Before the start of the season, I liked Miami's Stephen Morris enough to make him my 17th-best senior prospect when I released my Hot 100 in August. At the time, I felt he had the skills and upside to emerge possibly as the top QB prospect by the end of the year.
Fast forward a few months, a stretch during which Morris has struggled and thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns, including four recently against North Carolina, and his status isn't quite what it was this summer. In my updated midseason Hot 100 a few weeks ago, Morris fell to No. 38 and would probably be even lower if I updated the list today.
What happened in those 3-4 months?
There's so much that goes into the process of evaluating a quarterback. You want to be as thorough as possible, not only grading what you see in front of you but factoring in his past history, looking at his production along with his talent and upside.
I was among the many who took an interest in Morris this summer when he attended the Manning Passing Academy and won the camp's skills competition. What I saw on the tape was a quarterback who showed a strong arm, moved around well and threw with accuracy in his drills. This came on the heels of a pretty good junior season, in which Morris passed for 3,345 yards with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a Miami team that finished 7-5.
Looking back, my preseason evaluation of Morris was more or less like grading a prospect who looked very good throwing the ball at the draft combine, when there is no pressure and no threat of contact. You get a feel for what a player can do -- for example how quickly he can get rid of the ball -- but you, of course, want to see him show those skills against live competition.
The biggest thing that I'm seeing with Morris this year is his struggle with decision-making. Sometimes the difference between a completion and an incompletion, a good play and a bad play, is a few inches or a half-second. Morris isn't reading coverages or identifying the open receiver as quickly as you would like. He hasn't necessarily regressed since last season, but I don't think he has progressed either.
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Contrast this with the quarterback Morris' Hurricanes will face Saturday, freshman Jameis Winston, whose mental quickness and ability to make quick decisions are excellent. That's the difference between a quarterback who has a chance to succeed at the next level and one who doesn't. He and Morris are both good athletes with strong arms, but Winston separates himself with his ability to make good decisions in high-pressure situations.
There are other red flags for Morris. I question why the Hurricanes didn't play him more as a sophomore in 2011 after he showed such promise as a freshman. One would think that a guy returning after playing well in limited action would play more the following season. It's interesting that Morris did not win the starting job.
Morris' numbers are also down this season, particularly his pass attempts and his interception rate. His ankle injury could be affecting his ability to plant and throw, or it could just be that the Hurricanes want to run the ball more this season rather than let Morris sling it. Again, scouts will want to evaluate everything, and these are questions that Morris will have to face.
I'm not as high on Morris today as I was when I made my projection for him in the summer, but that doesn't mean he couldn't recoup some of his high grades in the next few weeks. I've got him in the second-tier of quarterbacks in this year's class, but I'll watch Saturday's game against the Seminoles with a lot of interest to see how he fares against an elite team.
Three Week 10 games that interest me
Miami at Florida State: Miami is a big underdog -- one of the biggest underdogs in a game between two teams in the top 10 since 1995, when No. 2 Nebraska was favored in a big way against No. 8 Kansas State. I don't see it being close. I like the Seminoles to win with ease, probably by as many as four touchdowns.
Michigan at Michigan State: Michigan State had won four straight games in this series before losing 12-10 last year in the last minute. The Wolverines won that day despite gaining only 82 rushing yards. The Spartans are a very good defensive team and should shut down the Michigan passing game. Michigan State DB Darqueze Dennard vs. Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon will be a great matchup. Michigan has not been a good road team this year, losing at Penn State and having a tough time against a mediocre Connecticut team. Michigan State 27, Michigan 20.
Nebraska vs. Northwestern: These two teams have played only twice -- Nebraska just joined the Big Ten in 2011 -- and both games have been close, with each team winning once. Northwestern is probably road weary after playing three games in the last four weeks on the road. It will be interesting to see how the Huskers crowd acts after last week, when the Nebraska lost to Minnesota. I like Nebraska to win this one, 34-20.
Upset of the week
Tulane over Florida Atlantic: Florida Atlantic is 0-9 as a home favorite. Junior Nick Montana, the son of 49ers great Joe Montana, will be back for Tulane after missing the last two games. The Green Wave also has good defensive backs. The FAU program is going through a big change this week after the sudden resignation of coach Carl Pelini on Wednesday, and I like Tulane pulling the upset here.