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The freshman QB experience and where Brad Kaaya fits into college football and UM history

ATLANTA -- The average college football fan hears the term "freshman starting quarterback" and hardly flinches anymore.

After all, look at what Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston did in their first years under center. They  won the Heisman, and Winston led Florida State to the national title in January.

But lumping every freshman starting quarterback into the same category is a mistake. And that certainly applies for University of Miami freshman Brad Kaaya, who will make his debut Monday night at Louisville and join Jacory Harris (2008) as the only the true freshmen over the last 35 years to start the season opener for the Hurricanes.

Ken Dorsey didn't do it (he started the last three regular season games as a true freshman). Jim Kelly didn't do it (he made his first career start in the eighth game of the season at Penn State). And Bernie Kosar didn't do it. He, like Winston and Manziel, had the benefit of a redshirt season to learn Miami's offense before leading UM to its first national title in 1983.

Kaaya obviously won't have a year of apprenticeship under his belt. And unlike a bunch of other true freshmen who have found their way under center recently throughout college football, Kaaya doesn't even have the added experience of having enrolled early and participated in spring football.

He's only been at UM since the end of May when the first session of summer classes began in Coral Gables.

Over the last five years, a total of 34 true freshmen have started a game and attempted at least 100 passes for a school in a major conference (FootballStudyHall.com did the research from 2008-2012 and I looked up last year's numbers). Of that group, only nine started the season opener. The majority of those true freshmen enrolled in college early including two of the three who did it last year -- former Texas Tech walk-on Baker Mayfield (who has since transferred to Oklahoma) and Cal's Jared Goff.

Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, who started all 12 games for the Nittany Lions last year as a true freshman and went 7-5 as a starter before being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, enrolled in college in late June. He might be the only example of someone who got into school later than Kaaya and started right away.

While Winston, Manziel, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, Georgia's Aaron Murray, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota all had tremendous success as redshirt freshmen, most true freshmen have endured growing pains.

The good news for Kaaya -- and Miami fans -- there is some history of true freshmen having success.

Back in 1985, Jamelle Holieway became the first and only true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a national title after being pressed into duty when Troy Aikman was lost for the season in a 27-14 loss to the Hurricanes in Norman.

More recent examples include:

> Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor took over as the starter three games into the 2008 season and went 8-2, completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,942 yards and 18 touchdowns. He finished with a quarterback rating of 145.6. Pryor was not an early enrollee.

> Baylor's Robert Griffin III enrolled early in college and put up a quarterback rating of 142.0 after coming off the bench four drives into his first season and taking the starting job from there. Baylor went 4-7 with Griffin, who threw for 2,394 yards and 28 touchdowns and eventually went on to win the Heisman a couple years later.

> USC's Matt Barkley led a top five-ranked team in 2009 from the start to a 9-3 record. He completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 17 touchdowns and 2,697 yards finishing with a QB rating of 131.3. Barkley was an early enrollee. 

> Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater started the final 10 games of his true freshman season and went 5-5, completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards, 14 TDs and 12 picks. Bridgewater was an early enrollee.

> In 2009, Rutgers' Tom Savage started 11 games and went 8-3, completing 52.3 percent of his passes for 2,106 yards and 15 touchdowns. Savage was an early enrollee.

> And just this past year, Texas Tech started a pair of true freshman -- Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb -- and went 8-5. Both were early enrollees. 

> Houston's John O'Korn, a former St. Thomas Aquinas standout, meanwhile, took over as a starter three games into the 2013 season and went 6-5. He was the named the American Athletic Conference's Rookie of the Year after setting the Houston freshman record for touchdowns (28) and completions (259). O'Korn was a summer enrollee.

Something else for Kaaya can lean on aside from history: his backups.

Seniors Jake Heaps and Ryan Williams both started as true freshman for BYU and Memphis, respectively. Heaps became the starter the fourth game of the season and went 6-4. Williams became the starter the third game of the season and went 1-9.

What has coach Al Golden told Kaaya to do with all the hype surrounding his start opening night?

"Just keep ignoring, keep blocking it all out," Golden said. "I think he's mature in that sense. He'll do it. Again, expectations are just like what they sound -- external.

"He's playing to a standard right now and not really worried about anybody's expectations. He competed everyday for the starting job. He won it outright. I think that's all he's worried about it -- performing and taking care of all the little things as we get closer to the game. We need the whole offense to rally around him and keep him poised, keep him relaxed and not worry about the outside."

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