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Ranking College Football's Most Efficient QBs from 2014

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We rank all collegiate quarterbacks using an efficiency rating called the QB Score. How did your favorite QB fare?

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Like any measure that distills a wide assortment of information into a single number, the traditional collegiate passer efficiency rating (PER) is imperfect.  The name tells you its biggest shortcoming: passer efficiency rating.  The measure exclusively incorporates stats from the passing game: pass attempts, completions, yards, interceptions, and touchdowns.  This means that two quarterbacks with the exact same passing stats will have the same efficiency rating, even if one holds onto the ball too long and is sacked 5 times for -45 yards and a lost fumble while the other runs for 150 yards and 3 TDs.  The PER is a fine measure for passing, but the quarterback position encompasses more than mere passing.  Four of the last five Heisman Trophy winners were dual-threat QBs.  Shouldn't we have some measure that incorporates a quarterback's production on the ground?

Economist David Berri thinks so.  QB efficiency is one of the many topics Berri and his coauthors tackle in their book The Wages of Wins.  In their book they introduce a measure called the QB Score, which accounts for a quarterbacks' production through the air and on the ground.  Additionally, it places greater emphasis than the traditional PER on turnovers and removes some extraneous bits from the PER (should QBs really be rewarded for completing a yard pass that loses 3 yards?).  Best of all, it's calculated using a simple, straightforward formula!

QB Score = Total Yards - (3 x Plays) - (50 x Turnovers)

Today we'll use the QB Score to rank quarterbacks from the 2014 season.  I collected data on every QB who threw more than 100 passes and calculated his QB Score.  For reference, I've also included the PER, which may lend insight into some of the differences between the two metrics.

In each of the following tables I provide the QB Score and PER for each quarterback, with his respective overall ranking in parentheses.  Let's take a look at the rankings, beginning with the top 10 QBs in the nation:

Top Ten

Our overall winner should not be a surprise to anyone.

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Marcus Mariota ORE 3134 (1) 181.7 (2)
2. Brandon Doughty WKU 2505 (2) 167.1 (4)
3. Garrett Grayson CSU 2179 (3) 166.2 (6)
4. Trevone Boykin TCU 2176 (4) 145.9 (29)
5. Rakeem Cato MRSH 2100 (5) 155.4 (13)
6. Bryce Petty BAY 2070 (6) 157.8 (10)
7. Dak Prescott MSST 2067 (7) 151.7 (19)
8. Shane Carden ECU 2023 (8) 140.8 (49)
9. Jake Waters KSU 1982 (9) 154.8 (14)
10. Cody Kessler USC 1903 (10) 167.1 (5)

With 57 touchdowns, over 5,000 yards, and only 7 turnovers, Marcus Mariota was otherworldly last season.  He placed first in our QB Score rankings and second in the PER rankings.  There is a very good reason Chip Kelly is rumored to be offering increasingly bizarre trades in order to draft Mariota this week.

The next few names in our rankings are surprising, as no one in the top-5 besides Mariota was a household name last season.  In second place is Brandon Doughty who quietly led the nation with 4,830 passing yards and 49 passing touchdowns this season (including 8 TDs against Marshall).  After being granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA, Doughty should continue to torch the Conference USA next season.  Colorado State's Garrett Grayson rounds out the podium with over 4000 yards on only 270 passes, which earned him a remarkable 9.5 yards per pass attempt.

One year after struggling to maintain the starting role and posting a miserable QB Score of 218, TCU's Trevone Boykin posted a tenfold improvement this season.  After finishing first in our QB Score rankings last season, fellow Big 12 QB Bryce Petty went in the opposite direction.  His QB Score dropped by more than 600 points as his productivity and efficiency dropped while his turnover rate doubled.  Still, finishing among the top-ten most productive QBs in the nation is an impressive accomplishment.  Rounding out the top-ten is our old friend Cody Kessler who can't seem to generate any hype despite posting incredible numbers and playing for USC.

