We've been on a journey with Ben Hicks, from his inauspicious start against Baylor last season, to his impressive end of 2016 performances and into 2017. We've been there the whole time Ben, like a creepy uncle photobombing your senior prom pics. If Sonny Dykes is going to make any headway in 2018, SMU will have to put up points, and lots of them.
Frequent readers of this site, both of you, will know that if there's anything we stand for it 1) cheap and or free beer 2) the collective works of Hoobastank and 3) bad excel graphics. The radar graph is therefore right in our wheelhouse and speaks to our love language.
Here's a comparison of radar graphs for Ben Hicks from 2016 and 2017, note in 2017 we added a TD percentile rank, based on touchdowns per play accounted for running and throwing. (This addition was based on a message board commenter who told us that if our rating didn't account for touchdown production, they weren't worth a shit.) These, we presume are now "worth a shit."
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, touchdowns accounted for (again, running and passing) and yards per play (taking into account passing, sack, and rushing yardage). We take those six 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.
Looking at Ben Hicks development, he's learned on the job and become a very good college quarterback. The improvement is evident in every statistical and percentile category. The big movers and shakers are yards per attempt and yards per play. Basically, Hicks went from a dinker/dunker to a legitimate downfield threat.
Now might be the best time to add how elite SMU's skill was in 2017. The Mustangs boasted Megatron 2.0 in Courtland Sutton and perhaps the best possession receiver in college football in Trey Quinn. The Mustangs also deployed the elusive James Proche and three multi-dimensional running backs. You can knock Hicks for playing with good players, and some SMU fans are quick to do so, but we don't knock Baker Mayfield or Sam Ehlinger for playing with elite talent so we shouldn't do that with Hicks either.
Hicks transitioned Chad Morris offense into hyper-drive. SMU jumped ten points per game from 2016 and 2015. Credit a lot of that jump to Hicks' taking care of the ball. In 2016 Hicks interception rate was in the 18th percentile. In 2017 he brought that number into the 71st percentile.
Where can Hicks improve in 2018? The most natural place to start is completion percentage, where he continues to lag behind elite passers, even at 58%. The more significant issue might be replacing 182 of 283 receptions lost from 2017 with Sutton and Quinn heading to the NFL. At least we know Dykes is a proven offensive play caller. He turned Davis Webb, and Jared Goff into high draft picks and put together potent offenses at Cal. Hicks lacks the physical tools of either Webb or Goff, but he's proven himself a quick study.