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Does Switching QBs "Work"?

Some might argue it's time for a change at QB. Recent history suggests that might not be the best idea.

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

With an increasing number of fans growing impatient with Josh Nunes, Darius Tahir (@dariustahir) evaluates the Great QB Switches of 2011.

You may have noticed great enthusiasm for a switch at the quarterback position. What you may not have noticed, through the spittle, invective, anger, sarcasm, mean-spiritedness and rage, is anything approximating a quantitative or qualitative case for switching quarterbacks: namely, does it work?

Work, here, means something very specific: after all, Nunes is 3-1 as a starter against (according to Sagarin) the 13th-hardest schedule in the nation. It seems to me, then, that "work" means that the switch must produce: a) better quarterback play and b) a really good team as a result.

With that in mind, let’s evaluate the quarterback switches of the 2011 season. We’ll use the BCS conferences minus the Big East, and we’ll filter out injury-motivated QB switches. Here are, in no particular order, our results:

Notre Dame: Made an impressive two QB switches (from Crist to Rees to Hendrix). Better QB play wasn’t the result; all QBs averaged around 6.9 yards per attempt and Rees’ tenure was notable for the epic variety and imagination of turnovers. On the other hand, stat people will insist that Notre Dame was actually a good team in 2011. Nevertheless, by our original criteria, it didn’t work.

Oregon State: Switched from Ryan Katz to Sean Mannion. This produced better QB play (though not that much better, as Mannion tossed up 18 picks), but then again Oregon State was not exactly a good team. It didn’t work.

UCLA: Switched between Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. Neither were terribly good; it didn’t work.

LSU: Switched between Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. While LSU was indisputably good, Lee produced better than Jefferson (nearly a hard yard better on YPA, nearly 10% more TD passes as a percentage of passes). It didn’t work.

South Carolina: Switched from Stephen Garcia to Connor Shaw. Shaw was much better (half yard better YPA, more TD passes, fewer picks.) South Carolina was a very good team. It worked.

Florida: While John Brantley was injured, the team switched between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. Both were dismal QBs, though Brissett was a teench better. At any rate, Florida wasn’t a good team. It didn’t work.

Ohio State: Switched from Joe Bauserman to phenom Braxton Miller. Better QB play; not a great team. It didn’t work.

Penn State: Switched from Rob Bolden to Matt McGloin. McGloin was pretty average, which was better than the pure awful Bolden served up. Penn State was a so-so team aside from the, well you know. It didn’t work.

Indiana: Better QB play resulted from switching Edward Wright-Baker to Tre Roberson (in conference play, Roberson averaged two more yards per attempt), but Indiana stunk. It didn’t work.

Iowa State: Switched between all-name team Steele Jantz to Jared Barnett. Both were basically pretty average, though Jantz performed slightly better. Iowa State didn’t have a great season – annual upset aside – so it didn’t work.

Texas: Texas ended the season as a good team on the back of a magnificent defense, but there’s little evidence the QB switches had much to do with it. Case McCoy averaged 6.8 YPA in conference games; Ash averaged 6.04. Ash also tossed 8 picks to McCoy’s 4. It has a happy ending, as anyone who watched the conclusion to Saturday’s thriller versus OK State, but nevertheless according to the criteria I’ve set out, it didn’t work.

Maryland: Switched from Danny O’Brien, who was mediocre, to C.J. Brown, who was awful. Maryland stunk. It didn’t work.

As you can tell, only one team according to my criteria actually ended up accomplishing its goals while switching quarterbacks. (In some instances -- see: Mannion and Ash -- the payoff for last year's switch is being realized this year.) Let’s tweak the criteria a bit: what if we only care about getting better QB play? I have seven examples of roughly-the-same to worse QB play, with five examples of better QB play. The odds are stacked against a switch, though not quite to the extent as the previous, more stringent criteria.

It’s also worth noting some caveats to that count. In four of those examples – Texas, Iowa State, Indiana, Ohio State – the switch was from an older veteran to a freshman phenom (well, relatively at least). That represents a 50-50 shot at improving your fortunes, better than the previous split. Does Stanford have such a quarterback on the roster? Dallas Lloyd just came back from his Mormon mission and hasn’t played a competitive snap in over two years; presumably he is out. The other freshman, Kevin Hogan, is a more interesting case. Shaw mentioned towards the end of the QB derby that Hogan was making the two-horse race one with three entrants; most ignored it in the fuss of Nottingham versus Nunes. Perhaps, however, it was worth more attention at the time. With Hogan’s wildcat run versus Washington, it seems that he’s on the mind of Stanford coaches. Perhaps people rooting for a switch at signal-caller should be rooting for Hogan over Nottingham.