Stephen Morris, quarterback for the Miami Hurricanes, is a sleeper candidate for college football's premier award—the Heisman Trophy.
Morris has flown under the radar for the majority of his collegiate career in Coral Gables, but in 2013, he is expected to have a breakout season.
Considering that the University of Miami has not had a finalist for the Heisman since 2002, Morris would be remembered as one of the best 'Canes in recent memory if he has a great year.
For that to happen, however, Morris must lead the Hurricanes to victory in a few key games, and the entire Miami team must step up around its senior leader.
Morris isn't afraid to scramble for a few yards.
Morris attended Monsignor Pace High School and chose the hometown Hurricanes over Purdue, Northwestern, Central Florida and Central Michigan, according to Rivals.
Then-Miami head coach Randy Shannon was planning on redshirting Morris, but Jacory Harris suffered a tremendous hit from Virginia's John Kevin-Dolce, and Morris' planned future was altered. Backup Spencer Whipple was less than impressive, and Shannon decided to burn Morris' redshirt during the eighth game of the season.
In his first career start the following week, Morris threw a touchdown on the 'Canes game-winning fourth-quarter drive to defeat Maryland 26-20. After Harris was named starter for the Sun Bowl but struggled mightily, Morris played admirably throughout the second half, engineering Miami's only two touchdown drives.
As a sophomore, Morris started the season opener after Harris was suspended for his involvement with rogue booster Nevin Shapiro. Morris then returned to a reserve role receiving scattered playing time over four games.
Last season, Morris took advantage of his first season as a full-time starter. He led the team to a 7-5 record (5-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and a share of the Coastal Division title for this first time in school history before Miami didn't play a bowl game for the second consecutive season.
He set an ACC single-game passing record, throwing for 566 yards in a 44-37 track-meet win over North Carolina State. Morris' fifth and final touchdown pass of the day was a sensational 62-yard bomb to Phillip Dorsett with just 19 seconds remaining.
Morris' 3,345 passing yards in 2012 ranked fifth all-time in Miami history, and he was voted the team's offensive MVP.
According to Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald, Morris was chosen as a team captain for the upcoming season.
Note: Morris' career stats courtesy of hurricanesports.com.
Morris represented the 'Canes at ACC media day.
Weight: 218 pounds
2013 Award Watch Lists: Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award, Manning Award
Not only does Morris have great arm strength, excellent footwork and a strong mental edge, he is surrounded by talent.
Led by seniors Brandon Linder and Seantrel Henderson, Miami's offensive line is an undeniable strength for the team. With six players who saw starting action last season, the 'Canes' beef will provide Morris plenty of time in the pocket throughout the year.
On the outside, Morris has a loaded receiving corps at his disposal. With Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott, Allen Hurns, Herb Waters, Malcolm Lewis, Clive Walford and a handful of others running routes, there are weapons-a-plenty for Morris to target.
Granted, the receivers must catch Morris' passes this year. In 2012, the pass-catchers often did not do just that; the Hurricanes were plagued with drops throughout the season.
Last, but certainly not least, Miami has Duke Johnson.
The sophomore running back was a dynamic player for the 'Canes last season, and head coach Al Golden wants Johnson to get more touches this season.
With a stellar offensive line, deep receiving corps and a playmaking running back, Morris can simply be a distributor, and as a result, he will have a fantastic season.
Morris was wearing a hat instead of a helmet far too often last season.
Sometimes, a hero's greatest enemy is himself.
For the Hurricanes, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of Morris' Heisman campaign is the Miami defense.
Now, this is not to say that the 'Canes play an easy schedule. Simply, if Morris is not on the field, he cannot be productive.
Defensive captain Shayon Green told Michael Casagrande of the South Florida Sun Sentinel that he believes "(the Miami defense has) grown a lot. Last year, we were a very inexperienced team. This summer, we've done a great job getting faster, getting stronger, getting smarter."
And if the defense truly does improve, thereby getting the Miami offense more time on the field, Morris can have a phenomenal season under center.
But otherwise, Morris' Heisman hopes will be crushed by the 'Canes defense.
