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Ranking college football's best quarterbacks from 2015: Where's Jared Goff?

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We implement the QB Score to rank every starting FBS quarterback. How did your favorite signal-caller fare?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Scouts have spent the past several months painstakingly poring over an endless array of QB assessment metrics.  Passer efficiency rating, TD-to-interception ratio, yards per attempt, and the most reliable and predictive measure of all, hand size.  Today we toss another assessment metric into the fray.  The most commonly used formula for assessing QB performance is the traditional passer efficiency rating (PER).  I illustrate the formula for calculating PER below (if you're severely allergic to elementary-school-level math, please scroll down to the tables and continue reading from there).

The PER is an adequate metric, but it has some odd quirks.  For example, the PER rewards players for completing passes.  That's a questionable approach, especially when the formula already rewards players for yards, which should be a byproduct of those completed passes.  This is the kind of grade inflation we would expect at Leland Stanford Junior University, not in a widely used QB metric.  Of course, this is merely a minor quibble with the PER.  The real problem comes from its name.

No, I'm not proposing we name the PER something like the Super Terrific Happy Quarterback Measurement Rating.  Instead, the problem with its name is the "Passer" in "passer efficiency rating."  A quarterback can rumble through defenders like Marshawn and blaze past safeties like Jahvid, but his running ability will not have any impact on the PER.  So let's find a way to incorporate some running stats into our QB assessment (and stop rewarding QBs for completions too).

Sports economist David Berri developed a metric that accommodates both running and passing QBs, a metric he calls the QB Score.  It's a pretty simple formula:

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

I collected passing, running, and turnover stats for a bunch of FBS quarterbacks and plugged the numbers into the QB Score.  The QB Score works best with large sample sizes, so I've only included quarterbacks who threw more than 100 passes last season.  While the focus in this piece is on the QB score, I've included the PER to provide a point of comparison.  Let's dive into the results (the remainder of this post is a math-free zone, I promise).


First I highlight the top ten quarterbacks in the nation.  In this and all following tables I provide the QB Score, the player's national ranking in QB Score, his PER, and his national rank in PER.

Top Ten

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
1. Brandon Doughty Western Kentucky 2782 (1) 176.5 (4)
2. Matt Johnson Bowling Green 2659 (2) 164.2 (8)
3. Deshaun Watson Clemson 2465 (3) 156.3 (15)
4. Jeff Driskel Louisiana Tech 2330 (4) 154 (18)
5. Jared Goff California 2306 (5) 161.3 (12)
6. Paxton Lynch Memphis 2225 (6) 157.5 (14)
7. Chad Kelly Ole Miss 2197 (7) 155.9 (16)
8. Dane Evans Tulsa 2180 (8) 151.6 (24)
9. Baker Mayfield Oklahoma 2147 (9) 173.3 (5)
9. Patrick Mahomes Texas Tech 2147 (9) 147.2 (36)

Surely you've heard of Western Kentucky's Brandon Doughty.  Last year Doughty finished second in our QB Score rankings after putting together an impressive statline of 4,830 yards (8.8ypa, 68% completions), 49 TDs, and only 10 interceptions.  He managed to be even better this season with 5,055 yards (9.4 ypa, 72% completions), 48 TDs, and 9 interceptions.  Although his arm strength could be better and his stats may be somewhat inflated by the WKU offensive system, he'll almost certainly be drafted as a project by someone on Saturday.  As great as Doughty was this year, let's not forget that Marcus Mariota had a stellar QB Score of 3,134 last year and that Case Keenum scored an otherworldly 3,436 in 2011.  It's going to be a while before we see someone top that mark.

Matt Johnson of Bowling Green finished second in our rankings.  The senior had a terrific first two months of the season as he passed for over 400 yards in 6 of the first 8 games.  Oddly enough, his production suddenly took a nosedive over the final five games.  During that span he "only" threw for 250 yards per game (on a mediocre 6.7 yards per attempt) with 13 TDs to 5 interceptions.  That's decent, but a major step down for someone who averaged 410 yards per game (9.7 yards per attempt) with 33 TDs to 3 interceptions.  Had he kept up the pace, he'd have tossed over 5700 yards, passed for 58 TDs, and likely topped our rankings.  Too bad...

