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But Who Has He Played?!

Most non-Buckeye fans will point to Ohio State's recent games against Iowa and Penn State and say that C.J. Stroud hasn't been at his best recently, at least not in the first three quarters of those two contests: "See!! See!! As soon as Stroud plays a defense with a pulse he doesn't look so great does he?!?!" Unfortunately for such fans, the fourth quarters of those games really did happen. For example, against Penn State, Stroud was 6 of 8 for 128 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter (in a span of just 4:06, to be precise), for a pass efficiency (PE) of 250.65. That is oddly similar to his season-long fourth quarter PE of 250.36. Unfortunately for Ohio State fans, however, the first three quarters of those games really did happen as well.

It would be just as disingenuous for us to cherry pick Stroud's spectacular fourth quarter numbers as it would be for other fans to dismiss them, so let's consider the entirety of Ohio State's last game, when Stroud was 26 of 33 for 354 yards and a touchdown for a PE of 178.897. While other fans would like to focus only on the first three quarters of that game, or better yet, to stop asking "Who has he played?" altogether, this is exactly when Ohio State fans should be pointing out just who it was that Stroud and his Buckeyes torched so badly.

Against everyone not named Ohio State, Penn State has an average pass efficiency defense (PED) of 102.828. If they hadn't played Ohio State, that would be good enough for third place in the country. After Stroud was done with them, they're now sitting at 111.04, or tenth in the country. To put it another way, Stroud's PE of 178.897 was 60 points better than what anyone else has done against Penn State all season thus far (Auburn's quarterbacks posted a combined 118.85 PE against Penn State in week three). To put it in even another way, you would have to multiply Penn State's average defensive pass efficiency against everyone else (102.828) by 1.740 to get the 178.897 that C.J. posted against them. That 1.740 number is a ratio (his PE vs the opponent's average PED) and represents Stroud's Differential Pass Efficiency (DPE). Now let's pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that Stroud's performance against Penn State has been called by all and sundry an "off day" for him. However, what if we used this ratio to compare Stroud's day versus Penn State to various other quarterback's best games of the season.

We can begin by comparing Stroud in this game to himself, that is to say, his other games. Compared to Stroud's game against Penn State:
  • Stroud has had 5 games in which he threw for a higher PE.
  • Stroud has had 4 games in which he threw for a higher DPE.
In fairness it does appear, even by DPE, last Saturday's performance was not one of his better efforts.

We can also compare Stroud to the four other quarterbacks who are in the top five in the nation for PE. Let start with Tennessee's Hendon Hooker, who along with Stroud is a frontrunner for this season's Heisman Trophy:
  • Hooker has had 4 FBS games in which he threw for a higher PE.
  • Hooker has had 2 FBS games in which he threw for a higher DPE.
Those two games with a higher DPE are from his two most recent FBS games. Some will say that means everything; some will say that means nothing. Both are wrong. It is certainly worth keeping an eye on Hooker to see if the uptrend continues, but it does not warrant more than that (yet).

Next up is Drake Maye (North Carolina):
  • Maye has had 6 FBS games in which he threw for a higher PE.
  • Maye has had ZERO games in which he threw for a DPE as high as Stroud's vs Penn State.
Continuing on to a hot new name on the Heisman watch, TCU's Max Duggan:
  • Duggan has had 3 FBS games in which he threw for a higher PE.
  • Duggan has had 1 game in which he threw for a higher DPE.
Finally we have Grayson McCall from Coastal Carolina:
  • McCall 4 FBS games in which he threw for a higher PE.
  • McCall has had ZERO games in which he threw for a DPE as high as Stroud's vs Penn State.
For good measure let's also consider the second-rated QB in the B1G, namely Michigan's J.J. McCarthy:
  • McCarthy has had 2 games in which he threw for a higher PE (UConn, Hawai'i).
  • McCarthy has had 1 game in which he threw for a higher DPE (Hawai'i).
To summarize: The other members of the top-five in PE and the second-place quarterback in PE in the B1G have all combined to have four games in which they have thrown for a higher percentage of their opponent's average DPE than what Stroud did in his "off-day" against Penn State. Stroud by himself has also had four such games.

I’d like the reader to let that sink in for a moment. Stroud’s game against Penn State resulted in a DPE of 1.740. Trust me, that's a great number. But Stroud on his own has as many games that were better than that as five other top quarterbacks combined. Makes one wonder why Pete Fiutak, et al., are turning their backs on his Heisman campaign already. Just… wow.