September 7: Florida Gators
Morris' first test takes place during the second week of the season when the Florida Gators come to Sun Life Stadium. Will Muschamp put together a top-notch defense in 2012. It was the fifth-best in yards allowed per game, and much of the same can be expected this season.
The battle for the Seminole War Canoe will either be Morris' coming-out party or a sign he has plenty to improve before the next key game.
TV Note: This contest can be seen at 12 noon ET on ESPN.
October 17: North Carolina Tar Heels
Last season, Morris suffered an ankle injury midway through the fourth quarter. Without Morris under center for a potential game-winning drive, the Hurricanes fell to North Carolina 18-14.
The 2013 edition of the matchup will be the 'Canes' first game outside the state of Florida.
And Morris will be in the national spotlight.
The senior captain gets his shot at defeating the division rival Tar Heels on a nationally televised Thursday night game.
TV Note: This game can be seen at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
November 2: Florida State Seminoles
Beyond being a rivalry game, this tilt with Florida State would be one of the final pieces to a successful Heisman campaign for Morris.
When Miami played FSU last season, Morris was slowed by his ankle injury, and the 'Canes fell to the rival Seminoles 33-20.
But with Morris hopefully at full strength, this game should be one of the better Miami-FSU battles in recent history.
Morris can be a playmaker like Duke Johnson, but the senior knows his place.
For instance, Morris created his game-winning touchdown pass against North Carolina State last year. He shook one Wolfpack defender, bought time for his receivers and launched a beautiful pass to Dorsett for the win.
But over the final four games of the 2012 season, Morris let his receivers do the heavy lifting and still threw for 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions during that time frame.
Herb Waters (89 yards, 65), Clive Walford (65) and Mike James (72) did most of the work for their long touchdowns.
Morris clearly cherishes his role as a team leader, and that mental aptitude is essential as a quarterback. After being named a team captain, Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald reported Morris said, "Leadership doesn’t mean anything unless people are following you. My biggest thing is to keep leading and keeping these guys focused for what’s ahead."
Morris also has a clear ability to bounce back from throwing an interception. He does not hang his head or refuse to make difficult throws; instead, Morris trusts both his arm and his receiver to make the play.
Overall, I believe Morris is the perfect guy to be playing quarterback for the Hurricanes this season.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks says Morris has the look of an NFL franchise quarterback.
He is not only one of the most gifted natural throwers in college football, but he is a refined pocket passer with a high football IQ and superb management skills. While Morris must show more consistency in his play, especially in big games against elite defenses, he enters the season regarded as a strong Day 2 prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Miami's new offensive coordinator James Coley told the Miami Herald's Greg Cote that Morris is “extremely talented physically, a next-level guy. And mentally, he sees it all now as well."
Behind a paywall, Rivals reports Kevin Olsen, a backup quarterback in Miami, appreciates how Morris handles himself on the field.
He's a great quarterback. I think I can learn a tremendous amount from Stephen. Every day I'm watching what he does, his command of the offense and how he carries himself after a pick, when stuff really isn't going well... 'Let's go, shake that off.' He's really good at that.
Morris will indeed have his breakout year, and he will become the first Miami quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in one season. By doing so, Morris will shatter Bernie Kosar's 29-year-old school record of 3,642 passing yards.
Aided by his talented receiving corps, the senior quarterback will throw for 28 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Morris will also complete over 63 percent of his passes.
Additionally, Morris will add 140 yards on the ground scoring two touchdowns during the season.
Morris will do his best to make "The U" relevant on the national scene.
If Morris is to be a factor in the Heisman race, he must lead the 'Canes to a victory over Florida on September 7. He must also defeat a solid Florida State team on November 2—in Tallahassee.
Despite climbing the Miami record books, I do not expect Morris to be in New York for the presentation of the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
But it certainly does not mean the Hurricanes will have a bad season.
As noted earlier, the 'Canes defense has many issues, so Miami may not win 11 or 12 games. Of course, players on nine-win teams like Robert Griffin III (2011) and Tim Tebow (2007) won the prestigious award, but that obstacle may be too much for Morris' Heisman candidacy.
Morris will be on the outside looking in, though he might be able to snag a few lower-placed votes to finish in the top 10.