed with an outstanding quarterback. Ohio's Kurtis Rourke was tabbed as Vern Smith Leadership Award winner (an MVP equivalent) despite missing the regular season finale and championship games (as well as the bowl game) due to a serious injury. He's should be back, though, and hopes to lead the 'Cats to their first full MAC championship since 1968.
Of course, Miami had its own quarterback injury issue last year. Unfortunately, that came in the very first game, leaving the RedHawks with an inexperienced freshman -- Aveon Smith -- at the helm for most of the campaign. In addition to his inexperience, Smith was much more of a running threat than passing threat. Those two factors forced MU's offense into a much different attack than had been planned heading into 2022.
With the veteran Gabbert back this year, Miami can open up its passing game again. Smith returns, as well, and is a much more versatile threat after his 2022 on-the-job training and passing improvement. The RedHawks also picked up another pretty good arm in Colorado transfer Maddox Kopp, who has "a high ceiling" and was picking up the MU offense well in the spring, according to head coach Chuck Martin.
There are enough questions -- and transfers -- in the rest of the offense to be cautious about what kind of a "ceiling" this year's MU offense will have. However, the defense is loaded with experience and should again be among the MAC's top units.
Given Ohio's talented and diverse offense, this year's Battle of the Bricks could be another offense vs. defense matchup . But its only July. That's a long way until Oct. 26 when the two teams meet and even longer until the season ends. For now, suffice it to say RedHawk fans probably don't need to worry about being second in a preseason poll.
NOTE: Fall camp will be an important time, especially for the Miami offense. That concludes with the Pigskin Preview event Aug. 19. It's a good chance for fans to get their eyeballs on the 2023 squad, especially since MU opens with three road games. The RedHawks finally reutn home to host Delaware State Sept. 23.
Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.