Replacing a Legend Isn't As Hard As It Seems

The Bar that Zach Collaros set in 2011 is much lower than it appears (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Zach Collaros is a UC legend. He is a pivotal figure in the recent history of the program, a focal point of the golden age of Bearcats Football. He departs from UC with three Big East rings and top five rankings in passing yards, touchdowns, total offense and he is the all time leader in completion percentage. In short there is no way that Zach Collaros isn't one of the five (arguably three) best quarterbacks in Cincinnati history. The totality of his career accomplishments is immense and it is a burden upon the shoulders of whoever takes the reigns this year, most likely Munchie Legaux, possibly Brendon Kay. Understandably that is the angle that everyone is taking when trying to project how the QB situation will play out this year. But there is a caveat to that argument. Namely that the bar that Zach Collaros set in his Senior season is actually much lower than his career numbers would suggest. Just look at Collaros's season numbers for each of the last three seasons.

Attempts Completions Percentage Yards YPA TD/INT Rating
2009 124 93 75 1,434 11.6 10/2 195.53
2010 383 225 59 2,902 7.6 26/14 137.49
2011 272 166 61 1,940 7.1 15/10 131.79

The 2009 numbers season should be taken with a grain of salt. The sample size was exceedingly small, just four games to compile the vast majority of his numbers, and he took the reigns at a period of time where Brian Kelly was basically magic for all intents and purposes. Far more interesting to me is the difference between 2010 Collaros and 2011 Collaros. The decrease in attempts largely accounts for the difference terms of yards. But far more interesting to me is the sharp decrease in Collaros's efficiency numbers, a decrease that fly's in the face of common sense.

Quarterbacks, like any other commodity, are subject to the laws of statistical analysis. For example It is a reasonable assumption that interceptions will increase in proportion to the amount of passes attempted. The more passes thrown the greater the opportunity for one of them to be intercepted. Inversely the fewer attempts the lower the interception rate. Those are reasonable assumptions, but reasonable assumptions don't pick up outliers, and that is exactly what 2011 was for Collaros, but not in a good sense. Zach was actually less efficient with a smaller sample size (on a per game basis) which flies in the face of basic common sense but is nonetheless true. Compare Zach's 2009 four game stretch as a starter with his numbers from last year.

In 2009 Zach averaged 26.5 attempts per game, had an interception rate* of 1.6 and an astronomical QB rating of 204.06. Last year he attempted 27.2 passes per game which is essentially a wash with the 2009 stretch. But then we get to the efficiency stats. Zach's Interception Rate last season was 3.6, more than double the 2009 number, and his QB rating bottomed out to 131.79.

* Interception rate is simply the number of times a QB was intercepted per 100 attempts.

The change in those efficiency stats isn't all on Zach. Statistics being, after all and imperfect way to understand a perfect game. There are a million hidden variables that can skew statistics one way or the other. For example in 2009 Collaros had a wealth of what Soccer People call attacking talent on the perimeter between Armon Binns and Mardy Gilyard. Last years group had less ability on paper coming into the season, and that was before D.J. Woods pulled his strange disappearing act down the stretch of the season. Not to mention the well chronicled issues of trying to fit Zach Collaros into an offense that was never really designed for a person of his stature or skill set.

The bigger concern this year is replacing the leadership of Zach rather than his production. And that is something that is less of a concern in general with a Butch Jones team. Butch requires all of his players to buy in and be accountable for their actions, on and off the field, in a way that Brian Kelly didn't. And the reports out of spring practice and heading into camp are that Munchie Legaux is becoming the alpha male of the offense. If Munchie can get that part of the job wrapped up he should be able to equal or better Zach's level of production.

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