Now let's go through each conference one-by-one starting with the greatest conference in the land, an inspiration to the rest of the college football landscape thanks to our superiority in all measurable aspects.  Except Stanford, whom we would happily trade for Texas, Humboldt State, or a tepid bottle of Zima.

Pac-12

1. Marcus Mariota ORE 3134 (1) 181.7 (2)
2. Cody Kessler USC 1903 (10) 167.1 (5)
3. Jared Goff CAL 1687 (15) 147.6 (27)
4. Anu Solomon ARIZ 1603 (19) 130.7 (76)
5. Brett Hundley UCLA 1546 (20) 152.7 (18)
6. Connor Halliday WSU 1527 (21) 145 (36)
7. Kevin Hogan STAN 1190 (35) 145.8 (31)
8. Taylor Kelly ASU 1001 (54) 145.7 (32)
9. Sean Mannion ORST 955 (59) 128.3 (81)
10. Travis Wilson UTAH 948 (62) 134.7 (67)
11. Cyler Miles WASH 863 (72) 142.4 (40)
12. Sefo Liufau COLO 735 (80) 131.8 (73)
13. Mike Bercovici ASU 625 (87) 144.1 (37)
14. Luke Falk WSU 602 (90) 140.4 (52)


With six players in the top-25, the Pac-12 is once again the conference of quarterbacks (no other conference has more than three in the top-25).  Marcus Mariota leads the way followed by Kessler.  I mentioned it above, but I am quite surprised at the lack of attention Kessler gets.  He passed for nearly 4000 yards on 8.46 yards per attempt and posted an impressive 39-5 TD-to-interception ratio.  Having a team full of 5-star recruits certainly helps, but those kinds of numbers do not happen by accident.

In third place is our very own Jared Goff!  Jared nearly doubled his QB Score from last year and climbed from 10th in the Pac-12 and 63rd overall to 3rd in the Pac-12 and 15th overall.  His 3,973 yards and 35 TDs are excellent, but he could improve his already strong 7.81 yards per passing attempt and limit his fumbles.  With plenty of continuity on offense and a third year in the Bear Raid, Goff should break into the top-10 overall of our 2015 QB Score rankings.

Breaker of hearts and crusher of dreams Anu Solomon finished fourth in the conference.  After averaging over 350 passing yards per game over the first six games, he sputtered down the stretch and only broke the 300-yard mark once.  His middling 2.12 yards per rushing attempt further limited his QB Score.  With another year in RichRod's offense, he, Goff, and Kessler should have an exciting competition for the Pac-12's best QB.

After he finished second in the Pac-12 last year, Brett Hundley regressed to fifth in our rankings.  His efficiency stats are respectable (8.05 yards per pass attempt, 4.05 yards per carry) but his seven fumbles cratered his QB Score.  Connor Halliday made great improvements to both his QB Score and his PER last season before ending his career with a leg injury.  That was a particularly unfair end to his record-breaking season.  Hopefully he gets a shot at the NFL.

Can someone please explain to me how Sefo Liufau managed to throw a quarter mile and 7 TDs against our defense?

And now the rest of the conferences.  We'll start with the Power 5 conferences in alphabetical order before moving to the former non-AQ conferences under the BCS system.

ACC

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Jameis Winston FSU 1500 (22) 145.5 (34)
2. Marquise Williams UNC 1343 (25) 135.3 (66)
3. Brad Kaaya MIA 1252 (29) 145.9 (30)
4. Justin Thomas GT 1124 (40) 153.9 (16)
5. Tyler Murphy BC 1074 (43) 126.2 (86)
6. Jacoby Brissett NCST 1053 (46) 136.7 (62)
7. Anthony Boone DUKE 1034 (47) 116.7 (116)
8. Deshaun Watson CLEM 966 (56) 188.6 (1)
9. Chad Voytik PITT 964 (57) 140.2 (53)
10. Terrel Hunt SYR 484 (102) 110.9 (132)
11. Will Gardner LOU 434 (109) 136.1 (65)
12. Matt Johns UVA 414 (112) 122.6 (94)
13. Cole Stoudt CLEM 372 (117) 119.1 (107)
14. Michael Brewer VT 174 (129) 117.4 (114)
15. Reggie Bonnafon LOU 102 (136) 118.4 (111)
16. Greyson Lambert UVA 38 (140) 115.7 (120)
17. AJ Long SYR -99 (148) 99.8 (148)
18. John Wolford WAKE -377 (153) 108.1 (134)


That's an awfully large number of triple-digit rankings.