Our third-place finisher Deshaun Watson was the top-finishing Power 5 QB and the most productive QB in the nation with 5,209 total yards.  A solid passer (4,104 yards, 8.4 ypa, 35 TDs, 13 interceptions), Watson benefited greatly from the QB Score's inclusion of rushing statistics.  Watson amassed 1,105 yards (5.34 ypc) and 12 TDs on the ground.

After struggling at Florida, Jeff Driskel transferred to Louisiana Tech where he obviously had a successful year.  He didn't throw a ton of touchdowns, but 4,033 yards (9.0 ypa) is nothing to sneeze at.  Do people actually sneeze at unimpressive statistics?  That sounds like an annoying medical issue, kinda like those people with photic sneeze reflex. Any Cal fans with the latter affliction may want to avoid the next paragraph, because we're going to start pumping some sunshine.

Look who finished in 5th place, our very own Jared Goff!  The soon-to-be-#-1-pick improved notably over his impressive sophomore campaign with 4,719 yards, 8.9 yards per attempt, and 43 touchdowns.  It's a shame he had an uncanny ability to throw the most improbable, bounce-off-four-players-and-into-a-linebacker's-hands interceptions.  Goff tops the Pac-12 and, speaking of which, let's see how the rest of the Pac-12 fared.  We'll take a look at the lesser conferences later.

Pac-12

After suffering through Marcus Mariota's reign of terror for the past few years, the Pac-12 saw a new top QB emerge as Jared Goff took the top spot.  With 8 quarterbacks in the top-40, the Pac-12 had the deepest class of quality quarterbacks (no other conference had more than 5 in the top-40).

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Jared Goff California 2306 (5) 161.3 (12)
Luke Falk Washington State 1868 (18) 145.9 (39)
Josh Rosen UCLA 1563 (24) 134.3 (70)
Kevin Hogan Stanford 1486 (28) 171 (6)
Vernon Adams Jr. Oregon 1464 (30) 179.1 (3)
Anu Solomon Arizona 1424 (33) 147 (37)
Mike Bercovici Arizona State 1421 (34) 136.1 (64)
Cody Kessler USC 1316 (37) 151.7 (23)
Jake Browning Washington 1191 (44) 139.7 (49)
Sefo Liufau Colorado 1031 (53) 126.4 (93)
Travis Wilson Utah 723 (76) 125.4 (99)
Seth Collins Oregon State 506 (98) 108.3 (135)
Nick Mitchell Oregon State 5 (152) 89.3 (160)

The top three quarterbacks benefited greatly from the QB Score metric, as they would have fared worse if we had ranked everyone by PER.  Although Falk and Rosen were not quite as efficient as Hogan and Adams on a yards per play basis, they were much more productive and had lower turnover rates (Falk's 8 turnovers on nearly 750 plays was stellar).  Cal and Wazzu have steadily climbed the QB Score rankings over the last few years.  They were middle of the pack in 2013, good but not elite in 2014, and the conference's best in 2015.  That's great news for the Bear Raid and Air Raid.

Other than the pair of OSU quarterbacks, no one fared too poorly last season.  It was a rough year for the Beavers, however.  With 52% completions, 5.8 yards per completion, and 6 TDs to 4 interceptions (yes, total), Seth Collins was barely serviceable.  With more interceptions than touchdowns and a 45% completion rating, Nick Mitchell was one of the worst QBs in the nation last season.  Better luck next year, Beavs!

Now we'll proceed through the rest of the Power 5 conferences.

