Blake Bortles, Central Florida's redshirt-junior starting quarterback, quietly started his 2013 campaign by throwing for three touchdowns and a 75% completion percentage. His first pass of the season was a 91-yard touchdown, and only three of his 23 passing attempts (excluding a throw away) were off-target, but outside of a few highlights, most have never seen him play, let alone learned Bortles's name. A majority of the followers of the sport are sleeping on Bortles. His tremendous start to this season works as an alarm-clock. It's time to wake up.
One of the reasons Bortles is still a relative unknown is the fact he's played in C-USA. In 2013, the Golden Knights made the transition to the AAC, the new conference replacing Big East, meaning that Bortles is now playing against AQ quality opponents on a regular basis. Starting the season with non-AQ teams in Akron and Florida Atlantic (8:00 PM Eastern on CBS Sports Network this Friday, September 6th), UCF then plays at Penn State and South Carolina, two AQ-conference foes, before opening up their AAC schedule in Memphis.
Although Bortles wasn't able to nudge his way into the starting role in 2011, those who paid attention noticed something special. That season, as a redshirt-freshman, he only threw over 12 passes in two games, but he managed to earn C-USA All-Freshman honors.
In 2012, the 6'4” 230-pound quarterback passed over everyone on the depth chart, earning the starting job. The 2011 starting quarterback, Jeff Godfrey, even switched to wide-receiver, along with another quarterback on the roster. It was official, Bortles had solidified himself as UCF's “guy” at the position. It should be noted that Tyler Gabbert, a Missouri-transfer who's the brother of the Jacksonville Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert, is his back-up.
His 2012 season was successful. He was named to the All-C-USA Second Team (behind Marshall's Rakeem Cato) and voted as the team's Most Improved Offensive Player. He had a 25-to-7 touchdown-to-interception-ratio, a 144.48 passer rating, and also ran for eight scores. Still, Blake Bortles had little love going into 2013.
There were many concerns going into the season regarding the Golden Knights' offense, including a lack-luster offensive-line and the vacancy left by losing a star runner to the NFL Draft, but replacing Latavius Murray, UCF's 2012 starting running-back, has gone smoother than most thought.
In UCF's season-opener, Bortles seemed to have taken full-control of the offense. He extended his UCF record for most pass-attempts without an interception to 198; he also is second on the list with his 147 pass-attempt streak which was set early in 2012. He hasn't thrown an interception in seven games, and he's only thrown two in the past 12 games combined. Unfortunately, his offensive-line is still an issue, as Bortles was sacked three times and was hit on numerous occasions.
Against Akron, Bortles showed efficiency in all aspects in his game, including throwing deep, where he was four-of-four for 183 yards and two touchdowns when throwing over 20 air yards. If not for a free-play drop by his wide-receiver, those numbers would have been even better. He also did well in the intermediate game. Overall, when he threw more than 10 yards, he was on target for eight of his nine passes.
As the season rolls along, it'll soon be difficult to overlook the quarterback who's got the inside track for the Second-Team AAC quarterback spot, only behind Teddy Bridgewater, who'll likely be the top quarterback off the board in the 2014 NFL Draft, if he chooses to declare. In the coming weeks, UCF plays key games against Penn State, South Carolina, and Louisville. Bortles had already landed on watch-lists for several awards, including the Davey O'Brien Award, Maxwell Award, Manning Award, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. If can perform as well against the top teams on his schedule as he did against Akron, he'll be able to land on some mock drafts, too.