With much less production from his team's ground game, Florida State's Jameis Winston was feeling the pinch from defenses that clamped down on FSU's passing offense.  After finishing in the top ten in our rankings last year, Winston finished 22nd this year.  He's probably not too crabby about his regression, however, as he's projected as the top pick in the Draft.

UNC's Marqise Williams' PER is merely average but his tremendous production on the ground (788 yards on 4.08 ypc) gives his QB Score a big boost.  If he can improve his yards-per-passing-attempt stat and cut down on turnovers, he could finish atop the ACC next season.  Fortunately he's scheduled to graduate before our sturdy Golden Bears take on UNC in 2017.

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas posted impressive numbers while driving the Ramblin' Wreck's triple-option offense.  He broke the 1000-yard mark on the ground with an impressive 5.71 yards per carry.  Despite an atrocious 51.3% pass completion rating, he threw for 1,719 yards on a stellar 9.19 yards per attempt and an 18-6 TD-to-interception ratio.

Thomas wasn't the only ACC QB who could run well.  Seven different ACC teams had QBs with over 4 yards per carry. The leader was Boston College's Tyler Murphy who ran wild against USC as the Eagles put up 452 rushing yards against Wilcox's hapless defense.

Despite finishing with the best PER in the nation, Clemson's Deshaun Watson spent much of the season injured.  His limited playing time suppressed his QB Score, but he should be an exciting QB to watch next season.

John Wolford earned the worst QB Score in the nation last year.  He somehow managed to run backwards 151 yards on 104 attempts.  During all that backtracking he fumbled three times and did not once score a rushing TD.  His completion percentage was not bad at 58.3% but he threw for a terrible 5.55 yards per attempt and threw more interceptions than touchdown passes.  As bad as the true freshman was, he managed to hold the starting role all season.  How bad must those backup QBs be?!  Better luck next year, John!

Big 12

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Trevone Boykin TCU 2176 (4) 145.9 (29)
2. Bryce Petty BAY 2070 (6) 157.8 (10)
3. Jake Waters KSU 1982 (9) 154.8 (14)
4. Clint Trickett WVU 1096 (41) 142.3 (41)
5. Sam B. Richardson ISU 912 (65) 115.2 (121)
6. Trevor Knight OKLA 887 (71) 124.8 (89)
7. Patrick Mahomes TTU 758 (79) 151.2 (20)
8. Davis Webb TTU 669 (85) 138.4 (59)
9. Skyler Howard WVU 573 (92) 138.2 (60)
10. Michael Cummings KU 505 (97) 122.4 (96)
11. Tyrone Swoopes TEX 495 (99) 116.5 (117)
12. Daxx Garman OKST 413 (113) 122.4 (97)
13. Montell Cozart KU -126 (150) 98 (150)


The Big 12 suffers from a big drop off in QB play after the top three.  Most encouraging for us Cal fans its that Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes had a sub-par season with 2,407 passing yards on 6.27 yards per attempt and 11 interceptions alongside his 13 touchdown passes.  With 262 rushing yards, he can be productive on the ground.  His 2.42 ypc suggests that his ground game isn't particularly efficient, however.  As long as the Cal defense doesn't implode (lol), we should certainly have a chance to win in Austin this fall.

While the Big 12 doesn't have many great QBs, it does have some great names for its QBs: Montell Cozart, Daxx Garman, and Patrick Mahomes (which I assume is pronounced muh-homies).

