How Much Can We Expect Tate Forcier To Improve?

Matt Stafford improved mightily between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Georgia.

Matt Stafford improved mightily between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Georgia.

On Wednesday, I compared Tate Forcier’s final freshman numbers with those of several notable true freshmen starters from the recent past. However, 2009 is done and over with, and I think every Michigan fan is more interested in how 2010 will shape up than looking back on this past season. So, I decided to see how the same freshmen I compared Forcier to fared in their sophomore seasons, and used that data to project how Forcier’s numbers might look in 2010. First, here are the stats from the freshmen seasons of the players I compared Forcier to (with the exception of Robert Griffin III, who was taken out because he missed most of the 2009 season due to injury):

[table id=30 /]

*Win-loss record reflects only games in which the quarterback participated.
^Average passer efficiency is calculated using the players' average stats,
instead of averaging the players' passer efficiencies, if that makes any sense whatsoever.

And now, those same players’ statistics from their sophomore seasons:

[table id=29 /]

Now, I took the average stat lines from the freshmen and sophomores and adjusted them each to a 300-attempt season, for the sake of making them easier to compare, and also because it will come in useful when projecting Forcier’s 2010 stats (he had 281 attempts in 2009, so 300 is as good a figure as any to project for next year).

[table id=33 /]

And now, using the figures from the above chart, I took Forcier’s freshman year, adjusted it to a 300-attempt season, and then used those numbers to project how he will do in 2010. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results:

[table id=31 /]

For context, Tate’s projected passer efficiency would place him 12th in the country this year, just behind Pitt’s Bill Stull and ahead of players like Tyrod Taylor (who I was shocked to see rated so high), Riley Skinner, Christian Ponder, Colt McCoy, Darryl Clark, Kirk Cousins, and, well, pretty much the entire rest of the country. Will this actually happen? I’ll go ahead and preempt the laundry-list of errors with this experiment with a few bullet points:

  • First, and most importantly, this is an extremely small sample size consisting of mostly elite players. I have no idea how to calculate margin of error, but I’m sure it’s astronomical for something like this. So, please keep in mind this is based on the performance of just seven players, and seven extremely talented players at that (potshots at Juice Williams aside, it’s tough to argue that he wasn’t a very talented player).
  • The largest jumps in improvement for the above players were from the quarterbacks who had very poor freshman campaigns (Clausen, Williams, Stafford, and Quinn), while the quarterbacks who performed very well in their first season (Henne, Pryor, and Leak) exhibited far less statistical gains (or even regression) in their sophomore seasons. Since Forcier’s true freshman numbers fall much closer to the latter category than the former, and no sophomore on the list put up the numbers that I’ve projected for Tate’s 2010 campaign, it looks pretty unlikely that he’ll improve quite as much as the numbers show.
  • I have no idea how to factor in that Forcier enrolled early for his freshman year — the extra experience almost certainly helped his freshman numbers, but how will that affect his sophomore improvement? Will he improve less than average, because some of the learning curve was taken out in Year One? Will he improve more than average, because he is already ahead of where most sophomores are at his age? That’s a whole other study, and I enjoy going outside every once in a while.

Now that you’ve taken this entire study with a grain of salt the size of Jake Long, here are the things that jumped out at me from the above numbers:

  • Even if you scale back your expectations drastically from what I’ve projected, Forcier’s numbers still look very good. If nothing else, this has really convinced me that Forcier needs to be the starter next season — the improvement from freshman to sophomore seasons is too much to risk starting over with another true freshman, and I think most everyone can agree that Denard Robinson is not a viable option as a full-time quarterback from what he showed in 2009.
  • It was very interesting to see that, while completion percentage and yards per attempt both improved around 15%, touchdown passes went up an astonishing 42.6%. Despite all the statistical flaws this study has, that number has to be significant. It’s also very encouraging. Think about the freshman mistakes Forcier made — many of them came in the red zone, when the field is shortened and poor decisions cost the team, and the quarterback, what should be easy touchdowns. I think that one of the biggest differences between a true freshman and sophomore quarterback is the ability to make the right read in tight spaces, and not to force a pass into the end zone. There will still be mistakes — just take a look at the interception rate, which barely moved — but they will likely be of the less back-breaking variety. I’d be willing to bet that Michigan’s red zone efficiency — 116th in the country at 67% — improves drastically next season, and much of that improvement will be the direct result of Forcier’s maturation as a quarterback.
  • I know this post is about Michigan and Tate Forcier, but take a look at Pryor’s strange numbers — his passer efficiency went from a tremendous 146.50 as a freshman to a respectable, but worse, 128.04 as a sophomore. Much of this has to do with how he was deployed as a freshman — mostly as a runner, with few passing plays and easy reads that were set up by the threat of him running. As a full-time quarterback, he couldn’t be sheltered like that, and it showed. Unfortunately (for us Michigan fans), I don’t think you can point to those numbers and say he regressed. He simply wasn’t a normal true freshman starter, and was more adversely affected by the transition to full-time starter, with a full playbook and the full attention of opposing defenses, than the other players listed above.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. I had no idea how this would turn out when I started crunching the numbers, but I found it very informative. I personally don’t think Forcier will hit the above projected stats (and even if I did, I wouldn’t want to sound like a raving lunatic homer by predicting such), but even if he falls well short of those numbers, we should see a good deal of improvement out of the quarterback position next season.

