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FIU Football: 2020 Season Mailbag

Fans sent in their questions regarding the 2020 campaign.

Indiana v Florida International Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

With the 2020 season officially finished, the focus for FIU football turns to the early signing day date of December 16th. Currently, 11 players are verbally committed to the Panthers’ 2021 signing class. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA is expected to pass a one-time transfer rule in January, which would allow all student-athletes to transfer without having to sit out a season.

Expect FIU to be active on the transfer market, especially given multiple expected departures from 2020’s roster.

Before closing the book on the last season, we solicited Twitter questions on the minds of Panther fans as the team looks to put a disappointing winless season behind them.

We’ll do another mailbag during the summer.

Question: Are any of the seniors going to be returning — @chiapanther

Answer: While there’s not a specific list of seniors, expect players to make announcements as to their 2021 intentions soon. With incoming freshmen set to take existing scholarships, it creates tough situations across college football. As of right now, Richard Dames is the only senior who’s announced his return, but I do expect a few others to come back. Noah Curtis and D’Antne Demery have announced their plans to turn pro.

I’d expect Tyson Maeva, D’Vonte Price, Kevin Oliver, Shane McGough and Jamal Gates to all give serious consideration to returning.

The Dames’ twins will be together for a final season in 2021.
Margi Rentis/FIU

Question: With Miami (Fla.) in the same city with the same distractions as the FIU players, how did we (FIU) fare so much worse with COVID results – @Eddie_FIU

Answer: The idea that FIU was disproportionally affected by COVID is a misnomer. When looking at the nine-game schedule, UTEP was canceled due to the COVID issues in El Paso and both programs not being able to settle on a secondary location. The original Charlotte game was postponed because of FIU’s COVID tests, then Conference USA chose to reschedule Charlotte/Western Kentucky instead of playing the FIU game. The 11/28 game against Louisiana Tech, FIU had only two healthy running backs available and a litany of injury issues coming off the WKU game. The original 10/30 game against Marshall was due to injuries and contact tracing issues with FIU, followed by C-USA choosing to reschedule Charlotte/Marshall. With that being said, I’m not saying that FIU didn’t have issues with COVID during the season – but having 17 players suffer season-ending injuries played a part in the shortage of players.

Question: Do you think it’s time to search for a new DC — @FIUJM

Answer: The defensive coordinators are listed as Jeff Copp and Jerod Kruse as Co-DC’s. However, Copp is primarily in charge. This was stated as much in Kruse’s introductory presser to the media – “Jeff will call it (the defense) and I’m here to assist in whatever ways needed,” said Kruse on Mar. 22, 2019. The reason for the hiring of Kruse and promotion of Copp was due to former Texas State head coach Everett Withers taking an analyst role with the New York Giants, shortly after agreeing to the DC role with FIU. Copp is known as a hard-working coach and is liked among the players.

NFL: AUG 29 Preseason - Giants at Patriots
Everett Withers was set to take the DC role at FIU, before landing a last-minute job with the New York Giants.
Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the field, his unit has endured struggles, specifically stopping the run. While the defense has shown signs of improvement, overall, FIU has allowed over 150 yards rushing 10 times in his 18 games as DC. The run defense is an issue that stretches back to Brent Guy’s final year as DC in 2018, but must be corrected in order for the Panthers’ on-field fortunes to improve. A veteran coordinator similar to Withers may be explored, but it would have to be a defensive system that players can adjust to quickly as Davis is entering the final year of his contract.

Question: How many transfers should we expect? Is our 2021 starting QB on the current roster – @hooterh8ter

Answer: I would expect quite a few. Because of the aforementioned changes in eligibility rules due to COVID, the transfer portal is going to fill with players from schools across the country – FIU included. Since the end of the season, QB Stone Norton, WR Jeremiah Holloman, OL Obinna Nwankwo have entered the portal. RB Demarcus Townsend and OL Maljon Joor did so prior to the season’s end. I’d be extremely surprised if FIU didn’t add double-digit players from the portal before the start of next season.

The JJ Holloman-era at FIU has come to an end.
Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

As to the quarterback, I’ll say it’s 50/50. The staff has been optimistic about Max Bortenschlager since his arrival, with Butch Davis stating that the lack of an offseason hurt his chances this season. However, there’s going to be a plethora of quarterbacks in the transfer portal this offseason. I expect FIU to bring in another signal-caller.

Stone Norton has entered the transfer portal while Max Bortenschlager has the chance to return in 2021.

Haden Carlson’s raw talent has been talked about by the staff and I expect him to have a chance to compete. But coming off an 0-5 season and a 6-12 record since the Bahamas Bowl, there won’t be time for the potential growing pains that come along with a first-time starter. As currently constituted, I see Bortenschlager as a potential starter, but fully expect a transfer to come in and compete.

Question: How hard is Coach (Butch) Davis going to hit the JUCOS – @malva022

Answer: In any other year, I’d say that it’s fair to expect a decent amount of JUCO talent to come in, despite the fact that Davis has only signed seven JUCO players in four recruiting classes. However, with the number of players who will be transferring from FBS programs, specifically Power Five schools, I’d look for more transfers of that variety. Apologies for sounding repetitive.

Question: What are the odds UCF and FIU play in 2021 — @911_Black_Gold

Answer: This is an interesting question, one that’s made slightly convoluted due to the COVID season. Both schools had a two-game agreement for 2020 and 2022 with the first game in Orlando and the second in Miami. As 2020’s contest was postponed, Davis mentioned that game may be rescheduled for the early part of the 2021 schedule. Both teams (currently) have an open slot for 2021.

Florida International v Central Florida
Alex McGough and FIU stunned UCF in a 2015 season-opening upset of the Knights. UCF has won the last two matchups by a combined 83 points.
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Historically, the contests between both schools have drawn well at each team’s respective stadiums (I’ve attended each one) and would serve both better than an FCS opponent. The Knights’ quest for big-name opponents has been much ballyhooed, so that possibility can’t be ignored. However, I’d say it’s probable that the game is played next season.

Question: With Stone Norton leaving, assuming no other QB leaves, is it Max’s (Bortenschlager) job since he now has an extra year? Does Haden Carlson have a shot? Do we get another Transfer Portal QB – @Eddie_FIU

Answer: The parts about a transfer quarterback and Haden Carlson are answered above, but I’ll address the Bortenschlager part of the question. It’s not a forgone conclusion that it’s his job. The fact of the matter is FIU needs more out of the passing game. 2020 showed how crucial mastery of Rich Skrosky’s system is to the quarterback and entire offense. I wrote a profile on Skrosky’s expectations from his signal-callers and how much of the offense is run through the quarterback last year.

When run by a James Morgan or Alex McGough, the Panthers have been among the top in C-USA in points per game.