Big Ten

Player Team QB Score PER
1. J.T. Barrett OSU 1817 (13) 169.8 (3)
2. Connor Cook MSU 1646 (17) 149.4 (24)
3. Gary Nova RUTG 1130 (38) 145.3 (35)
4. Tommy Armstrong Jr. NEB 1080 (42) 133 (70)
5. Jake Rudock IOWA 976 (55) 133.5 (69)
6. C.J. Brown MD 782 (77) 114.1 (125)
7. Wes Lunt ILL 762 (78) 141.6 (46)
8. Mitch Leidner MINN 561 (93) 123.8 (91)
9. Nate Sudfeld IND 490 (101) 126.6 (85)
10. Tanner McEvoy WIS 452 (104) 115.2 (122)
11. Reilly O'Toole ILL 304 (123) 122.3 (98)
12. Devin Gardner MICH 261 (125) 118.8 (108)
13. Trevor Siemian NW 161 (130) 105.9 (140)
14. Joel Stave WIS 123 (132) 113.2 (127)
15. Christian Hackenberg PSU 102 (134) 109.4 (133)
16. Austin Appleby PUR 98 (137) 101.7 (145)
17. Danny Etling PUR -40 (144) 102.5 (144)
18. Zander Diamont IND -113 (149) 77.7 (153)


11 players with triple-digit rankings.  That's even worse than the ACC!

Ohio State's QB performances under Urban Meyer are unfair.  Once again, an Ohio State QB tops our QB Score rankings in the Big Ten.  Sure, J.T. Barrett only passed for 2,834 yards, but he tossed 34 TDs, only 10 interceptions, and averaged 9 yards per attempt.  Oh, and he also ran for 938 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.  Remember when we nearly beat them with our 3-win team in 2012?

Penn State's Christian Hackenburg finished 16th in the Big Ten after finishing 3rd in the conference in our rankings last year.  The sophomore was substantially worse in every major statistical category in 2014.  What happened?

Trevor Siemian also regressed considerably from last year.  He must have had his wristbands mixed up again.

Devin Gardner could not stop throwing interceptions this season and plummeted from his 4th-place finish in the Big Ten in 2013.

Purdue once again had abysmal quarterback play this season.  I'm not sure head coach Darrell Hazell will survive another season with such putrid performances.

SEC

1. Dak Prescott MSST 2067 (7) 151.7 (19)
2. Blake Sims ALA 1765 (14) 157.9 (9)
3. Nick Marshall AUB 1642 (18) 151.1 (21)
4. Kenny Hill TA&M 1286 (28) 154.6 (15)
5. Dylan Thompson SC 1238 (31) 140.4 (51)
6. Bo Wallace MISS 1187 (36) 142.2 (42)
7. Hutson Mason UGA 1011 (52) 155.7 (12)
8. Patrick Towles UK 959 (58) 122.8 (93)
9. Brandon Allen ARK 892 (69) 129.2 (79)
10. Maty Mauk MIZZ 805 (75) 120.8 (103)
11. Treon Harris FLA 593 (91) 146.2 (28)
12. Joshua Dobbs TENN 532 (96) 130.5 (77)
13. Anthony Jennings LSU 398 (114) 118.3 (112)
14. Kyle Allen TA&M 353 (119) 139.5 (54)
15. Johnny McCrary VAN 102 (135) 114.8 (124)
16. Justin Worley TENN 33 (141) 124.3 (90)
17. Jeff Driskel FLA -26 (143) 103.5 (143)

Dak Prescott leads the SEC or, as I call it, the REAL MAN FOOTBAW Conference (RMFC).  Although Alabama's Blake Sims was a slightly more adept passer, Prescott's impressive ground game (986 yards, 11 TDs, 4.7 ypc) gave his QB Score a big boost.  Sims was moderately productive on the ground, however.  Since when do Alabama QBs run for 350 yards and 7 TDs?

Once again, perpetual idiot Bret Bielema didn't enjoy stellar QB play at Arkansas. If he spent less time making up fairy tales about the dangers of spread offenses and more time focusing on his own offense, perhaps he could find a way to score more than 20 points per game in conference games.

And now, the non-power-5 conferences.

