Stability at quarterback is a must in college football. Traditional powers, recent national champions and the top teams across the land can all attribute a portion of their success to a playmaker under center.
Conversely, erratic quarterback play can be—and often is—the downfall of many would-be great teams.
The Miami Hurricanes have seen both feast and famine at the quarterback position and if "The U" is going to someday dominate again, it will all start with the leadership and effectiveness of a top-notch signal-caller.
Gone is two-year starter Stephen Morris, meaning that 2014 will be a year of experimentation, as the Hurricanes have no proven gunslinger ready to step in and take over.
Furthermore, Miami has proven a bit snakebitten at the position since the do-no-wrong Ken Dorsey graduated more than a decade ago. For one reason or another, each passer—from Kyle Wright to Kirby Freeman to Jacory Harris—proved to be more of a liability than an asset. (In defense of all three, it was a nine-year run of musical chairs at offensive coordinator.)
Fourth-year head coach Al Golden has put more of a precedence on recruiting quarterbacks than his predecessors, with Miami looking to reel in 4-star California-bred Brad Kaaya and 3-star Alabama product Malik Rosier on National Signing Day. The Canes are also going after 4-star Treon Harris of nearby Booker T. Washington High School.
This year's would-be recruiting haul comes on the heels of last year's pick up of 4-star prospect Kevin Olsen—a pro-style quarterback in the mold of past Miami greats, as well as younger brother of Greg Olsen, current NFL tight end and former Hurricanes star.
Olsen will battle senior Ryan Williams for the starting job this fall, leaving Miami at a bit of a crossroads. Do the Hurricanes go short-term and go with seniority and experience, or should they think about the future and take some lumps with a redshirt freshman, eventually jelling offensively?
Williams—a one-time 2-star prospect, South Florida native and Memphis transfer—was added for depth in 2011, sat out the year and saw mostly mop-up duty the past two seasons as a backup.
With limited mobility, a good-not-great arm and yet to play any significant minutes, Williams would be pegged as a game manager-type quarterback next season. Minimize mistakes, move the chains, get the ball to speedsters and hope some big plays ensue.
While there's nothing technically wrong with that approach, Williams under center would certainly have a ceiling for Miami. The sky would be the limit, however, with the highly touted Olsen—or even a true freshman such as Kaaya—especially in an era where the last two Heisman trophy winners were freshmen quarterbacks.
Unfortunately, maturity appears to be the biggest question mark for the Hurricanes in regards to Olsen.
While wrapping up his senior year of high school in New Jersey, the star quarterback was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. A witness claimed that Olsen slammed into a tree, surveyed the damage and hit a parked car while leaving the area. The police report also stated that the quarterback appeared to be under the influence of "something."
Miami wisely redshirted Olsen, while Golden attempted to jump-start the growing up process by adding the freshman to the Hurricanes' 16-man "Unity Council"—a group of players who act as a liaison between the team and coaching staff, helping with accountability and leadership.
Should the coaching tactics fail to wake up the would-be heir apparent, it could prove detrimental to Olsen's future at Miami—especially with competition heating up as soon as Kaaya and Rosier arrive.
The same could easily be said for Williams, as well.
Teddy Bridgewater arrived at Louisville in 2011, and three games into his freshman season, he unseated Will Stein—a junior who waited his turn but never resumed a starting role post-injury as the newbie went to the next level and never looked back.
Whoever earns the starting nod at Miami better be ready to take over and elevate the program to its former "Quarterback U" status. It's a proven fact that the Hurricanes are only as good as whoever is under center.
Bernie Kosar brought home the program's first championship as a freshman in 1983. Vinny Testaverde won a Heisman trophy but had a dismal title-game performance in 1986. Steve Walsh earned Miami's second title his first year as a starter in 1987, as did Craig Erickson in 1989 and Gino Torretta in 1991.
As for Dorsey, he was a three-year starter who reached three BCS games, back-to-back title games, won a championship, was a Heisman finalist and amassed a 38-2 overall record.
In the post-Dorsey era, Miami quarterbacks not named Brock Berlin have all struggled mightily.
Morris looked ready to buck that trend after a solid junior campaign in 2012, but he backslid as a senior. Injury was partly to blame, as were the losses of key offensive weapons throughout the season. Tutelage—or lack thereof—also played a huge role.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch left Miami last January for the same role with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and no one felt the impact more than Morris, who lost his play-caller and quarterback coach. Morris spoke of Fisch's impact earlier this week while practicing for the Senior Bowl.
"Having the opportunity to play for the Jaguars, that would be amazing," Morris told Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union on Tuesday. "I love Coach Fisch and the offense he’s in. He helped me grow as a quarterback. It’s a wonderful offense."
While Miami nabbed an up-and-comer and tremendous recruiter in James Coley, the inexperienced offensive coordinator isn't as seasoned a quarterback coach as Fisch, which presents a dilemma for the Hurricanes with so much young talent in need of grooming.
Reeling in tomorrow's stars is only half the battle—the rest of the challenge lies in proper development.
Whether it's Williams, Olsen, Kaaya or Rosier rising to the occasion this fall, someone has to assume the position and put Miami back on track.
If not, it'll be another setback season for the Hurricanes.
All recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.
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