23 November 2009
With nut-crunching time looming on the horizon, Bama knows where it stands in most aspects of the game:
There's one area that's not covered there: the team's passing game. After three years of John Parker Wilson, Bama debuted a new signal-caller for 2009. With only two offensive lineman returning, and only one returning receiver with over 16 catches in 2008, the questions in T-Town were obvious and pretty troubling. So how has Greg McElroy been doing?
To try and answer that question, I'm taking a brief look at a small number of statistical categories. I am unilaterally declaring these to be the most important statistical categories for a QB. In my opinion, you can get a better idea of a QB's effectiveness by looking at these three stats than by looking at the all-inclusive efficiency rating. That's because the efficiency rating gives far too great a weight to touchdown passes, which are often as much a result of coaching philosophy as of quarterbacking skill.
Here's what I'm calling the most important statistical categories for a passer, in order of importance:
Finally, in the spirit of apples-to-apples and oranges-to-oranges, I'm comparing McElroy to other SEC quarterbacks, and not to folks whose stats are inflated due to competition against the likes of the WAC, Mountain West, and, ahem, the Big 12.
Yards Per Attempt
McElroy is averaging 7.52 yards per attempt. That's fifth in the conference, behind Ryan Mallett, Tim Tebow, Joe Cox, and Chris Todd, in that order. You have to acknowledge here that Mallett's 9.74 yards per attempt is outstanding against an SEC schedule.
7.52 is pretty good. It doesn't put you up there in the "explosive" category, but a QB averaging 7.52 can move the team. By way of comparison, John Parker Wilson's career average was 6.72. As a senior, he averaged 6.99.
If you're not going to be explosive, you have to be pretty good at this if you want to be a top quarterback. McElroy is better than pretty good. His 1.58% interception percentage is the best among the SEC's starting QBs. Even in games against Ole Miss and Tennessee when McElroy had some trouble moving the team up and down the field, he avoided picks.
Tim Tebow, at 1.80%, edges out Chris Todd for second place.
I might rate this stat higher - except that it's already partially factored in to YPA. That makes this the #3 stat.
At 60.0%, McElroy is third in the SEC, behind Tebow's 65.0% and Jordan Jefferson's 61.5%.
Strength of Schedule
Obviously not a passing stat - but you need to know the team's strength of schedule to really compare QB stats.
This is another plus for McElroy. According to the NCAA's official ranking based on opponents' played thus far in the season, Alabama has played the fourth-toughest schedule of any SEC team, trailing Mississippi St., Arkansas, and Georgia.
Put It All Together
Do I really need to? Against a tougher-than-average SEC schedule, McElroy is fifth, third, and first in the three key statistical categories. I would have trouble ranking McElroy ahead of Mallett overall, with Mallet's outstanding production, or ahead of Tebow, with his methodical passing stats and outstanding running, but the stats say Greg is no worse than the third QB in the SEC.
It's the hip media story these days to say that Alabama is getting there despite McElroy. Like many narratives that take root in sports and other news media - where the quickest route to churning out your latest column is to just take what somebody else said and put a twist or two on it - it's 99% hogwash.
Fact is that Bama's quarterbacking appears to be improved over the 2008 version. Miss that, and you just won't understand why the Tide's chance of running the table post-season looks a lot better than it looked 52 weeks ago.
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