Kaaya, Winston give intrigue to Miami-FSU showdown
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) When Florida State and Miami meet this weekend, their game will feature the current Atlantic Coast Conference leader in touchdown passes, yards per attempt, yards per completion and quarterback rating.
Jameis Winston also will be there.
On one sideline, there's Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who still hasn't lost a collegiate game and will be aiming to lead the second-ranked Seminoles (9-0, 6-0 ACC) to their 26th consecutive victory. On the other side, there's Brad Kaaya, the true Miami freshman who is already turning heads and setting records at the place once called ''Quarterback U.''
The quarterback matchup alone might be worth the steep price of admission into the stadium the Hurricanes (6-3, 3-2) call home on Saturday night.
''He always finds a way to win,'' Kaaya said of Winston. ''And he's also really good at tuning out all the outside noise, no matter what's going on. He doesn't let anything from the outside affect him.''
Without question, Winston is more accomplished than Kaaya so far. Also without question, he's dealt with more distractions than the Miami quarterback - or perhaps anyone else in college football, for that matter, with off-field issues dogging both of his Seminole seasons. But when looking at the sheer basics of quarterback play like arm strength and decision-making, it becomes easy to see some parallels.
''Jameis has the edge in arm strength. He's bigger and stronger,'' said Miami offensive coordinator James Coley, who had the same job at Florida State until last season. ''He has an elite arm. Brad, he's got an elite arm as well. And he's going to get stronger.''
The numbers this season are relatively close in plenty of areas.
Kaaya has 20 touchdowns, averaging 9 yards per attempt and 14.5 yards per completion.
Winston has 17 touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt and 13 yards per completion.
''I know he is playing very well and he is a very talented guy,'' Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said of Kaaya. ''I know the offense that he is in. James carries a lot of things that we do plus some other things he does. He has to be a very cerebral guy and a very mental guy to be where he is at right and having the success. He obviously has tremendous upside.''
The quality of quarterbacks that have come through Miami in the last three decades can't be argued: Gino Torretta, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Jim Kelly, Ken Dorsey, Steve Walsh and others are why the school held that ''Quarterback U'' tag for so long.
Kaaya is doing things as a freshman that none of them did.
Based on Miami's listed records, Kaaya is 242 yards away from matching Kosar's school record for yards as a freshman, true or redshirt. He's the first Miami freshman quarterback to throw 20 touchdown passes. He's also on pace to become just the sixth player in school history to throw for 2,500 yards in his first season as the primary starter.
''We have a franchise quarterback,'' Miami coach Al Golden said.
So, too, does Florida State.
Winston's numbers aren't as gaudy in 2014 as they were in his 40-touchdown, 10-interception campaign as a freshman who won everything there was to win. He already has 11 interceptions this season, his yards-per-attempt is down and his quarterback rating has dipped nearly 35 points from where he finished a year ago.
That being said, he's still 22-0 as a starter.
''I've got to stop turning the ball over, and we've got to start making some noise in the first half,'' Winston said. ''But the good thing is our defense is playing lights out. They continue to play better and better, but my job as the leader of the team and as the quarterback of this team, I have to put both sides of the ball in good position to win the game.''
That's what he's always done.
That's what Kaaya is learning to do.
That's why this matchup could be special. Winston was spectacular as a freshman. Kaaya might be on a similar path.
''People can say Brad's a freshman,'' Miami running back Duke Johnson said. ''But to us, he's not a freshman anymore. He's the quarterback.''