ACC

Deshaun Watson was the top QB in the ACC last season, followed by UNC's Marquise Williams.  Fortunately for us Cal fans, Williams will be long gone by the time we play the Tar Heels in 2017.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Deshaun Watson Clemson 2465 (3) 156.3 (15)
Marquise Williams North Carolina 1725 (22) 150.2 (28)
Brad Kaaya Miami 1512 (25) 142.1 (44)
Thomas Sirk Duke 1258 (40) 119 (116)
Lamar Jackson Louisville 1170 (45) 126.8 (90)
Jacoby Brissett NC State 1130 (46) 130.3 (81)
Nathan Peterman Pittsburgh 920 (60) 138.6 (55)
Everett Golson Florida State 795 (70) 149.2 (31)
Matt Johns Virginia 654 (88) 127.8 (86)
Sean Maguire Florida State 561 (95) 139.7 (50)
Michael Brewer Virginia Tech 514 (97) 137.9 (56)
John Wolford Wake Forest 390 (111) 128.8 (84)
Eric Dungey Syracuse 348 (115) 136.6 (63)
Kyle Bolin Louisville 336 (117) 135.8 (66)
Brenden Motley Virginia Tech 273 (122) 128.9 (83)
Kendall Hinton Wake Forest 253 (125) 97.3 (148)
Justin Thomas Georgia Tech 208 (129) 119.4 (115)
Zack Mahoney Syracuse 12 (150) 100.9 (144)

I'm not going to pretend to have any insight into the ACC.  On to the next conference.

Big 12

The Big 12 was arguably the second-best conference of quarterbacks this past season, after the Pac-12.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Baker Mayfield Oklahoma 2147 (9) 173.3 (5)
Patrick Mahomes Texas Tech 2147 (10) 147.2 (36)
Trevone Boykin TCU 2130 (11) 161.5 (11)
Mason Rudolph Oklahoma State 1812 (19) 149.1 (32)
Seth Russell Baylor 1459 (31) 189.7 (2)
Skyler Howard West Virginia 1117 (48) 134.7 (69)
Jarrett Stidham Baylor 800 (68) 199 (1)
Jerrod Heard Texas 626 (90) 126.1 (95)
Joe Hubener Kansas State 435 (107) 107.3 (136)
Joel Lanning Iowa State 366 (113) 122.7 (108)
Montell Cozart Kansas 365 (114) 127.4 (88)
Sam B. Richardson Iowa State 275 (120) 121.9 (110)
Ryan Willis Kansas -132 (159) 101 (143)

Our old friends Rob Likens and Zach Yenser certainly have their work cut out for them at Kansas.  After a shoulder injury sidelined Montell Cozart, Ryan Willis took over as starter.  He completed about half his passes, tossed more interceptions than touchdowns, and posted the sixth-worst QB Score in the nation.

Our other good friend Jerrod Heard only finished 8th in the Big 12 after running for 700 yards, passing for a quarter mile, and racking up about 30 4th-quarter touchdowns against us.  Other defensive coordinators must have figured out some way of stopping him.  That doesn't make his visit to Berkeley this fall any less terrifying.

Big Ten Twelve Eleven Fourteen

An Indiana quarterback tops the list? I didn't expect that. After only achieving a QB Score of 410 in 2014, Sudfield had a great senior season with over 3500 yards (8.7 ypa on 60% completions), 27 passing touchdowns, 5 rushing touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions.  If Indiana had some semblance of a defense they probably would have had a pretty good year last year.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Nate Sudfeld Indiana 1910 (15) 151 (27)
Connor Cook Michigan State 1457 (32) 136.6 (61)
C.J. Beathard Iowa 1260 (39) 139.5 (51)
Jake Rudock Michigan 1192 (43) 141.5 (45)
Tommy Armstrong Jr. Nebraska 1130 (47) 128.6 (85)
Mitch Leidner Minnesota 879 (65) 121.1 (112)
Christian Hackenberg Penn State 870 (66) 123.9 (103)
Wes Lunt Illinois 793 (71) 111.5 (131)
J.T. Barrett Ohio State 688 (81) 139.2 (52)
Cardale Jones Ohio State 683 (82) 141.5 (47)
Joel Stave Wisconsin 655 (87) 125.7 (98)
Chris Laviano Rutgers 493 (101) 131.8 (75)
Clayton Thorson Northwestern 134 (138) 95.9 (150)
David Blough Purdue 88 (143) 108.6 (134)
Perry Hills Maryland 19 (146) 96.9 (149)
Austin Appleby Purdue 13 (149) 113.6 (127)
Caleb Rowe Maryland -261 (162) 85.9 (163)