  1. Blake said:

    You know this is all good and well and its good to have a stud like Tate on the team…but it doesnt really matter if the defense doesnt have the talent like the offense…if i was to look at the roster the offensive side of the ball is overloaded with talent…maybe RR would start recruiting on the defensive side of the ball….

  2. Ace Anbender said:

    Blake — I have no idea where this “RR doesn’t recruit defensive players” thing started, but take a look at Michigan’s commitment lists for the past few seasons. Except for 2008, when Rich Rod first became coach and had to focus on finishing Lloyd Carr’s class with some players that fit his offensive system, he has focused just as much on accruing defensive talent as offensive. Go back a couple more years and check out Carr’s last couple classes — they’re incredibly light on defense, especially at linebacker and defensive back.

    Also, Michigan has a commitment from Rivals100 DB Cullen Christian, has four other DB commits in the class (not including S/LB Marvin Robinson, who Rivals lists as an OLB), and has around five spots left to fill in the class. Almost every single remaining target is a defensive player, and Michigan is almost guaranteed to secure the commitments of Tony Grimes (3* corner) and Clarence Murphy (3* DB), and is in the final two for 3* LB Josh Furman, who announces his decision on Dec. 19 and is very likely to go blue.

    In short, Rich Rodriguez is doing everything he can do address the problems on the defensive side of the ball — problems which in large part were not his fault.

  3. Blake said:

    Maybe its not that he hasnt recruited defensive players but none of them seem to pan out…for example i remember mike williams was a huge steal from usc…and brandon smith was a big get for us….and mike williams has dissapointed at best and now i hear brandon smith is transfering and cissoko is kicked off…as far a cullen christian he ran a 4.68 at the army combine not wat michigan needs to be the elite level program it is so for me the jury is out on him…BTW what happen to dior mathis why has he dropped his interest in UM a bit…to me it would just seem that RR would be out targeting big time defensive recruits in the secondary this year…it just doesnt get me sometimes i guess i dont understand why these kids in the secondary dont choose UM sometimes

  4. Ace Anbender said:

    1. Mike Williams and Brandon Smith were both Carr recruits … Williams was a Class of 2007 guy and Smith committed in 2008 before RR was coach. Cissoko also committed to Carr and then stayed on when RR came here.

    2. I have no idea what to say to people who pan a Top 100, four-star recruit at a position of need without ever seeing them play personally, and basing their entire opinion on a 40-yard dash time (that, since it was at the Army Combine, was probably electronically timed, and therefore 4.68, while not spectacular, is actually decent for a high school kid). I just don’t get it.

    3. Michigan is still recruiting Dior Mathis, but are currently sitting behind Oregon and Miami (FL). Those are two damn good schools, and not every in-state player wants to stay in-state, especially when both Oregon and Miami have had better records than Michigan the last two seasons.

    4. RR is targeting big-time defensive recruits in the secondary — Christian, for one, and Michigan is also in the running for four-stars Rashad Knight, Sean Parker, and Mathis, as well as being (marginally, but still) mentioned in the recruitment of five-star Latwan Anderson.

    I have no idea what some people expect out of Michigan recruiting — the truth is, the majority of the guys, especially four- and five-star players, that you target are going to go elsewhere, just based on the pure numbers of it all. Rodriguez has done a very solid job recruiting, period. Wait until you see what his guys can do on the field — as upperclassmen — until you start complaining about a totally fictional lack of defensive talent that he has recruited.

  5. Blake said:

    Now realize we are both michigan fans and i am a RR supporter but my opinions about christian are something to talk about and although i havent seen him personally…i do get to watch film and he is very impressive but speed is something Michigan needs and has been KILLED in the secondary for example all the rose bowl games they have played recently…lol and you have to admit that UM has just not done it in the secondary and it just seems to me that, that part of the team would be of great importants…i dont know i guess im just getting greedy…i just want to c Blue doing big things

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