Since Ken Dorsey had consecutive top-five Heisman Trophy finishes in 2001 and ‘02, Miami has struggled to find an elite quarterback. Hurricane fans were tantalized at times by the play of Brock Berlin, Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. But in the end, none of those players fully met expectations in large part because they simply did not win enough games.
Enter Brad Kaaya.
The quarterback from West Hills, Calif., had a tremendous true freshman season, breaking several Miami first-year passing records along the way. He won the job in camp and never let go, throwing for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.
The problem was that Miami still went 6-7. The four losses to end the year, and especially the three defeats that followed the tough Florida State game on Nov. 15, changed everyone’s view on what could have been a nice season. While Kaaya’s numbers in the games following FSU were not great, they weren’t awful either.
And there’s the rub. Miami was not able to win the games coming down the stretch when Kaaya was just okay; he needed to be great. It’s a lot to ask one player to shoulder that kind of load and it should be unnecessary when that player is a true freshman on a team that had seven players taken in the latest NFL Draft.
This fall, the pressure on Kaaya ramps up even more. Only two other offensive starters return. Four offensive linemen need to be replaced and the leading returning receiver had just 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. The defense also loses a bunch, and new leaders must be found to replace Anthony Chickillo and Denzel Perryman.
Clearly, the most accomplished player on the 2015 Hurricanes is the sophomore quarterback. Like seemingly everyone else on the team, Kaaya is young. But make no mistake about it, this is his team. It can’t be anyone else’s.
To top it all off, Kaaya is well aware of his coach’s tenuous job situation. Each Miami loss could be the crack that sends Al Golden plummeting through the thin ice on which he currently operates.
No one is expecting a whole lot from the Hurricanes this fall. Athlon Sports has them ranked No. 43 entering the season and projects a date with Indiana in the Arizona Bowl. With an inexperienced roster and a tough schedule, 2015 could be a difficult ride for Miami. In total, Kaaya has a ton on his plate entering just his second campaign.
What he does have, however, is a great opportunity. The next step is not contending for a national championship; it’s contending in the ACC Coastal Division. If Kaaya puts up good numbers again, develops even more as a leader of the program, and has Miami in a position to make Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech nervous at the end of November, he will have done his job and then some.
All of those possibilities will have to be connected for his development to materialize. Kaaya needs to put up the stats for his team to win and the only way he puts up those numbers is to lead the way for the younger offensive unit.
When 2015 turns to ‘16, it’s unlikely that Kaaya will be placed alongside Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, and all the other star quarterbacks in Hurricanes’ lore. But he has a chance, with improved play and improved team results, to take a big stride in their direction.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years and his work also has been published on PhilSteele.com.