FIU’s dream of being bowl eligible this season could come to an end on Saturday night at the hands of a former Broward County quarterback.
Western Kentucky’s Mike White, a 6-4, 215-pound redshirt junior who played his high school ball at University School, leads a Hilltoppers offense ranked No. 2 in Conference USA with 41.6 points per game.
White, who spent his first two years of college at South Florida, ranks first in the league in pass efficiency, completing 69 percent of his throws for an average of 309 yards per game. He has a 23-5 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio.
“Mike’s very smart,” said FIU interim head coach Ron Cooper, who was a defensive backs coach at USF when White was there.
“When he sat out last year [as a transfer], there’s no doubt he learned that [Western Kentucky] offense completely.
“He’s a got a great arm, and he makes good decisions.”
The Panthers (3-6, 3-2) need to win out to be bowl eligible, starting with Saturday’s game at Western Kentucky (6-3, 4-1), where FIU is a 33-point underdog.
FIU closes out its regular season with a home game against Marshall and a trip to Old Dominion.
Ironically, White could have ended up at FIU. The University of Florida also contacted White on the first day his transfer paperwork went through.
White said FIU offensive lineman Jordan Budwig — a former teammate at University School — tried to convince him to play for the Panthers.
But White said FIU coaches didn’t pursue him since they had quarterback Alex McGough already in place.
McGough, a 6-3, 220-pound junior from Tampa, has had his ups and downs this season. McGough has 13 touchdown passes and ranks seventh in the league with an average of 210 yards passing per game.
However, McGough is not in the league’s top 10 in passing efficiency. He has thrown 11 interceptions, including five that have been returned for touchdowns, and has completed 58.4 percent of his passes.
White has had no such issues this season.
But he has also paid his dues, starting five games as a true freshman at USF in 2013, completing just 53 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and nine interceptions. He averaged 180.5 yards passing for a 2-10 team.
As a sophomore, White started 10 games and completed only 50 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He averaged 149 yards passing for a 4-8 team.
“I was an 18-year-old freshman thrown into the fire,” White told the Miami Herald this week when asked about his USF experience. “I would make some good throws and some throws I would like to have back.”
But White said he “wouldn’t change anything” because those rough times helped him to mature into the quarterback and the person he is today.
He has a 3.6 grade-point average as a sports management major and is set to graduate in May. He aspires to become a college athletic director, and he plans to return next season for his final year of eligibility and to start work on a master’s degree.
If he starts next year that would make four consecutive seasons that Western Kentucky has had a No. 1 quarterback from Broward County.
Prior to White, it was Brandon Doughty, the former North Broward Prep star who threw 97 touchdown passes for WKU in 2014 and ’15, the most in NCAA history in a two-year span.
“The most important thing was preparation,” White said when asked what he learned from Doughty, who is now on the Dolphins’ practice squad after being a seventh-round pick earlier this year. “Brandon took every practice seriously.”
If pro football doesn’t work out for White, there’s always baseball. He was a standout pitcher at University School — he said he was clocked at 92 mph by a Chicago Cubs scout, and he had a 0.43 ERA as a senior.
Might he one day follow in the cleat marks of Tim Tebow, going from quarterback to baseball?
“I wouldn’t mind. Whatever Tebow’s doing,” White said, “he’s doing something right.”