After topping the Big Ten last season, J.T. Barrett fell substantially this year.  He badly regressed in most major categories, as did his teammate Cardale Jones.  Despite the regression, Ohio State still managed to win 12 games (their only loss was by one point to Michigan State).  Will their QBs return to form next season or repeat this year's performance?  Strong performances from either quarterback should make the Buckeyes a national title contender.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Maryland, whose quarterbacks combined for 28 interceptions and 14 TDs. However, I wouldn't be surprised if they make substantial improvements next year.  Nothing boosts one's confidence like facing Andy Buh's "defense" in practice day after day.  I bet the looked like Heisman Candidates this spring.

SEC

Look at all these triple digit rankings.  It must be that vaunted SEC Defense™.  Surely there is no other explanation for all this lousy quarterbacking.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Chad Kelly Ole Miss 2197 (7) 155.9 (16)
Dak Prescott Mississippi State 2020 (13) 151 (26)
Brandon Allen Arkansas 1869 (17) 166.5 (7)
Jake Coker Alabama 1377 (36) 147 (38)
Brandon Harris LSU 1059 (51) 130.6 (80)
Joshua Dobbs Tennessee 1042 (52) 127 (89)
Greyson Lambert Georgia 965 (56) 141.5 (46)
Kyle Allen Texas A&M 918 (61) 137 (60)
Perry Orth South Carolina 675 (83) 125.1 (101)
Will Grier Florida 579 (94) 145.4 (40)
Sean White Auburn 482 (103) 123.2 (104)
Treon Harris Florida 471 (105) 118.1 (118)
Patrick Towles Kentucky 321 (118) 112 (129)
Jeremy Johnson Auburn 229 (128) 129 (82)
Maty Mauk Missouri 151 (134) 112.5 (128)
Kyler Murray Texas A&M 149 (135) 109.2 (133)
Johnny McCrary Vanderbilt 108 (139) 101.3 (142)
Drew Lock Missouri 15 (148) 90.5 (158)
Kyle Shurmur Vanderbilt -31 (154) 93.9 (154)

It's a testament to Alabama's depth and performance at every position that they routinely contend for (and win) national championships, even when they have good but not great QBs.  Coker was certainly not bad (21 TDs, 8 interceptions, 7.9 ypa, 207 yards per game), but his stats weren't great.

Our new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's QB's didn't fare especially well at Texas A&M, but they weren't abysmal.  Mizzou and Vandy seemed to have a monopoly on bad quarterback play in the SEC.

AAC

For a while Paxton Lynch was in the discussion to be the first QB drafted this week.  Big (6'7", 245), accurate (67% completions), productive (291 yards per game, 8.5 ypa) and mobile (239 rushing yards), there's a lot to like about him.  He could use a year or two to master the skills that make a great QB--baiting the defense with his eyes, reading his progressions quickly, improve his decision-making--but he would still be a solid first-round pick.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Paxton Lynch Memphis 2225 (6) 157.5 (14)
Dane Evans Tulsa 2180 (8) 151.6 (24)
Greg Ward Jr. Houston 2007 (14) 148.9 (33)
Quinton Flowers South Florida 1486 (27) 149.4 (30)
P.J. Walker Temple 1238 (41) 125.3 (100)
Gunner Kiel Cincinnati 1060 (50) 151.9 (22)
Bryant Shirreffs Connecticut 732 (75) 127.7 (87)
Blake Kemp East Carolina 708 (79) 137.6 (57)
Hayden Moore Cincinnati 314 (119) 132.9 (73)
Tanner Lee Tulane 230 (127) 109.8 (132)
Justin Holman UCF -69 (157) 95.2 (151)
Bo Schneider UCF -241 (161) 87.1 (162)

Dane Evans had a great year at Tulsa (4,332 yards, 8.9ypa, 25 TDs, 8 interceptions).  It's a shame his team couldn't play a lick of defense.  He should be one of the most productive QBs in the nation next season.

