The Value of a Well-Aged Quarterback

Submitted by The Mathlete on July 16th, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Previously I looked at true freshmen quarterbacks to see how thankful we should be thank Devin Gardner has taken the reins and Shane Morris has a year or two to learn the ropes.

For the True Freshman evaluation I looked at how the quarterback himself fared. To look at how a team’s offense fared I pulled team offensive performance and grouped them by quarterback starts going into the season and quarterback age. For example, last year all quarterbacks from the class of 2011 were grouped together if they redshirted in 2011 or saw spot playing time. If they started as true freshmen they were considered second year starters.


As noted in the prior article, starting true freshmen quarterbacks is not a formula for winning games. Teams with them at the helm operated 3.9 point per game below an average team. For reference, last year’s Michigan State offense was about 5 points below average.

With even one year of seasoning on the bench, that number moves even higher. The NCAA didn’t start publishing official starters by game until 2009 that I can find so this data only represents the last two seasons. There are some small sample sizes in play here but at the same time, the trends are logical and pass a smell test.

Players in their second year have performed better after going through growing pains on the field in year 1, but players from the prior years class tend to have better debuts as second year players as opposed to true freshmen.

For players in their third year, there isn’t much progression for the guys who have been starting from day 1, but the second year starters show a big leap from 2 points below average to over a point above. At this point the value from the extra starting experience has disappeared and the players with a combination of on and off the field time have passed the most experienced group. Their classmates who have sat for two years fare about as well as the second year starters.

By the time players are in their fourth and fifth year in the program, everyone with some starting experience performers at a similar level near 2 points above average. What is interesting is that the one group who is a strong outlier are the guys who have hands full of splinters from all the clipboard handling. Guys who have sat for their first three years on campus typically aren’t worth the wait. Their debuts are typically on par with a player much younger. As with all of these categories there are exceptions all over the place but a guy waiting his turn this long is more often a guy who couldn’t win the job than a guy who was just waiting behind a better option. There are a lot more Joe Bausermans than Tyler Wilsons.


If you flip the chart the more obvious conclusions show up in that the older a quarterback is the better he does. This shows up as consistent across all seasons of starting with the glaring exception of third year players becoming starters for the first time. With 2 or 3 years of eligibility left this looks like the quarterback sweet spot. You have probably given the quarterback a redshirt year to preserve 3 years of starting time. Two years without starting provides the opportunity to learn without getting too stagnant. This window also opens the door up for highly touted recruits to see the field with plenty of time shine without taking too many rough outings to get there.

It should be noted that these are all averages and there are many variances and exceptions to each situation. Just because you are choosing between a true freshmen and a third year player for your starting quarterback doesn’t mean that the third year guy is the best choice. This is just meant to be a high level look at the general progression of quarterback. With that said, getting Shane Morris two years (unless DG blows up and goes pro) or prep could be a big benefit to keeping the offense moving forward through a changing of the guard at quarterback.



July 16th, 2013 at 2:58 PM ^

a third year three year starter is worse than a third year first or second year starter...  How many three year third year starters were there (or better yet, what percentage of all quarterbacks are they?}




Space Coyote

July 16th, 2013 at 3:30 PM ^

A third year player starting for the third year is the worst of the bunch, but when that player becomes a fourth year player starting his fourth year then he's the best of the bunch. That part screams sample size issue to me.

panthera leo fututio

July 16th, 2013 at 4:46 PM ^

I thought that was interesting, too. My interpretation: this is probably in large part an effect of overall team quality. Teams that are forced to start a true freshman tend to be on the dumpster fire end of the cfb spectrum, and thus even as these freshman starters age, they're still surrounded by relatively adverse situations.


July 16th, 2013 at 4:01 PM ^

I would love to see the standard deviation indicated on those graphs.  That third year blip seems more likely to be a statistical aberration due to small sample size as opposed to a true sweet spot.