For the first three seasons of Butch Davis’ tenure at the helm of FIU, he had the luxury of having a future NFL draft pick quarterbacking his teams. Most college football teams, if not all, would experience some type of drop in production from the position following the graduation of pro-level talent.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, production from the quarterback spot didn’t drop — it fell off of a proverbial cliff. Entering 2021, the output is bound to improve, in part because it can’t get much worse.
Davis was never able to settle on a primary starter. Instead, three players saw action in a majority of the team’s five-game season, with none of the quarterbacks earning the full-time nod. Whether or not Davis has another NFL quarterback on his roster remains to be seen. However, he, quarterbacks coach Bryn Renner and offensive coordinator Andrew Breiner will attempt to find the signal-caller who can make the right decisions that help the Panthers’ production increase in the only column that matters — the win column.
Let’s take a look at the quarterbacks who are competing for the job.
All stats listed are for the 2020 season. Projected starter(s) are in bold. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility rules for the 2021 season.
Returning: Kaylan Wiggins (R-Jr)- 6-2, 200, 11-30, 81 passing yards, 16 carries for 91 rushing yards and one TD
Max Bortenschlager (Grad)- 6-3, 210, 22-48, 284 passing yards, 2 TDs - 1 int
Haden Carlson (Fr.)- 6-3, 205, Redshirted in 2020
Newcomers: Isiah Velez (R-Fr.)- 6-3, 195, 33-51, 461 passing yards, 3 TDs - 2 INTs (Career statistics at Eastern Kentucky)
Grayson James (Fr.)- 6-2, 200 Three-star recruit, Duncanville HS (Duncanville, TX)
Heading into Fall: Davis stated adamantly during last year’s winless season that no position on his team was affected more by the disjointed offseason and practice schedule than the quarterbacks. Judging from the production from the position — or lack thereof — it’s hard to argue against him. Panther QBs averaged 123.4 yards per game through the air in 2020. That ranks 121st out of 127 FBS teams and of the six offenses that averaged fewer passing yards, four of them were triple-option/wishbone style.
The story of Bortenschlager’s career has been injuries. He was pressed into action as a sophomore following injuries to Maryland’s top-two quarterbacks and responded with a promising season. However, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury as a junior — an injury that carried over to the beginning of his Panther career, as evidenced by the ankle brace worn last year.
Wiggins’ collegiate career to this point can only be graded as inconclusive. He started in place of an injured Morgan as a sophomore against FCS New Hampshire and rushed for 187 yards while going an efficient 12-for-18. However, he looked less than stellar amid the chaos of FIU’s 2020 season. The Sanford native has more rushing attempts (65) than he does pass attempts (57) — which shows that it’s premature to judge him as a passer. With that said, his proficiency has to improve from the career 45.6% passer Wiggins has been when seeing the field.
Summary: If the two potential outcomes are increased production or a decrease in production from the quarterback position — the former is the most likely. Yes, it’s harder to be worse than last season’s output, but given the benefit of a full offseason, it’s only fair to assume that the signal-callers will be in a better position for success than last year.
Bortenschlager is now three years removed from his last extended playing time (and success) which leaves plenty of room as to what he’s capable of in Davis/Breiner’s system — the fifth different system that Bortenschlager will have played in as many years.
The two wildcards are the youngest signal-callers of the group. Carlson’s physical talents have been raved about from the time of his recruitment out of Tampa’s Steinbrenner High. Davis went as far as to say had last season not been cut short prematurely, Carlson would have earned multiple starts. Fall camp will decide whether Carlson is a legit contender for the starting job, especially since he missed a little over a week’s worth of time in the spring due to COVID-19.
By many accounts, James was one of the top quarterbacking talents in the QB-rich state of Texas. The 6-2, 200-pounder threw for 8,484 yards and 92 touchdowns in his final three prep seasons. If he can hit the ground running, there’s little reason to believe he won’t challenge for the starting job.
Position Grade: C+ - When asked if he would continue to rotate quarterbacks in 2021, Davis was affirmative in his answer that multiple signal-callers seeing time would be a worst-case scenario. With that said, barring one of the players blowing the coaches away in fall camp, expect the position to be open up until — and potentially during FIU’s season-opener against FCS Long Island. The winner of the competition may very well be whoever Davis, Breiner and Renner feel has most adequately assimilated to the offensive system.