-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
The Miami Hurricanes are one of college football's most intriguing teams of 2011.
On the field, the Canes are college football royalty. When they win, they win big. The 2011 edition has loads of talent, a preseason Top 25 ranking and is the primary challenger to Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.
But when it goes bad on South Beach, it can get ugly. Three decades of off-the-field drama that makes The Wire look like kindergarten. Package that with poor administrative support and a stadium that is located more than 20 miles from campus and any fan base would be a bit restless – even if it is notoriously difficult to please.
Larry Coker won big, but clearly wasn’t cut from the same Hurricane cloth as Jimmy or Butch. Randy Shannon is a great human being and cleaned up the program, but couldn’t win enough games.
Enter Al Golden.
With practice starting up recently, the Golden Era has begun in south Florida in earnest. But what is the former Temple head coach faced with in his first campaign with Miami?
He has enough talent to challenge for a division title, but has a glaring problem under center. So Golden’s biggest decision of 2011 will likely come before he ever steps onto the sidelines of Joe Robbie-Dolphins-Pro Player-Land Shark-Sun Life Stadium.
Meet the Candidates:
Jacory Harris, 6-4, 195, SR
2010: 1,793 yards, 14 TD, 15 INT, 27 rush yards, 2 TD
Stephen Morris, 6-2, 210, SO
2010: 1,240 yards, 7 TD, 9 INT, 74 rush yards, TD
Spencer Whipple, 6-2, 205, SR
2010: 54 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT
How many quarterbacks enter their senior year after starting for the better part of three seasons, having thrown for 6,340 yards and accounted for 55 touchdowns, and end up sitting on the bench?
That is exactly what could happen to Harris this fall if he cannot improve his efficiency. Over the last two seasons, the local product has thrown 32 interceptions in 23 games. In only six games over that span did the slender senior slinger not lob a pass to an opposing jersey. Throwing off his back foot and into double coverage has become an M.O. for Harris - who has not shown the ability to develop as a passer.
So the much younger, more athletic, stronger-armed Stephen Morris is the obvious choice, right?
Not so fast. Morris also had an issue with interceptions and efficiency. The freshman failed to complete 50% of his passes in three of his six games. The Canes were 2-2 in his four starts, and like Harris, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
That said, the biggest difference – and major advantage – for Morris is his youth. These types of turnovers and efficiency issues are to be expected from a freshman quarterback. He is a dramatically more malleable commodity than Harris. Morris has loads of room to grow and develop as a passer and leader, where it will extremely difficult for Golden to correct 870 pass attempts worth of poor practices in Harris’ case. Morris did help Miami beat Maryland and Georgia Tech and played what was his easily his best game in the Sun Bowl loss to Notre Dame: 22-for-33, 282 yards, 2 TD, INT, 5 carrries for 22 yards gained.
The good news for both players is the running game. With the best collection of blockers and backs The U has seen since the early 2000s returning, the ground attack should be a major strength of the offense and should significantly aid whoever is taking snaps. In fact, fans can probably expect to see plenty of Lamar Miller in the wildcat formation as well.
Harris seems like the obvious choice due to experience and leadership. At least, to start the season. However, it has leaked this week from Miami Herald reporter Susan Miller-Degnan’s twitter account that Morris may have a slight edge:
This position battle looks like it might last the entire season – or at least until Morris is ready to take over full-time.
Athlon Sports Prediction: Jacory Harris
After polling the Athlon editorial staff, our odds-makers still feel that Harris will start the season on the field. However, I would be surprised if Morris is not the starter by the second half of the Ohio State game. Harris' line against the Buckeyes last fall: 22-for-39, 232 yards, TD, 4 INT.