It must be frustrating for Brad Kaaya to hear about how great some of the other ACC quarterbacks are every time he turns on the television or goes online. But now the junior quarterback has a legitimate chance to be in the running for college football’s most prestigious individual award: the Heisman Trophy.
For the past three years, Kaaya has been on par with quarterbacks who statistically consistently overshadow him. Kaaya’s stellar freshman season went almost unnoticed nationally because of the large shadow cast by reigning Heisman winner and FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. What many didn’t realize was that Kaaya threw for more touchdowns and fewer interceptions, had a higher quarterback rating and outplayed Winston in a narrow head-to-head loss that year. Now, fast forward to Kaaya’s sophomore campaign. Heading into the season, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson received all the attention that the media had to offer. Even after far outperforming Watson in his freshman season, Kaaya couldn’t garner any hype of his own.
While other players certainly are worthy of the attention they are receiving, Kaaya deserves some of the same. He has performed at an All-American level throughout his career and is one of the best NFL prospects college football has to offer. So why does he continuously end up with the short end of the stick? The answer comes down to winning.
Both Winston and Watson led their teams to the College Football Playoffs, as Kaaya toiled away on mediocre teams. While none of the blame for a lack of wins can be put on Kaaya, the fact of the matter is that winning trumps statistics in almost every media pundit’s mind. If you don’t win, you don’t get talked about and you don’t get the credit that you deserve.
However, all that seems to have changed this year. With a new coach and an energized fan base behind him, Kaaya has led the Canes to a 3-0 record out of the gate. And as Miami prepares to kick off conference play in the coming weeks, it is time to talk about him as a legitimate dark horse Heisman candidate. It is almost a given that he will put up his annual 3,000 or more passing yards and 25 or more passing touchdowns by the time December comes around, but that won’t be what gets him invited to New York. Big performances that lead to wins against some of the nation’s most recognized programs will.
In three weeks, Kaaya will get his first shot to prove his Heisman worthiness on a national stage against FSU. Kaaya has played the two best games of his career against FSU, and after the Seminoles suffered a 53-point blowout loss to Louisville last Saturday, it looks as if Miami should be favored at home against its archrival. Win that one, and the Heisman buzz will commence. A few weeks later, the Hurricanes will head to South Bend to take on college football’s most historic program, Notre Dame. With a big game and a win on network television, Kaaya could officially be considered a Heisman candidate as the calendar flips to November. Continue to play well and take care of business against lesser opponents in the final month of the regular season, and the Canes will score a date with a top five team from the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship Game. That would present a great opportunity for the all-important Heisman moment, and an ACC Championship would have to make Kaaya a frontrunner for the Heisman and make his team a serious contender for the College Football Playoff.
Although this scenario seems well within reach for Miami and its quarterback, it is only hypothetical for now. At the moment, the story remains similar to the past two years, as other ACC teams and quarterbacks hog the spotlight. Watson and his Clemson Tigers have received almost too much attention for their own good in the early stages of this season. There is also a new guy on the block in Louisville, and his name is Lamar Jackson. You would be hard-pressed to find a show, sound bite or tweet related to college football that doesn’t mention him at least seven times. He has catapulted himself to the top of current Heisman projections by leading his team to blowout victories in each of its first three contests. But did you know that there is actually another star ACC quarterback that has led his team to three straight convincing wins to start the season? You probably have heard of him. His name is Brad Kaaya.