CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami/AP) — Miami has big-time playmakers coming back at nearly every position and finally ended what was a 10-year drought between bowl wins, finishing the season on a five-game winning streak.
That all sounds good.
But it pales when remembering that there isn’t a single proven quarterback on the Hurricanes’ roster.
Brad Kaaya — who rewrote the record books in his three Miami seasons before turning pro and getting drafted by the Detroit Lions — is gone, and the question for months around Coral Gables has been who will take over as his replacement. It’s widely expected that true freshman N’Kosi Perry will inherit the starting job at some point, though it’s unclear whether he’ll be in that role for the Sept. 2 season-opener against Bethune-Cookman.
For now, it seems like a race between Perry and Malik Rosier, Kaaya’s backup the last two seasons.
“I need a guy I can trust,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. “Can you hit your target? Can you make good decisions? Can you handle the pressure of being the starting quarterback at Miami? Those are the things I’ve got to find out, and the last one I won’t know until they actually become the starting quarterback.”
Kaaya left Miami as the school’s career leader with 9,968 yards passing, 720 completions and 1,188 attempts. He had four TD passes in a 31-14 win over West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl last December, ending Miami’s bowl-win drought — then took off his Hurricanes uniform for the final time.
Expectations are high anyway, which is almost always the case at Miami. The Hurricanes were 9-4 last season and come into 2017 as the preseason media-poll pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division, the fourth time in the last five seasons they were tabbed for a top-two spot there.
But the Hurricanes still haven’t even been to an ACC title game, the conference-title drought now 13 years and counting.
“When it comes to the media, we don’t really … I’m not going to say we don’t care, but we’re not really bothered by how the media feels or if they respect us enough to come and see us,” linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said. “We’re just here to play ball and compete like we’re supposed to do at Miami.”
A huge test, for whoever the quarterback is, comes Sept. 16 at Florida State. Miami has dropped seven straight to the Seminoles and the last three were particularly painful.
The Hurricanes wasted a 16-point lead before falling in 2014, losing by four points in a game where they had a chip-shot field goal missed and an extra point get blocked. Miami led in the fourth quarter but lost at Tallahassee in 2015, then wasted yet another lead — and had another extra-point blocked — late in a 20-19 defeat last season.
“I expect them to be really good,” Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois said. “They’re well-coached. I know they’re going to come to play every game, especially when they play Florida State.”
Here’s some of what to know going into Miami’s season:
THE SCHEDULE: Going to Arkansas State in Week 2 might not be easy, especially since it’s a week before going to Florida State — the first September meeting between the Hurricanes and Seminoles since 2009 (the last time Miami beat its archrival). A stretch of five home games in a six-game span in October and November will likely decide Miami’s Coastal chances. Notre Dame also visits Miami on Nov. 11, the first Irish-at-Hurricanes game since 1989.
WHAT THEY LOST: Miami has to replace much more than Kaaya. RBs Joe Yearby (turned pro) and Gus Edwards (transferred) combined for 898 yards and eight touchdowns, meaning there are serious depth questions there behind starter Mark Walton. At receiver, Stacy Coley (graduated) and David Njoku (turned pro) combined for 1,452 yards and 17 of Miami’s 27 TDs through the air. DB Corn Elder, the leader of the improved 2016 defense, also graduated, as did big-time punter Justin Vogel.
WHAT COMES BACK: The Hurricanes have as many as 18 starters returning in 2017, including most of the contributors on defense. WR Ahmmon Richards had a Miami-freshman-record 934 yards a year ago. Many eyes will be on Quarterman, who had 84 tackles, 13 of those going for a loss and eight QB hurries in his spectacular freshman year.
QUICK STRIKES: It’ll be interesting to see if Miami has the quick-strike capability it had in 2016. The Hurricanes had 25 touchdown drives that lasted less than 2 minutes last season. Obviously, much of that will be contingent on the quarterback. Perry wasn’t even with Miami for spring ball, and Rosier’s last pass attempt against an FBS team was Oct. 31, 2015.
RICHT IN YEAR 2: At Georgia, Richt’s best season was his second season — and Miami fans will expect Year 2 magic again. The Bulldogs went 13-1 under Richt in 2002, winning the Sugar Bowl and the Southeastern Conference title. Miami hasn’t won a league title since sharing the Big East crown in 2003.
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