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OAYP: 2019 Sun Belt Quarterback Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the Sun Belt's returning quarterbacks.

Earlier in the offseason I released the 2018 OAYP rankings as part of the debut of a new advanced metric to evaluate college football teams. Last season’s scores will obviously factor into the eventual 2019 preseason rankings, but those alone are only reflective, not predictive.

In order to make the aforementioned OAYP metric predictive, we’re factoring in individual player OAYP scores for projected starters and key contributors. Those numbers are a sort of spiritual descendant of adjusted yards per attempt, the quarterback metric first introduced in the book The Hidden Game of Football by Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer, and John Thorn, and Pro Football Reference founder Doug Drinen’s ‘approximate value’ measure.

The basic premise is to cross the efficiency measure of the former, but across all positions, with the value principles of the latter -- hopefully as a way of more accurately depicting a given team’s returning production. Returning good players is more valuable than returning only average or subpar players, and not all production is created equal, so this should ideally prove to be more predictive than simply looking at the raw number of returning starters or the percentages of returning production.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be diving into those individual OAYP scores for some of the top returning qualifying players in the Sun Belt at each position, as well as some potential breakout stars that posted big OAYP numbers, but on too small a sample size to qualify.

Now, to separate the truly dominant players, rather than just using the OAYP scores, we’ll be looking at the scores relative to their positional averages. For the time being, we’ll only be looking at their scores relative to the Sun Belt, but those marginal ratings will eventually reflect their value relative to the entire country -- at least among qualifying returnees. That way, because there is some mild inequity in scoring from one position to the next, those disparities are wholly mitigated. Sort of like WAR in baseball, marginal OAYP tells us how far above or below a player is their positional average.

Plus, in the meantime, there is still value in just looking at the athletes relative to their conference counterparts.

We’ll tier them out into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size). Granted, with only five qualified returnees, the tiers won’t be very large here, but this will set the table for the format we will continue to use throughout the release of the rankings.

*Marginal OAYP in parentheses

Superstar

-Zac Thomas, App State (1.05)

In Thomas’ first year as a starter, he led the Mountaineers to the Sun Belt title in the league’s inaugural championship game, was named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, and led the SBC in passer rating, while also finishing in the national top 20 in pass efficiency, and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. According to CFB Reference, just 15 other players since 2000 have had as many rushing and passing scores as Thomas, whilst throwing as few or fewer interceptions -- a list that includes the likes of three former Heisman Trophy winners: Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III, and Marcus Mariota, among others.

Even with a new coaching staff in Boone, there’s no reason to expect a step back from Thomas in 2019. In fact, given all the returning pieces around him, it’s probably more realistic to expect an even better encore performance under Eliah Drinkwitz and company.

Second Tier

-Shai Werts, Georgia Southern (0.81)
-Caleb Evans, ULM (0.67)

I was anxious to see how the formula would evaluate an option quarterback, and I have to say I’m pretty pleased. Second in the league and just shy of superstardom feels about right to me. An integral part of one of the most dramatic turnarounds in college football history a season ago, Georgia Southern went as their signal caller did and his improvement from year one to year two was a big reason why. In 2017, when they went 2-10, Werts averaged 3.49 yards per carry and 6.1 yards per pass attempt with three rushing touchdowns, seven passing touchdowns and five picks. In 2018, those numbers jumped to 4.98 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per pass attempt, with 15 rushing scores, another 10 through the air, and no interceptions. The Eagles won’t catch anyone off guard in 2019, but it might not matter if Werts can maintain that level of play.

After breaking out in 2017, expectations were high for Caleb Evans and the Warhawks last year. In some ways, 2018 was a disappointment for both. The team finished .500 and Evans saw a modest to pronounced statistical dip pretty much across the board, aside from his rushing efficiency. On the bright side, ULM was still in the hunt for a conference title bid right down to the wire, and Evans nonetheless managed to finish second in total offense, yards per attempt, third in passing touchdowns, and fourth in rushing scores in conference play. He is losing his top two targets from the past couple of years, but what projects to be one of the better offensive lines in the Sun Belt does lend some enhanced upside to his senior season.

Potential Breakout Star

-Kaleb Barker, Troy (0.7)

I don’t know if this one technically counts, but he meets the by-the-book definition of what will constitute this section going forward. Albeit on a smaller sample size, had he met the minimum qualifying threshold, he would have been the third ranked QB in the Sun Belt, just behind Thomas and Werts. Troy went 5-1, including the game he went down in against Georgia State, with Barker at the helm, the lone loss coming against Boise State, whilst averaging a smooth 36.7 points per game, which would have ranked in the national top 15. His eight yards per attempt also would have tied Zac Thomas for second in the Sun Belt, while his 163.58 passer rating would have been first, had he qualified. Sawyer Smith did an admirable job in his stead, but there’s no question as to who the better player is. A full season of healthy Kaleb Barker will do a lot in the way of assuaging any concerns about Troy’s loss of offensive production elsewhere.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying Sun Belt Quarterbacks

1. Zac Thomas, App State (1.05)
2. Shai Werts, Georgia Southern (0.81)
3. Caleb Evans, ULM (0.67)
4. Dan Ellington, Georgia State (-0.45)
5. Tyler Vitt, Texas State (-2.08)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP