As the 2010 college football season approaches, conventional wisdom has zeroed in on a few names atop the quarterback heap: Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Washington's Jake Locker, Boise State's Kellen Moore, Houston's Case Keenum, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, etc. If you are naming the best quarterbacks in the country, you are likely selecting from the standard list of seven to eight guys.
At Football Outsiders, we use whatever advanced metrics we can to poke holes in conventional wisdom when the need arises. We don't try to be contrary, but sometimes it just works out that way (just ask No. 16 Texas Tech, or the greatest team of the past century, 1959 Ole Miss). What do those curmudgeonly numbers have to say about college football's best quarterbacks? Are the pundits and the numbers in agreement for once?
Most of what we do at Football Outsiders comes back to one specific tenet: output versus expected output, based on situation and opponent. To gauge running backs, we compare their given output to what an average back would have produced given the same number of carries versus the same opponents, in a measure we call POE (Points Over Expected). This approximates the number of points a running back produced above or below what an average back would have managed in the same situation.
If we add passing attempts to the mix, we can use the same principles to judge quarterbacks.
Below is a list of the top returning quarterbacks in the country using a measure we will call Combined POE. It merges both the rushing and passing aspects of a quarterback's production. The table shows you the quarterback's overall 2009 rank, his Adj. POE figure (adjusted for quality of offensive line) for rushing, his POE for passing (sacks included) and his combined POE.