By TED GIOIA
College Contributor Network
Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson, and Gino Torretta. These players gave Miami the title "Quarterback University" after multiple Heisman Trophies and national championships throughout the 80's and 90's. Since their 2002 national championship appearance however, the program has failed to live up to the high expectations that stemmed from the prior decades of success.
It's not fair to pin 12 years of disappointment on one position, but Miami's absence of a star under center has been a key factor in its struggles. The Hurricanes have signed a plethora of talented recruits at the position since 2000, but none of them have delivered for one reason or another. Numerous coaching changes and a Ponzi scheme scandal also contributed to some program instability and a drop-off of talent surrounding the quarterback position.
Kyle Wright, Kirby Freeman, and Jacory Harris are among several top-tier quarterback recruits since 2002 that never lived up to expectations. Most recently, Stephen Morris saw some success, but his career came to a sour end with an embarrassing 36-9 loss to Louisville in last year's Russell Athletic Bowl.
Despite last season's collapse, there was still a lot of optimism surrounding this year's Hurricanes squad, and rightfully so. Several successful recruiting efforts by head coach Al Golden and his staff had Miami looking like a potential force to be reckoned with in the ACC. With plenty of talent at the skill positions and a defense returning lots of young talent, there was only one question that had yet to be answered: Who was going to replace Stephen Morris at quarterback?
Originally, it looked like Morris' backup, Ryan Williams, would fill the void. That option vanished after Williams tore a ligament in his knee this spring. Talented redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen was widely regarded as next in line, but a failed drug test took him out of the picture as well. With options dwindling, Golden made the bold decision to give the opening day nod to true freshman Brad Kaaya over senior transfer Jake Heaps.
Kaaya, a four-star recruit from California, arrived on campus in May and immediately impressed his coaches and teammates with his work ethic and dedication to learn. When asked about the decision to go with Kaaya, senior wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said, "I kind of figured. He's been playing good. He's a real good quarterback. He's been preparing his butt off."
Some fans were skeptical about the decision to go with a true freshman over Heaps, who has played in over 30 games throughout his college career. After all, the last true freshman to start on opening day for the 'Canes was the aforementioned Harris.
But it's pretty clear that Miami's coaches don't judge Kaaya by his age. More likely, they see his strong arm and six-foot-four, 206-pound frame.
"As I told him, he's not a freshman quarterback. He's the University of Miami quarterback," Golden said.
While the praise from his coaches and teammates sounds reassuring, the problem is that opposing defenses aren't going to be so kind -- as we learned last week in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
The rookie's debut didn't go so well. In the much anticipated rematch of last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, Louisville routed the 'Canes to earn their first ACC victory. Kaaya threw two interceptions, had a QBR of 15.6, and converted just one third down on 13 attempts. The true freshman certainly looked rattled against the tenacious Cardinal defense.
It's still too early to tell if Kaaya can be the answer at quarterback for which Miami has been looking. The Hurricanes played poorly all over the field, not just under center. We'll see if the true freshman can learn from Saturday's game and progress throughout the season.
He's going to have to if the Hurricanes want to compete in the ACC this year.
Ted Gioia is a junior at Syracuse University with majors in Finance as well Television, Radio, and Film. Born in North Buffalo, he is an avid Bills and Sabres fan. Follow him on Twitter: @Ted_Gioia
By TED GIOIA