People owe an apology to Feleipe Franks. An analysis of week 1 QB performances

Florida had the benefit and curse of playing in the first game of the year in week 0. After Florida’s win over the Miami Hurricanes, Gators’ QB Feleipe Franks was widely criticized. Some of the criticism was valid, but a lot of the criticism was excessive and personal. With everyone else’s week one in the books (except the Labor Day Monday game), I decided to see just how poorly Franks’ performance compared to other QBs who faced power 5 opponents.

Taking the rankings from https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/years/2019-passing.html I used this metric as a baseline for overall performance by the quarterback in week one. Franks ranked 44th overall.

Here are the top 50 performers:

rate

As we know, however, a QBs performance is highly influenced by the opposing defense. To account for this variable, I utilized the 2018 team defensive rankings taken from https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/years/2018-team-defense.html

Here are the top 20 teams from last year (Power 5):

defense

The P5_Re-Rank is the new ranking once non-P5 teams were removed. These teams needed to be re-ranked. Since non-P5 teams play easier schedules, their defensive rankings are not an indicator of how good the defense actually is- and since the quality of the defense is a key measure in this analysis, I could not have this metric skewed.

Then, each QB who played in week one against a P5 opponent was extracted from the overall list. Their week one ranking was re-ranked from the overall group to just those that faced P5 opponents. It was clear upon running an initial analysis that QBs who faced non-P5 opponents did better than those who did.

PassRatingvsP5

It is easy to see that point in the chart above. The group on the horizontal (x) axis to the left were those who faced non-P5 opponents. They averaged a higher passer rating than QBs who did face P5 opponents. Ironically, a 5-star recruit playing against a non-P5 opponent had the worst day of all (Hunter Johnson of Northwestern).

I also wanted to see if the QBs recruiting ratings coming out of high school were predictive of success in week one. So, this metric was included as well. Now, the variables were set. I was looking to see how well each QB did in week one while controlling for the quality of defense faced. I just threw the recruit-rating in to see if it had any predictive power for how the player performed.

There were two important assumptions made: Power 5 defenses are generally better than non-P5 defenses, and that last year’s defensive rankings are indicative of this year’s defensive strength. Of course, there is fluctuation, but this assumption is necessary to quantify the level of opposition QBs faced in week one. On to the findings…

Opponent Strength

The first look was to see if opponent defensive strength (stored as variable P5_order) was correlated with QB performance. In the subsequent regression analysis, it was statistically significant (p = 0.04).P5 def and week one

As the chart shows us, the higher (worse) a defense was ranked in 2018, the better the QBs performance against them was. Ok, great. Though not a perfect correlation (at all), it was still strong enough and statistically supported to apply it to the analysis.

Recruit Rating (RR)

As stated, this was more of a curiosity. What I found was that the rating of the QB (composite) was statistically significant in its correlation to performance against P5 defenses in week one (p = 0.04).

RR and wk one

As this scatterplot shows, the higher a QB was rated, the more likely he was to have success in week one. That little dot in the lower right-hand corner is the aforementioned Hunter Johnson. Of note, if a player was unrated, I assigned a .7900 rating and 2 stars. That is why you see the line of players to the left.

Feleipe Franks

After all was said and done, Franks ranked number one overall when controlling for the strength of opposing defense faced in week one. When adjusting for P5 opponents, Franks had the 8th best performance while facing the 13th best defense. I simply added these two ranks scores together, giving a score of 21 points (fewer points are better because the lower something is ranked, the better it is). Here are the final standings:

Player School Opponent Opp_def_Rank QB_Rank_Adj Score Final Rank
Feleipe Franks Florida Miami (FL) 13 8 21 1
Jarren Williams Miami (FL) Florida 14 11 25 2
Levi Lewis Louisiana Mississippi State 2 27 29 3
Tyler Huntley Utah BYU 18 13 31 4
K.J. Costello Stanford Northwestern 24 7 31 4
Zach Smith Tulsa Michigan State 5 30 35 6
Sam Howell North Carolina South Carolina 38 3 41 7
Tua Tagovailoa Alabama Duke 41 1 42 8
Ryan Willis Virginia Tech Boston College 32 12 44 9
Quentin Harris Duke Alabama 7 40 47 10
Riley Neal Vanderbilt Georgia 10 38 48 11
J’mar Smith Louisiana Tech Texas 33 16 49 12
Jake Fromm Georgia Vanderbilt 35 14 49 12
Colin Hill Colorado State Colorado 40 10 50 14
Kenny Pickett Pitt Virginia 15 36 51 15
Anthony Brown Boston College Virginia Tech 48 4 52 16
Woody Barrett Kent State Arizona State 29 25 54 17
Chris Robison Florida Atlantic Ohio State 31 26 57 18
Josh Adkins New Mexico State Washington State 25 32 57 18
Gresch Jensen Texas State Texas A&M 26 31 57 18
Drew Plitt Ball State Indiana 45 15 60 21
Cole McDonald Hawaii Arizona 55 6 61 22
Bryce Perkins Virginia Pitt 42 21 63 23
Desmond Ridder Cincinnati UCLA 58 5 63 23
Bryce Perkins Virginia Pitt 42 21 63 23
Hunter Johnson Northwestern Stanford 22 42 64 26
Jorge Reyna Fresno State USC 37 28 65 27
Spencer Sanders Oklahoma State Oregon State 63 2 65 27
Dan Ellington Georgia State Tennessee 43 23 66 29
Jordan Love Utah State Wake Forest 57 9 66 29
Carson Strong Nevada Purdue 47 20 67 31
Sean Chambers Wyoming Missouri 30 37 67 31
Tyler Vitt Texas State Texas A&M 26 41 67 31
Hank Bachmeier Boise State Florida State 52 18 70 34
Stephen Calvert Liberty Syracuse 36 34 70 34
Jake Luton Oregon State Oklahoma State 54 17 71 36
Cephus Johnson South Alabama Nebraska 50 24 74 37
D’Eriq King Houston Oklahoma 56 19 75 38
Randall West Massachusetts Rutgers 51 33 84 39
Brady White Memphis Ole Miss 61 29 90 40
Jake Bentley South Carolina North Carolina 59 35 94 41
Kato Nelson Akron Illinois 62 39 101 42

Conclusion

This analysis does not prove or even claim that Franks is better than any other QB, or that we can draw conclusions based upon one game. The aim was to investigate the validity of the pervailing narrative regarding Franks’ alleged “horrendous” opening performance. The findings of this analysis strongly contradict that narrative and, at a minimum, offer some context regarding drawing hard and fast conclusions based on small sample sizes.

Methodology Note:

Each player was assigned a random ID number and the analysis was initially conducted using only ID numbers in order to avoid potential biasing of the outcome. Correlational analyses were conducted to validate the inclusion of the predictor variables but did not influence ranking or scoring. The intention is to conduct this analysis weekly. As such, going forward raw sums of rankings will not be used. Standardized scores will be used to ensure equal weighting of the variables.

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