QB Competitions: Make The Right Choice Faster With StatsBomb Data

By Matt Edwards | September 16, 2022 | 3-minutes

QB Competitions: Make The Right Choice Faster With StatsBomb Data

On August 27th, the University of Michigan football Tweeted the following. 

In an unprecedented move, Jim Harbaugh announced Michigan would start Cade McNamara in week 1 against Colorado State. Michigan would then turn around and start J.J. McCarthy in week 2 against Hawaii. With two games of data, Michigan would then decide on the starting quarterback for the rest of the season.

I was genuinely shocked when I saw the Tweet. So shocked, that I had to make sure it wasn’t from one of those made-up Twitter accounts made to look like the real thing (I’ve been fooled before). I have never heard of this happening before, at least not publicly. And then, another team joined the indecision squad. Ole Miss took this route as well starting Jaxson Dart in week 1, while Luke Altmyer took the first snaps in week 2.

The big-name transfer quarterback from last season was Bailey Zappe. In 2021 he transferred to Western Kentucky from Houston Baptist. His offensive coordinator and top target from Houston Baptist complete the transfer trifecta. Zappe went on to set FBS records for passing touchdowns and passing yards in a season. His success opened the eyes of coaches everywhere, leading to more and more quarterbacks entering the portal and getting the chance to start with a new team. According to Mike Huguenin from on3, almost 50% of all starting quarterbacks in week 1 of the 2022 season were transfers.

In the age of the transfer portal, quarterback competitions are going to become the norm across the country. Transfer quarterbacks often join teams at the beginning of summer, and only have fall camp to win the job. Data can go a long way in helping offensive staffs make a decision in these quarterback battles.

QB Data

High school play-by-play data for football is unreliable at best, even for football-crazed states like Texas. Some of the main quarterback stats like attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns are fairly reliable. But the change in the level of competition from school to school, and state to state is very difficult to account for. However, When a player transfers from a previous college, they have much more reliable information to work from. From this data, it is easier to project how that player will do.

As mentioned above, there are numerous transfer-starting quarterbacks around the country who played for a different team last season. Some of them are high profile like Caleb Williams (stay tuned for more on him as the season progresses). While some were a little less visible like Chevan Cordeiro from Hawaii. He is now the starting quarterback at San Jose State. Let’s look at three quarterbacks who fit somewhere on that spectrum: Bo Nix, Gerry Bohanon, and Gunnar Holmberg.

Starting with some stats other than the typical completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions (If you need a reminder of what Randy is, check out my article from earlier this week).

Bo Nix

Bo Nix burst on the scene at Auburn in 2019 setting Freshman school records for completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. After an up-and-down three years, he transferred to Oregon and earned the starting job for this season. The following charts show Nix’s passing chart (heatmap) and his accuracy (pass placement) from the 2021 season:

Gerry Bohanon

Other than Caleb Williams, Gerry Bohanon was one of the highest profile transfers last offseason. He led Baylor to the Big 12 championship, Sugar Bowl Championship, and top 5 final ranking in the AP poll. Signs pointed to Bohanon being replaced as starter by Blake Shapen, and Bohanon transferred to South Florida.

Gunnar Holmberg

Gunnar Holmberg had a long career at Duke backing up Daniel Jones, Quentin Harris, and Chase Brice. After waiting his turn, he started in 2021 and led the Blue Devils to a 3-9 record. After the season, he followed Gerry Bohanon to the state of Florida and transferred to FIU.

Of the three transfer quarterbacks, Bo Nix was the only one to transfer to a power 5 school. His accuracy was the most consistent of the three, and his heatmap shows a quarterback willing to attack all areas of the field.

Conclusion

Michigan has already announced that J.J. McCarthy is going to be the starter going forward for the rest of the season. One reason is most likely Cade McNamara’s accuracy from week 1:

McNamara sprayed the ball all over as he was throwing to his receivers. Ending with a completion percentage of 54%.

Recently, the NCAA recently implemented a rule change to the transfer portal. There is now a transfer window where players can enter the transfer portal. If coaches thought they had to move quickly on transfer players before, it will only be exacerbated now. They need to make sure they put processes into place for analyzing transfer players, especially quarterbacks. StatsBomb data and tools can help make that quicker and easier than ever.

Matthew Edwards
Head of American Football Analysis
@thecoachedwards

By Matt Edwards | September 16, 2022