MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) A year ago, Miami fans were wondering if Brad Kaaya was good enough.
Those questions were answered.
Kaaya showed up last summer, went through training camp, was a surprise winner of the starting job and threw 26 touchdown passes. Now with a full year of preparation - spring ball, individual work, a second training camp - to draw upon the expectations are immeasurably higher on the Miami quarterback, whose sophomore season starts on Saturday when the Hurricanes play host to Bethune-Cookman.
''I don't think you can compare him right now to any time last year,'' said coach Al Golden, who takes a 28-22 record into his fifth Miami season and knows there's a grumpy fanbase expecting big things in 2015. ''He's more of a commander and a leader. He's more vocal. He's got more conceptual command of the offense and can execute at a higher level. He's quicker. He's in better condition. I just think he's completely different.''
Kaaya thinks the same could be said about the team.
The Hurricanes finished last season on a four-game slide and finished 6-7, simply falling apart after a big lead at home against rival Florida State turned into a four-point loss. So they embarked on an offseason of team-building and trying to improve locker-room dynamics, and Kaaya thinks the lessons learned will carry onto the field.
''As a team, we've realized what our goals are, what our aspirations are,'' Kaaya said. ''You see a lot trickle down from the top. Everyone in the building knows what our goal is. We have a set, defined goal with everyone on the same page from the bottom up.''
That goal: Win the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
Saturday's outcome won't help or hinder the march toward that goal, but the Hurricanes hope it sets the tone for a fast start. There will be an emotional lift as well when offensive lineman Hunter Knighton - who had a heatstroke during practice in February 2014 and nearly died - finally gets to play for Miami. Golden said Knighton will play as a reserve.
For Bethune-Cookman, Terry Sims takes over as coach for Brian Jenkins. The Wildcats return some offensive weapons like quarterback Quentin Williams and running back Michael Jones, but the defense is largely rebuilt and unproven.
Here's some of what to know going into Saturday:
KAAYA AT HOME: Kaaya's numbers at home last season were far better than his stats when Miami hit the road. In seven home games during his freshman year Kaaya threw for 18 touchdowns and only four interceptions, averaging 16 yards per completion. He had eight touchdowns and eight interceptions in the six games away from Miami Gardens, averaging 12.8 yards per completion.
FAST STARTERS: It was easy to see in the 2011 and 2012 Bethune-Miami games that the Wildcats were more than a little excited to face the Hurricanes. Bethune-Cookman actually scored the first touchdown in both of those contests, and even held the lead after the first quarter of the 2011 matchup. Neither of those 7-0 cushions lasted for long, with Miami eventually winning those games by scores of 45-14 and 38-10.
HOMECOMING OF SORTS: The visiting side of the field will have plenty of people who are feeling right at home on Saturday. Of the 92 players on Bethune-Cookman's roster coming into the season, 31 list a South Florida locale - a municipality in Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties - as their hometown. At least five members of Bethune's coaching and administrative staff also hail from the Miami area.
MUHAMMAD SUSPENDED: Al-Quadin Muhammad's return to the Hurricanes will come a week later than planned. The defensive end will not play Saturday because of a violation of team rules. Muhammad has not played for Miami since recording eight tackles as a freshman in 2013. He was suspended from the university for the fall 2014 semester after an investigation determined he broke Miami's code of conduct by getting into a fight with another student.
RUNNING MEN: Joe Yearby is slated to get the start at running back for Miami, which will also use true freshman Mark Walton and little-used sophomore Trayone Gray. The Hurricanes lost Gus Edwards to a season-ending foot injury last month.