Following the 2010 regular season, the Miami Hurricanes made a change at head coach, firing Randy Shannon before ultimately hiring current head coach Al Golden. The move cost the Canes on the recruiting trail, as coaching changes often do. The biggest loss came when home-town product and five-star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater decommitted from the 2011 Miami recruiting class and ended up signing with the Louisville Cardinals. Now, with Miami and Louisville set to square off in the Russell Athletic Bowl with Bridgewater under center for the Cardinals for possibly the last time before leaving for the NFL, let’s ponder a major what-if: What if Bridgewater had stayed committed to the Canes?
If Bridgwater had signed with Miami, he likely wouldn’t have been thrust into the starting lineup immediately like he was with Louisville. The Hurricanes had senior Jacory Harris under center in 2011 and were committed to his ability to lead the team that season. That would have put Bridgewater in a race with Stephen Morris for the backup job, though Golden might have simply chosen to redshirt Bridgewater instead. Harris finished that year completing 65 percent of his passes for 2,486 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the Canes while Bridgewater learned on the job taking his lumps as a freshman at Louisville, completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
2012 was the year of redshirt freshmen quarterbacks in college football with Marcus Mariota breaking out with the Oregon Ducks, Brett Hundley exploding onto the scene for the UCLA Bruins, and Johnny Manziel reigning over them all as the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. If Bridgewater would have followed through on his verbal to Miami, he likely would have been one of them as well after redshirting his first year with the Canes because of Harris under center. Bridgewater would have then come into 2012 with an excellent shot and leaping Morris for the starter’s job and breaking out with an excellent crop of redshirt freshmen signal callers.
While Miami has always been very high on Morris, Bridgewater was a big-time recruit who we now know is incredibly accurate throwing the football. He would have had to make up ground on Morris and his experience in the offense but it was entirely possible that he would have supplanted the junior quarterback for the starting job to lead the Miami offense that season. As it went, Morris went unchallenged into the No. 1 quarterback slot and had an up-and-down season, completing 58.2 percent of his passes for 3,345 yards with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions as Miami finished 7-5 on the year. Meanwhile, Bridgwater broke out with the Cards, completing 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
This would have been the season where Bridgewater’s story varied the most from how it is now. If Bridgewater were at Miami, he would not have been able to play in a bowl game due to the self-imposed postseason ban that the Canes were under in 2012. Instead, he got to go to a BCS bowl with Louisville as champions of the then-Big East (now AAC). In that Sugar Bowl against the Florida Gators, Bridgewater became a star as he shredded the Gator defense and led the Cardinals to a rousing upset on a national stage. That spotlight catapulted Bridgewater into the Heisman conversation and elevated his NFL draft stock to the top of most Big Boards.
Now, both Bridgewater and Morris will close out the 2013 season and their collegiate careers on the same field this bowl season. If Bridgewater does skip on his senior season to go to the NFL, he will leave on a high note after completing 70.8 percent of his passes this season for 3,523 yards and 28 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Morris, meanwhile, took a step back in his senior year completing 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,868 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Early on this season, it looked like Morris might get Miami back on top of college football, leading the Canes into the top-10 of the BCS standings. But a disappointing second half knocked Miami out of BCS and ACC contention.
While Morris never truly lived up to the expectations that coaches and fans had for him, possibly the only reason he had the opportunity to start at all for the Canes was Bridgewater’s decision to decommit three years ago. Could Bridgewater have kept Miami in contention this season and avoided the swoon that knocked them out of the ACC title race? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s an intriguing “what if” scenario to consider when watching Louisville and Miami clash on December 28 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.