Conference USA

Two top-five QBs.  It wasn't a bad year for the Conference USA. Even Southern Miss had a solid year with 9 wins, a top-20 QB, and plenty of reasons to forget that it went 4-32 over the previous three seasons.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Brandon Doughty Western Kentucky 2782 (1) 176.5 (4)
Jeff Driskel Louisiana Tech 2330 (4) 154 (18)
Nick Mullens Southern Mississippi 1892 (16) 155.2 (17)
Brent Stockstill Middle Tennessee 1792 (20) 151.9 (21)
Chase Litton Marshall 956 (57) 132.8 (74)
Alex McGough Florida Intl 893 (64) 131.2 (78)
Matt Davis SMU 755 (74) 122.6 (109)
Driphus Jackson Rice 584 (93) 135.3 (68)
David Washington Old Dominion 533 (96) 131.3 (77)
Jaquez Johnson Florida Atlantic 505 (99) 116 (123)
Mack Leftwich UTEP 500 (100) 120.8 (113)
Dalton Sturm Texas San Antonio 345 (116) 126.2 (94)
DaMarcus Smith North Texas 275 (121) 94.5 (152)
Jason Driskel Florida Atlantic 250 (126) 105.9 (139)
Blake Bogenschutz Texas San Antonio 184 (130) 117.9 (119)
Ryan Metz UTEP 155 (132) 117.6 (122)
Andrew McNulty North Texas 9 (151) 89.3 (159)
Shuler Bentley Old Dominion -46 (156) 107 (137)
Lee McNeill Charlotte -389 (164) 83.1 (164)

Did you know Charlotte is an FBS team now?  I didn't, and it appears Lee McNeill didn't either.  Of course, it's always rough transitioning to FBS.  Just ask UMass. Or Georgia State.  Don't ask Appalachian State, though.  They went 7-5 in their first FBS year and 11-2 this past season.  Poor Lee was our worst QB according to these rankings.  That he completed 53% of his passes was his most impressive stat last season. I'm not kidding.  He averaged a woeful 4.6 yards per attempt and threw 1 TD to 10 interceptions.  Better luck next year, Lee!

Independents

Three decent QBs.  Navy's Reynolds finished 10th in PER because he runs so much that he can occasionally torch defenses with a surprise pass.  Once you account for his decent but not elite running, his ranking regresses to a solid 35th.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
DeShone Kizer Notre Dame 1497 (26) 150 (29)
Keenan Reynolds Navy 1386 (35) 162.1 (10)
Tanner Mangum BYU 1104 (49) 136 (65)

MAC

Normally the MAC has some of the most exciting quarterbacking in the nation.  Unfortunately, this year was a bit lighter in MACtion than normal. Ohio and Northern Illinois offices had down years this year, but Bowling Green, Western Michigan, and Central Michigan enjoyed some strong performances.  Bowling Green's Matt Johnson carried the torch for the conference this year.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Matt Johnson Bowling Green 2659 (2) 164.2 (8)
Zach Terrell Western Michigan 1775 (21) 162.5 (9)
Cooper Rush Central Michigan 1690 (23) 144.7 (41)
Phillip Ely Toledo 1194 (42) 131.7 (76)
Thomas Woodson Akron 917 (62) 123.1 (105)
Riley Neal Ball State 788 (72) 117.6 (121)
Drew Hare Northern Illinois 781 (73) 142.8 (42)
Blake Frohnapfel Massachusetts 717 (77) 114 (125)
Joe Licata Buffalo 713 (78) 123 (107)
Derrius Vick Ohio 666 (85) 134 (71)
Brogan Roback Eastern Michigan 610 (92) 125.8 (97)
JD Sprague Ohio 491 (102) 136.6 (62)
Drew Kummer Miami (OH) 173 (131) 117.9 (120)
Colin Reardon Kent State 148 (136) 97.6 (147)
Ryan Graham Northern Illinois -18 (153) 124.4 (102)
George Bollas Kent State -37 (155) 91.1 (157)
Billy Bahl Miami (OH) -84 (158) 98.8 (146)

Drew Hare regressed badly after finishing 16th last year with a score of 1,667.  Normally NIU produces top-ten QBs in these rankings.  Maybe Hare will bounce back in his senior year.

