College Football's Most-Improved Quarterbacks in 2013

Unpublished

The 2013 college football season is only five weeks old, but there is plenty to learn from the first month of action.

Quarterback play is always under the microscope in any season. But performance under center is at an all-time high, especially as more teams continue to implement spread offenses.

Improved quarterback play is an easy solution for a struggling team, and after five weeks, there are a handful of programs poised to surpass their win total from last year, largely due to the performance under center.

Missouri’s James Franklin struggled with injuries last season but has rebounded with a strong start to 2013. Although the Tigers have yet to play in an SEC game in 2013, Franklin’s improvement should allow Missouri to return to the postseason.

Utah’s Travis Wilson, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase are all benefactors of coordinator changes. And Washington’s Keith Price has benefited from more consistency from his offensive line, while Oregon State’s Sean Mannion has settled into the starting role after sharing time with Cody Vaz last year.

To help illustrate the improvement by these quarterbacks, we examined their stats through the first four or five starts (however many that team has played this year) and compared it to their 2012 start.

College Football's Most-Improved Quarterbacks from 2012 to 2013

James Franklin, Missouri 

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsYardsComp %TDINTAvg/GYards Per Comp 
201246811074961.842187.211.01 
20134951401,12967.993282.211.88 

Due to offseason shoulder surgery, Franklin was never 100 percent last year. In nine games, he threw for 1,562 yards and 20 scores and the dual-threat ability that made him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the Big 12 in 2011 was gone (122 rush yards). The senior is off to a better start in 2013 and already has 14 passing plays of 20 yards or more after recording only 18 last year. Missouri has yet to play a SEC game in 2013, but Franklin looks like a different quarterback and as the numbers above indicate, he’s a big reason why this team is averaging 45.5 points a game. 

Zach Mettenberger, LSU

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsYardsComp %TDINTAvg/GYards Per Comp
20125781191,01665.562203.213.02
20135821281,39864.1131279.617.04

High expectations surrounded Mettenberger in his first season as LSU’s starting quarterback in 2012. However, the former Georgia passer struggled, finishing 2012 with 2,609 yards and 12 scores and just over 200 passing yards per game (200.7). So far, the hire of Cam Cameron has paid huge dividends for the Tigers. Through five games, Mettenberger leads all SEC quarterbacks with 28 completions of 20 yards or more and ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency. Although the senior’s completion percentage is down slightly, he is averaging almost four more yards per attempt. 

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsYardsComp %TDINTAvg/GYards Per Comp
201246510465962.535164.810.13
20134821221,16267.2123290.514.17

Much like LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Scheelhaase’s improvement can be directly tied to a change at coordinator. Bill Cubit was hired to coordinate Illinois’ offense after he was fired as Western Michigan’s head coach, and the veteran assistant has made a huge impact in just four games. Scheelhaase has raised his completion percentage by nearly five points and is averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game. The competition will get tougher, but Scheelhaase needs just one touchdown to surpass his total from last year.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsYardsComp %TDINTAvg/GYards Per Comp
201251252031,57961.688339.512.63
201351602382,01867.2212401.012.61

Considering Mannion’s performance through five games, it’s hard to believe Oregon State had a quarterback battle in the spring. Injuries derailed Mannion’s 2012 campaign, but he has been one of college football’s top quarterbacks in September. The junior leads the nation with 2,018 passing yards and is completing 67.2 percent of his throws. Mannion also has 13 passing plays of 30 yards or more. With a struggling defense, Mannion and Oregon State’s offense may need to win a lot of shootouts in Pac-12 play. 

Keith Price, Washington

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsYardsComp %TDINTAvg/GYards Per Comp
201247512773759.152184.29.8
20134811121,04472.392261.012.88

Price had an outstanding sophomore season, throwing for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns, while completing 66.9 percent of his passes. However, due largely to a struggling offensive line, Price wasn’t the same quarterback in 2012. In 13 games, he threw for 2,726 yards, 19 scores and tossed 13 picks. Price’s passing efficiency was nearly 40 points lower in 2012 after recording a 161.9 mark in 2011. Thanks to some tweaks on offense and better play by the line, Price has found his 2011 form. He ranks first in the Pac-12 and seventh nationally in 2013 with a 72.3 completion percentage. Price is more comfortable this season and as a result, Washington is poised to have its best season under coach Steve Sarkisian. 

Travis Wilson, Utah

YearGamesCompletionsAttemptsYardsComp %TDINTAvg/GYards per Comp
201247110671966.935179.810.1
20134741151,11864.393279.515.1

Note: For Wilson's 2012 stats, we used his first four starts.

The addition of Dennis Erickson as Utah’s offensive coordinator has made a huge difference for Wilson. In his first four starts last season, Wilson had a solid completion percentage (66.9%) but threw five picks and was averaging just 10.1 yards per completion. Wilson has been a different quarterback this year and ranks third in the Pac-12 in total offense per game (342.3). The sophomore also has five rushing scores and averages eight yards per carry. Utah missed out on a bowl last year but should return to the postseason, largely due to the emergence of Wilson in 2013.

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