AAC

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Shane Carden ECU 2023 (8) 140.8 (49)
2. Gunner Kiel CIN 1237 (32) 149.4 (25)
3. Paxton Lynch MEM 1124 (39) 137.6 (61)
4. Greg Ward Jr. HOU 940 (63) 141.2 (47)
5. Justin Holman UCF 729 (82) 132.4 (71)
6. Dane Evans TULSA 693 (84) 120.9 (102)
7. P.J. Walker TEM 430 (110) 107.7 (135)
8. Mike White USF 391 (115) 112.4 (128)
9. Steven Bench USF 148 (131) 106.2 (139)
10. Chandler Whitmer UCONN 81 (138) 122 (99)
11. Tanner Lee TULN 21 (142) 107.6 (136)
12. John O'Korn HOU -47 (146) 100.4 (146)

Ah yes, the Frankenstein's monster of conferences.  We have everything from Texas to the rust belt to the south.  I'm not sure I watched any AAC football this season, so I won't pretend to know anything about these QBs.

Conference USA

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Brandon Doughty WKU 2505 (2) 167.1 (4)
2. Rakeem Cato MRSH 2100 (5) 155.4 (13)
3. Driphus Jackson RICE 1487 (23) 148.9 (26)
4. Taylor Heinicke ODU 1204 (34) 141.8 (44)
5. Cody Sokol LT 1179 (37) 138.8 (56)
6. Jaquez Johnson FAU 1023 (50) 131.5 (74)
7. Austin Grammer MTU 1013 (51) 138.4 (58)
8. Cody Clements UAB 889 (70) 145.6 (33)
9. Nick Mullens USM 817 (74) 122.5 (95)
10. Jameill Showers UTEP 733 (81) 119.8 (106)
11. Andrew McNulty UNT 270 (124) 111.4 (130)
12. Tucker Carter UTSA 226 (126) 113.9 (126)
13. Matt Davis SMU 202 (127) 98 (149)
14. Alex McGough FIU -41 (145) 111.4 (131)
15. Garrett Krstich SMU -77 (147) 90.3 (151)
16. Cole Weeks USM -128 (151) 106.7 (137)
17. Austin Robinson UTSA -219 (152) 88 (152)

Had anyone heard of Brandon Doughty before today?  As I mentioned earlier he put up incredible stats at Western Kentucky this year.

Conference USA defenses will be delighted that Rakeem Cato will not return to Marshall next season.  Cato amassed 48 touchdowns and nearly 4500 yards on the ground and through the air.

Fun fact: when Doughty and Cato faced off this season they passed for 15 TDs and over 900 yards as Western Kentucky won 67-66 in one of the most exciting games of the 2014 season.

Mid-American Conference

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Zach Terrell WMU 1869 (12) 164.4 (7)
2. Drew Hare NIU 1667 (16) 136.3 (63)
3. Blake Frohnapfel UMASS 1327 (26) 132.2 (72)
4. Andrew Hendrix M-OH 1059 (44) 121.3 (101)
5. Joe Licata BUFF 954 (60) 150.7 (22)
6. Cooper Rush CMU 922 (64) 149.5 (23)
7. Logan Woodside TOL 903 (66) 142.6 (39)
8. James Knapke BGSU 859 (73) 118.4 (110)
9. Derrius Vick OHIO 620 (88) 130.9 (75)
10. Ozzie Mann BALL 495 (100) 128.2 (82)
11. JD Sprague OHIO 449 (105) 99.9 (147)
12. Jack Milas BALL 440 (106) 116.8 (115)
13. Colin Reardon KENT 437 (108) 112.3 (129)
14. Kyle Pohl AKR 373 (116) 106.2 (138)
15. Reginald Bell Jr. EMU 308 (122) 125.9 (87)
16. Tommy Woodson AKR 112 (133) 103.6 (142)


I must confess: I love the MAC.  It might be the most fun non-AQ conference thanks to its explosive offenses (which weren't quite as exciting this past season, unfortunately).

