SMU is 3-1 and on pace for their best season in several decades, Ben Hicks, the Mustang starting quarterback, is a curiosity. Hicks is top 40 in passing yards, top 15 in passing touchdowns, and yet is in the bottom ten percentile in completion percentages. But before we pass judgment, or even try to, let's compare his 2016 numbers to his numbers thus far in 2017.
Here's our usual disclaimer, we're suckers for radar graphs and all other demonstratives, we have excel, and we use it at times ineffectively, but whatever. We track quarterbacks through 8-10 criteria the most important of which (and we stole this from Bill Connelly over at Football Study Hall) are completion percentage, interception rate, sack rate, yards per attempt, and yards per play (taking into account passing, sack, and rushing yardage). We take those five indicators and every quarterback with 100 or attempts and give each quarterback a percentile rank amongst his peers. Is it flawless? Nope. Does it give us a pretty good indicator of how efficient a quarterback is? You bet. If you rank in the top 75 in terms of percentile, you're really good, probably elite. If you rank in the top 50% that's a decent number. Below that and we've got some work to do. From a visual perspective, we'd like to see a big, broad coverage. The wider the area graph, the more efficient a quarterback is at a number of efficiency measurables.
So clearly Hicks has improved from last season. His yards per attempt, yards per play, sack avoidance, and interception avoidance are all up. That's the good news, and there is a lot of good news. Hicks is an elite passer in several areas, but his completion percentage is down and that's a problem. In twelve games in 2016, Hicks completed 55% of his passes. That total included some stinkers including his first start in Waco. But then Hicks started progressing, and by years end he'd put together three straight games of 60% or higher.
This season Hicks has yet to find the 60%, but he's throwing for a ton of yards. How much of that we attribute to SMU's very talented receiving group is up for debate. No doubt he gets a lot of credit for his receiver's big plays. It's the big plays left on the table that is a concern. From an efficiency standpoint, SMU's offense isn't what it could be. That's scary because it's been pretty good so far.
We had concerns about Hicks' accuracy last season, but as the season developed those concerns lessened. Those accuracy concerns have arisen again.