All eyes on Kaaya, as Miami thinks of what might be in 2017

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Among the first things that Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya did on Thursday morning was tweet out a photo of his MVP trophy from the Russell Athletic Bowl.

“Woke up and it still feels just as good!” Kaaya wrote .

It should, because this win was a long time coming for Miami.

Beating No. 14 West Virginia 31-14 on Wednesday night looms large for the Hurricanes in so many ways. First, it ended a 10-year bowl-victory drought. Secondly, it gave Miami a five-game winning streak to end the season. Third, it provided a legitimate source for optimism going into the offseason, something that really hasn’t been the case at Miami in a very long time.

“It’s momentum,” wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “It’s going to be going into January. We will pick it up in spring ball. Hopefully it snowball effects into next season.”

That’s the idea, and on paper Miami might have its best team in some time in 2017.

That’s especially true if the quarterback stays.

Kaaya Watch is fully underway for the Hurricanes, with the school’s all-time leader in yards (9,968), completions (720) and attempts (1,188) taking some time to further talk with family, friends, coaches and advisors before making a decision about whether to skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft or see what the Hurricanes can do with him next fall.

Does Kaaya think there’s more left to accomplish?

“Definitely,” he said.

If so, Miami’s offense could roll.

In Miami’s five-game win streak to end this season, Kaaya completed 114 of 183 passes for 1,548 yards, with 14 touchdowns against one interception. And even opposing coaches see Miami starting to get back to that long-awaited upper echelon.

“They’re a good football team,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That’s the best defense that we faced all year. I would anticipate that trend is going to continue and they’re going to continue to get better and better. It’s a new coaching staff. They’re doing things the right way and … I would anticipate them to continue to move forward.”

Some of Kaaya’s top targets — tight end David Njoku, who leaves early, and wide receiver Stacy Coley — won’t be back. Many other skill players will, including top running back Mark Walton, breakout freshman wide receiver Ahmmon Richards, tight end Christopher Herndon and most of the key contributors on a defense that improved by leaps and bounds this season.

“It’s every kid’s dream when they get to college to win the national championship,” Kaaya said.

Miami talks about that every year, but only now do the words seem less than totally farfetched. As many as 17 players who were at least semi-regulars in the starting lineup could be back off a team that went 9-4 this season — with a four-game losing streak, no less.

“This was a great ending,” freshman linebacker Shaquille Quarterman said, “and a great beginning for next season.”

Asked how good Miami could be in 2017, Quarterman didn’t hesitate.

“As good as we want to be,” Quarterman said. “As great as we want to be.”

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