Drew Hare continues Northern Illinois' proud tradition of regularly producing exceptionally efficient QBs on the ground and through the air. Hare's 2,322 passing yards were a bit pedestrian on a team whose QBs averaged over 3,000 yards for the past three seasons.  Likewise, his 900 rushing yards and 8 rushing TDs sound great until you remember that Jordan Lynch ran for 1,920 yards and 23 TDs last year.  Only a sophomore last season, Hare should approach 4,000 yards and 30 TDs next season.

I feel bad for poor Blake Frohnapfel.  He's the first UMass QB to post respectable stats since the Minutemen joined FBS.  UMass has had dreadful QB play until this past season.  Frohnapfel tossed an impressive 3,345 yards and 23 TDs on only 10 interceptions, yet his team won only three games thanks to a defense that surrendered 450 yards per game.

Although Reginald Bell Jr. did not have a great season of quarterbacking, he can take solace in the fact that he has a most gentlemanly name.

Mountain West Conference

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Garrett Grayson CSU 2179 (3) 166.2 (6)
2. Grant Hedrick BSU 1878 (11) 157.2 (11)
3. Cody Fajardo NEV 1248 (30) 120.1 (105)
4. Kale Pearson AFA 951 (61) 160.7 (8)
5. Blake Decker UNLV 708 (83) 121.4 (100)
6. Joe Gray SJSU 640 (86) 127.9 (83)
7. Lamar Jordan UNM 561 (94) 128.6 (80)
8. Colby Kirkegaard WYO 539 (95) 125.6 (88)
9. Kent Myers USU 501 (98) 136.3 (64)
10. Quinn Kaehler SDSU 453 (103) 115.9 (118)
11. Darell Garretson USU 438 (107) 153.4 (17)
12. Brian Burrell FRES 419 (111) 117.8 (113)
13. Ikaika Woolsey HAW 363 (118) 105.8 (141)


Once again Cody Fajardo remains a nuisance with 2,500 passing yards and over 1,000 rushing yards.  I know Chris Ault, Colin Kaepernick, and now Cody Fajardo have left Nevada, but I'm still dreading next season's home game against the Wolfpack.

What kind of name is Kale?

Sun Belt

1. Fredi Knighten ARST 1427 (24) 141.1 (48)
2. Taylor Lamb APP 1295 (27) 142.1 (43)
3. Tyler Jones TXST 1233 (33) 140.7 (50)
4. Pete Thomas ULM 1054 (45) 120.2 (104)
5. Terrance Broadway ULL 1027 (49) 126.9 (84)
6. Kevin Ellison GASO 897 (67) 129.4 (78)
7. Nick Arbuckle GAST 787 (76) 134.4 (68)
8. Brandon Silvers TROY 619 (89) 138.6 (57)
9. Brandon Bridge USA 350 (121) 115.8 (119)
10. Matt Linehan IDHO 197 (128) 115 (123)
11. Tyler Rogers NMSU 64 (139) 118.8 (109)


Appalachian State joined FBS?  Good for them.  FCS teams usually struggle their first few seasons in FBS, but Appalachian State's struggles only lasted through the first six games of the season.  After that they won six straight behind Taylor Lamb's productive, efficient arm and churning legs.

Independent

Player Team QB Score PER
1. Taysom Hill BYU 1028 (48) 141.7 (45)
2. Everett Golson ND 1005 (53) 143.6 (38)
3. Christian Stewart BYU 894 (68) 139 (55)
4. Keenan Reynolds NAVY 351 (120) 123.1 (92)

Despite barely playing one-third of the season, Taysom Hill is the most productive QB among the independents.  Hill will undoubtedly terrorize defenses next season.

Despite having 1,191 rushing yards Keenan Reynolds hurt his QB Score with 9 fumbles.  While the QB Score gives credit to QBs who run the ball, it doesn't give much credit to QBs who turn the ball over and aren't particulary efficient.

Well, that about does it.  Wraps it all up.  We've covered all major conferences and over 150 quarterbacks.  While the QB Score and traditional PER have a lot in common, but the QB Score's incorporation of rushing statistics makes it a more complete measure of QB efficiency.  Unless, of course, your favorite QB fares worse under the QB Score than the PER.  Then it's just another lousy performance metric.