Who, in college football, has thrown for more yards than Mason Fine the past two seasons? No one. More than Daniel Jones, Drew Lock, Ryan Finley, Will Grier, or Trace McSorley. Those five guys were all multi-year starters, all NFL draft picks, and all sit behind the rising senior quarterback from North Texas in yardage production.
Mason Fine continues to rewrite the Mean Green record book. He’ll set the Mean Green TD mark this season, probably before the end of week two, and he’ll have done with roughly 40 fewer interceptions than the current leader Steve Ramsey. Fine is the reigning and two-time CUSA offensive player of the year.
This season he’ll have a different voice in his ear with new OC Bodie Reeder taking over for the departed Graham Harrell. Harrell left the friendly confines of Denton for a lame duck head coach at USC. For Reeder, it might be educational to see where Fine’s come from to determine where he can go.
After starting the second game of his college career, the 2016 season wasn’t kind to Mason Fine. Fine seemed overmatched and undersized as he ran for his life before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. The jury was decidedly out on Fine after his freshman year. Then came his sophomore year and his first of two CUSA Offensive Player of the Year seasons, and Fine erased many of his doubters. Any in that camp that persisted dwindled after last year when Fine cemented his status as one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
Here are Fine’s radar graphs for the past three seasons, tracking his percentile rank among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season since 2016. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.
For Fine, these three graphs show a quarterback coming of age and mastering an offense. Kind of like when Luke Skywalker showed up in Return of the Jedi, three movies into his Jedi career, and started mind-tricking Jabba’s palace guards. He’s learned some lethal stuff.
Fine played at an elite level in five of the six categories (75th percentile rank or better). The one area that needs a jump start is his TD percentile rank, though he ranked in the 61st percentile. Air Raid hybrids tend to have issues in the red zone as the field shrinks and real estate becomes more valuable.
Three trends we like, first, Fine isn’t a dink and dunker. He’s been able to push the defense down the field, leading CUSA in explosive passing plays (plays of 20+ yards) in 2018 after finishing second in 2017.
Second, Fine’s rushing attempts were down, way down in 2018. He attempted almost 50 fewer rushes last season compared to 2017. That’s important because Fine’s at his best making plays from the pocket, rather than exposing himself to punishment outside of the pocket.
The pocket’s been an iffy proposition in the past. North Texas suffered from protection issues in 2016 and 2017, when the Mean Green allowed the most sacks in Conference USA over that period. Last year North Texas’ ended the season right in the middle of the pack, an improvement of eleven sacks over the previous year.
This season an influx of talent at tackle and continuity on the interior is promising for the offensive front. Fine will also have the benefit of an experienced rushing attack, with all three leading rushers from 2018 back.
The last trend we love, or perhaps it’s a constant, is Fine’s interception avoidance. Fine ranked in the 96th percentile in interceptions per attempt in 2018. That translates into an eight pick drop from 2017 to 2018. If you look back over his career, that’s one area where Fine’s percentile rank’s been at an elite level over his entire career. We’re going to bet Seth Littrell likes those numbers as well.
Going into his last farewell ride, Mason Fine will leave North Texas as the most prolific passer in school history and should move into the top ten in CUSA history. That’s a lofty list when you consider quarterbacks like Case Keenum, Raheem Cato, Kevin Kolb, and Nick Mullens have called the league home.
Most importantly, Fine and the Mean Green have another shot at getting over the hump and winning a conference title in 2019. That’s a fitting final verse for Fine’s North Texas career.