We could stop our analysis here, having made our point, but this is only beginning to get fun.

Remember everyone's favorite question when it comes to quarterbacks? "Who Has He Played?" Let's explore this. Consider: Taking the average ranking in pass efficiency defense (PED) of each quarterback's opponents reveals the following:

RankQuarterbackOverall PEOpponent PED
As before, we could probably stop here. We know that Stroud is leading the nation in PE. Now we know that his opponents have a higher average ranking in PED than anyone else in the top five. Quod erat demonstrandum, right?

There are people who might say that a 51.4 isn't all that impressive for an average ranking of opponents' PED. That's because most people don't realize just how deceptive average rankings can be. A number that is easier to understand, though much more cumbersome to calculate, is the composite ranking of your opponents' PED. That is achieved by taking all of the attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions thrown against your opponents all year and coming up with pass efficiency for that, then figuring out where THAT pass efficiency would rank nationally if it had been posted by a single team. That would be awfully tedious for most people. But when you're a stats nerd who already has numerous spreadsheets that calculate differential pass efficiency? Well, in that case, it's super easy, barely an inconvenience. Doing so reveals the following:

RankQuarterbackOverall PEOpponent PEDComposite PED
That puts things just a little more in perspective, doesn't it? It's worth noting that Stroud and Hooker are really well ahead of everyone else. That's because their opponents are ranking that high against the stronger defenses of the B1G and the SEC respectively, whereas Maye's opponents are only ranking 34th while having played much softer ACC schedules. Everyone else is just sad.

So now we can stop, right? Well, no. We haven't had enough fun just yet. We can continue rubbing it in by determining the Differential Pass Efficiency (DPE) ratio for the entire season for each of the above quarterbacks. Much like the game-by-game breakdowns at the top, this adds both data points and context to the analysis and helps us to dispense with the question: "Who Have They Played?"

The columns in the following table can be interpreted as follows:

Quarterback: The quarterback to whom the numbers in that row apply. Glad I could clear that up for you.

DPE: Differential Pass Efficiency - Ratio of your PE to your opponents' average PED

Rigidity: A number that indicates how well a quarterback maintains performance against the best competition. Positive numbers indicate better performance against better competition where as negative numbers are indicative of bullies who pad stats against lesser competition.

QuarterbackPE vs FBSQB's DPERigidity
Observations about the above:
  • If FCS game's were included, Duggan's rigidity would have plummeted and Hooker's would've also gone down.
  • The Rigidity being positive for all of them is not a surprise. Getting a good DPE against a really bad opponent can be a challenge, so decent quarterbacks will usually have a positive rigidity. If a team is already allowing its opponents to achieve a lot of passing success on average, doing 68% better than that (Stroud's overall DPE) can be a lot more difficult than doing 74% better than average against Penn State (like Stroud did).
  • This is a two-man race for the Heisman. With their remaining schedules, it will be almost impossible for Hooker to catch Stroud in terms of raw PE, but he might do so in terms of DPE as the higher rated defenses he's playing provide easier opportunities for higher DPE. (Stroud would have to get a 239.95 against Northwestern just to maintain his DPE while Hooker could improve on his DPE by doing just 16 points better against Georgia than Kent State did.).
Stroud's detractor's might like to ask "Who Has He Played?", but when you really examine that question, C.J. Stroud is leading the best passing offense in the country, and the difference is bigger than traditional stats would have you believe. If the Heisman voters are really paying attention, then their choice is not really that hard this year.
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How do we get every Heisman voter to see this? I seriously think it should be e-mailed to Dave Revsine at BTN and Joel Klatt at Fox each week. Everybody at ESPN will ignore it since it doesn’t fit their narrative.
Bingo! All of the advanced stats you want to provide, ESPN will always respond with "but he doesn't play in the SEC" and "who have they played". I was listening to Cowherd, and then an analyst on ESPN, and they both parroted each other, saying that if Stroud played in the SEC his numbers wouldn't be as good, and that he didn't dominate like he should have against Ped ST and Iowa. The ESPN analyst said he didn't even watch all of OSU's games, but looked at the stats and they didn't "wow" him. Stroud is putting up one of the most efficient and dominant QB performances in CFB, but yet is getting knocked for it. Only in CFB, do you play well and get knocked for it, because you don't play in the right conference(one of my biggest gripes about CFB in general).
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