The opening game of the Miami Hurricanes' 2014 season has been highly anticipated for months—specifically, the eight months that have passed since a dreadful loss capped the once-promising 2013 campaign.
As if Monday's rematch against Louisville wasn't already an exciting night, the fanbase's collective eagerness rose following the announcement that true freshman Brad Kaaya would be the quarterback.
The 4-star QB from California is heralded as someone who can turn around the program, and he very well might be. But Miami is just hours from officially burning Kaaya's redshirt season, and that's an important long-term decision.
Football is like a business; the 'Canes have immediately invested in their future. Now, there's no looking back. The Miami Herald's Manny Navarro reports comments from Miami head coach Al Golden:
Through the ups and downs sure to come, the Miami coaching staff cannot turn away from their young quarterback even if he struggles at Louisville.
Replacing with Kaaya with transfer Jake Heaps this early would just be terribly silly, to put it nicely. Kaaya earned the role, and he deserves multiple chances to prove he can lead the team.
Following the ACC tilt with the Cardinals, the 'Canes host Florida A&M and Arkansas State on successive weekends. Giving Kaaya two additional opportunities to prepare for a prime-time showdown on Sept. 20 is extremely valuable, both for the 2014 season and his future.
That night, Miami enters Memorial Stadium to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a team that is arguably the Hurricanes' toughest non-Florida State competition.
Kaaya will certainly be forced to overcome mistakes during his first three outings, but Bo Pelini's squad is a heightened level of competition. With Nebraska's D-line led by first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory, USA Today's Paul Myerberg believes it could be "the Big Ten's most pleasant surprise."
How will Kaaya ultimately react to the intensified pressure? The 'Canes need to see if he can handle it.
Granted, by all accounts, the freshman has appeared mature beyond his class standing. Coaches and teammates alike have taken notice of his poise throughout the fall, including junior cornerback Tracy Howard, as noted by Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald:
He has great footwork in the pocket. He has a natural feel, does a great job stepping up and avoiding defenders in the pocket. He makes great decisions. You can't beat a guy who makes great decisions. Instead of forcing it and throwing an interception, he'll throw it away. And he moves the sticks.
Should Kaaya continue making good decisions and moving the sticks, he will keep his starting position. But yes, if Kaaya flat-out struggles every game, there is an undeniable chance Golden will elect to bench the freshman.
Still, if anyone is taking Kaaya out, it's Ryan Williams—not Heaps. The injured senior is continuing to improve health-wise, but he was not healthy enough to return for Week 1, per The Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter:
Ryan Williams believes he's 85 percent healthy. Said he tried his hardest to come back for Week 1, but wasn't cleared.— Matt Porter (@mattyports) August 25, 2014
The largest variable in the quarterback discussion remains the medical clearance of Williams, who was obviously disappointed he's not available, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "I tried my hardest to be ready for this game," Williams said. "I guess it wasn't physically possible. I'm just going to take it week by week and when I can come back, I will."
However, Williams' readiness is a bridge that will be crossed upon arrival. According to The Associated Press' Tim Reynolds, "Golden said it's too early to predict if the race will re-open when Williams is able to play again."
For the foreseeable future, Kaaya is the Hurricanes' quarterback, and that must not change until he has been given multiple opportunities and his in-game performance compels a switch.
Miami is betting heavily on a start-up, absorbing the risk and waiting for dividends. Shying away from the venture after a single outing is not a smart decision.
Otherwise, the 'Canes will have wasted a season of someone they hope re-establishes the program as a national power. And that's just not worth it.