While the MAC QBs underperformed this year, they had some of the best names in FBS.  Among these 164 QBs we're evaluating today, is there a better name than Brogan Roback?  I bet that guy wears tank tops all day every day.  He probably even wears one under his jersey on gameday.

Drew Kummer, Colin Reardon, and Blake Frohnapfel all have vaguely NSFW-sounding names.  And who could forget Billy Bahl?  Unfortunately playing BillyBahl means completing fewer than half your passes and tossing a bunch of interceptions.

MWC

Look at all those QBs.  Look at all those triple-digit rankings.

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Brett Rypien Boise State 1471 (29) 140.6 (48)
Nick Stevens Colorado State 939 (59) 138.7 (53)
Kenny Potter San Jose State 897 (63) 142.3 (43)
Tyler Stewart Nevada 843 (67) 123.1 (106)
Kent Myers Utah State 797 (69) 151.6 (25)
Maxwell Smith San Diego State 689 (80) 138.7 (54)
Blake Decker UNLV 672 (84) 137.6 (58)
Lamar Jordan New Mexico 657 (86) 126.5 (92)
Karson Roberts Air Force 640 (89) 152.2 (20)
Cameron Coffman Wyoming 475 (104) 147.4 (35)
Joe Gray San Jose State 265 (123) 147.9 (34)
Kilton Anderson Fresno State 154 (133) 91.2 (156)
Kurt Palandech UNLV 135 (137) 106.2 (138)
Ikaika Woolsey Hawaii 104 (141) 103.2 (141)
Chuckie Keeton Utah State 90 (142) 94.3 (153)
Austin Apodaca New Mexico 41 (144) 100 (145)
Zack Greenlee Fresno State 18 (147) 113.9 (126)
Max Wittek Hawaii -374 (163) 92.5 (155)

Remember when Tim DeRuyter was one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country?  Fresno State was 20-6 when DeRuyter had Derek Carr as his starting QB and 9-17 since.

Poor Chuckie Keeton. He finished 8th overall with a QB SCore of 1,934 in the 2012 season.  He had over 4,000 yards that season and has 3,300 yards in the following three seasons combined.  He has been devastated by injury after injury over the years.

Look at those Hawaii QBs' stats.  No wonder Norm Chow was fired in the middle of the season.  Our already-depleted defense shouldn't have too much trouble keeping Ikaika Woolsey in check in Australia next season.  Then again, he's probably due for a 400 yard, 6-TD performance.

Sun Belt

Name Team QB Score (Rank) PER (Rank)
Nick Arbuckle Georgia State 2032 (12) 152.7 (19)
Taylor Lamb Appalachian State 1269 (38) 160.7 (13)
Matt Linehan Idaho 1027 (54) 135.5 (67)
Tyler Jones Texas State 1014 (55) 120.1 (114)
Brandon Silvers Troy 956 (58) 137.5 (59)
Fredi Knighten Arkansas State 618 (91) 133.4 (72)
Andrew Allen New Mexico State 459 (106) 131 (79)
Brooks Haack Louisiana Lafayette 399 (108) 121.2 (111)
Tyler Rogers New Mexico State 398 (109) 126.6 (91)
Cody Clements South Alabama 391 (110) 115.7 (124)
Jalen Nixon Louisiana Lafayette 375 (112) 111.7 (130)
Garrett Smith Louisiana Monroe 260 (124) 118.9 (117)
Nick Jeanty New Mexico State 105 (140) 103.5 (140)
James Tabary Arkansas State 27 (145) 126.1 (96)
Earnest Carrington Louisiana Monroe -199 (160) 87.2 (161)

With nearly 4,400 yards on 9.0 ypa, Nick Arbuckle had quite a season last year.  Despite the losing record, it was a feel-good year for Georgia State who qualified for a bowl game after going 1-23 in the previous two years since joining FBS.

WAC

RIP.  Has it really been 4 years since the WAC was a conference?

That covers all the major FBS conferences.  Since Jared Goff fared better in the QB Score than the PER, I'll happily declare the QB Score as the superior metric.  Based on how your favorite QB fared, you may agree or disagree.  At least we can all agree that the QB Score is a better metric than hand size.