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MAC football: Miami picked to finish third in East Division

Chuck Martin can see good things coming for his Miami University football team this season, and not just because the RedHawks are loaded with experience and talent.

Martin, starting his fifth season at the MU helm, talked about “high character” and “incredible work ethic” and “unselfish kids” when he spoke about his squad Tuesday at Ford Field during Mid-American Conference Media Day.

“A lot of kids that we trust on and off the field to do things right all the time,” Martin said. “They’ve done a great job improving. You think, ‘Oh, you’ve got kids back’ … no, our kids have improved the last eight months. They’re stronger. They’re faster. They’re bigger. They’re smarter.

“I’m so excited about the opportunities. We’ve got a crazy great schedule coming up. We’ve got 12 games that we’re excited to play, and we’re going to get after one at a time and see how least-fun we can be to play this.”

Miami, coming off a 5-7 campaign that included five losses by 8 points or less, has been voted third in the East Division with two first-place votes and 95 voting points from the MAC media.

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Ohio is the overwhelming favorite in the East, getting 21 No. 1 votes and 140 points. Buffalo only got one first-place nod, but placed second with 112 points.

Akron was fourth (74 points), Bowling Green fifth (58 points) and Kent State sixth (25 points) in the East.

Northern Illinois is the preseason favorite in the West Division, followed (in order) by Toledo, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Ball State.

Receiving votes as the MAC championship game winner were Ohio (13), Toledo (5), NIU (4), Miami (1) and CMU (1).

“We don’t worry too much about the polls,” Martin said. “Two years ago we were predicted last and tied for the league. So maybe we should be predicted last.”

Nobody in the East returns more starters (19) than Miami. That’s eight starters on both sides of the ball plus three specialists.

Four RedHawks are on national watch lists — James Gardner (Biletnikoff Award, best wide receiver; Maxwell Award, outstanding college football player), Nate Becker (John Mackey Award, outstanding tight end), Danny Godlevske (Rimington Award, most outstanding center) and Kenny Young (Doak Walker Award, best running back).

“We have a great chemistry because we have so many seniors and so many older guys,” said Gardner, a senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “There is a competition level, but at the same time, we’re all family. We’re not trying to cut each other down. We all have one goal, and that’s to win.”

Senior linebacker Junior McMullen from Oak Park, Mich., said the RedHawks are ready to step back into the MAC championship mix.

“It could be a special season, but every season could be a special season,” McMullen said. “It’s up to us to make it happen. It’s up to us to put in the work, put in the effort, put in the time. We’re just going to see where it goes.”

Miami will open the season at home against Marshall on Sept. 1 and also has nonconference games against Cincinnati, Minnesota and Army. MAC play will begin at Bowling Green on Sept. 22.

Martin is 16-33 in four seasons with the RedHawks. The program’s last winning record came in 2010.

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