Measuring success for quarterbacks is hard. Especially among the college ranks, the line between a quarterback’s success and his team’s success blurs into almost-indistinguishable levels. Do we count wins? Yards? Completion percentage?
Expected points added (EPA) is a widely-used metric to determine success on a per-play basis. It gives us a better understanding of the highs and lows of teams and players and it sorts through the noise of garbage time and stat-compiling. The metric is more widely used in the NFL given its wider availability, but EPA has found its way into college football.
Particularly for quarterbacks, EPA sorts out the weak from the strong. Which returning starters this year offered the most to their team in 2022?
Scroll to the bottom of the article for complete EPA numbers on all returning QBs. EPA numbers are pulled from CollegeFootballData.com.
College Football QB EPA: Top Performers
Of those returning to school for 2023, Tennessee’s Joe Milton topped EPA lists last year (min. 100 snaps). The rocket-arm veteran averaged 11.8 yards per attempt, helped along by Tennessee’s system, and posted a .665 EPA on exactly 100 snaps. He returns to Rocky Top with a talented crop of rising receivers. Though Milton has his faults, it’s safe to assume he’ll be one of the most productive players in the country in 2023.
Just behind Milton stand two Kansas Jayhawks, Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean. Both QBs return to Lawrence this upcoming season off the back of one of Kansas’ best seasons in modern history. Daniels returns as the starter, but Bean offers Kansas a nice safety net should Daniels miss time for any reason.
Heisman winner Caleb Williams finished sixth in average total EPA (.512), but really dazzled in rushing EPA (.740) and on third down (.954). Those who watched Williams – or frankly SportsCenter – knew he was a master escape artist and clutch on late downs, and the underlying numbers back that up.
Six of the top seven QB EPA performers from 2022 return in 2023.
Most Improved Quarterbacks
Florida State’s Jordan Travis took a tremendous step forward last season. He jumped from 98th in average total EPA (.339) to 13th in 2022 (.484), fifth among returning starters this season. Better yet, Florida State returns over 80% of their offensive production, per Bill Connelly, including top receiver Johnny Wilson.
Ohio veteran Kurtis Rourke also took a significant step forward before suffering a late-season injury. He jumped from 109th nationally (.317) to 15th (.477) and seventh among returning starters. The Bobcats won 10 games last season and were MAC runners-up, so the room for overall team improvement this season is slim.
A Standout Newcomer
Boise State rosters one of the most electric new playmakers in college football, rising redshirt sophomore Taylen Green. Green took over as the starter in Week 5 and finished 20th nationally in average total EPA (.465) and 10th in rushing EPA (.736). He finished 2022 with just 14 touchdown passes (but 10 more rushing TDs), so expect his overall numbers to rise this coming season.
Great When It Counts Most
Coastal Carolina star Grayson McCall (1.089) and Utah’s Cameron Rising (1.034) top returning QBs in EPA on third down. Only six total players hit this kind of efficiency on the season and five of them come back for this season. McCall returned to Coastal Carolina despite both rumors surrounding him going to the NFL and him actually entering the transfer portal. Head coach Jamey Chadwell left for Liberty, taking most of the offensive staff with him. Rising, on the other hand, returns with his head coach and both coordinators for a third season. Utah is one of just three programs to do that heading into 2023.
Two other names of note also scored over 1.000 EPA on third downs – Ohio stand-in CJ Harris (1.069) and Kansas reserve Jason Bean (1.017). Given the timeline of Rourke’s injury, there’s a nonzero chance Harris steps in as the starter early in the season. However, he struggled throwing the football, posting the 27th-worst passing EPA nationally (.144).
The final name to post greater than 1.000 EPA on third downs is Louisiana Tech true freshman Landry Lyddy. However, with just three touchdowns and four interceptions in seven games, there’s no guarantee he starts in Ruston.
College Football QB EPA: Surprising Numbers For Big Names
One of the bigger names in the transfer portal this offseason is now-Nebraska QB Jeff Sims. Sims was a highly-sought after player from Georgia Tech, ultimately joining Matt Rhule’s new staff in Lincoln to compete with the incumbent Casey Thompson.
However, Sims ranked dead last in EPA among QBs from last year who played at least 250 snaps (.088). His passing EPA number also sits last (.038). Perhaps it’s a product of Georgia Tech finishing a putrid 125th in points per drive, but Sims didn’t really give his team much of a boost.
Tyler Van Dyke of Miami fell well short of lofty expectations. Largely the result of offensive malpractice from a now-relieved offensive coordinator, Van Dyke finished with the 32nd-lowest EPA in the country (.249). The Hurricanes bring in Houston OC Shane Dawson to try and improve the offense from an inexcusable 111th-ranking in points per drive from 2022. Under Dawson, Houston produced the No. 1 passing offense, per PFF’s grades.
Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa also finished in the bottom-third nationally despite the Terps overall having a strong offensive season. Tagovailoa finished with the 38th-worst EPA in the country (.277).
College Football QB EPA: Returners For 2023
Minimum 100 snaps. Data pulled from CollegeFootballData’s Predicted Points Added (PPA), the same metric as EPA under a different name.[table “2219” not found /]