Season In Review: Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps

In the next part of our 2011 football season in review, Peter Case takes one final look at the performances of Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps this season.

A key storyline of the 2011 football season was the debate on who should quarterback BYU and/or who had truly performed better during the season. Some have excused Riley’s success because as he took over, the schedule got considerably easier. Others have excused what success Jake had because the defense came up big and saved him. At the end of the season, some of Cougar Nation has moved past it, and some still remain divided on the topic. I’d like to take a crack at solving it for you.

Please know that I’m not anti-Jake or pro-Riley. My purpose in this was to find out whether Jake was receiving unfair criticism as some have suggested. Was he every bit as good as Riley or was he over-hyped?

Did Jake face stiffer competition than Riley? In a word, no.

Jeff Sagarin regularly posts rankings for each team in his USA today articles. He uses one of the most accurate formulas to determine who has the hardest schedule and where a team is ranked in relation to their performance in that schedule. Using Sagarin’s rankings, we can determine that Jake started versus teams with an average overall ranking of 75 and Riley started versus teams with an average ranking of 72.5—Riley played the stiffer competition.

Did Riley fair as well against difficult competition as Jake did? In a word, yes.

Again, using Sagarin’s rankings for each of BYU’s opponents, I can select 4 games (two played by Jake and two by Riley) where the opponents are nearly identical in ranking to compare how each quarterback faired in similar competition. The 4 teams are:

Texas—ranked 16th by Sagarin (Jake) vs TCU—ranked 19th by Sagarin (Riley)

and

UCF—ranked 83rd by Sagarin (Jake) vs Oregon State—ranked 82nd by Sagarin (Riley)

Rk

Opponent (QB)

Final Score

Comp

Att

Int

Pct

Yards

TD's

Long

Sacked

Effic

RZ eff

16

Texas (Jake)

16-17

22

38

2

57.9

192

1

27

1

98.49

100%

19

TCU (Riley)

28-38

15

29

2

51.7

215

1

42

4

111.59

33.33%

83

UCF (Jake)

24-17

16

34

1

47.1

133

0

19

1

74.04

100%

82

Oregon St (Riley)

38-28

17

27

1

63

217

3

46

2

159.73

100%

(…cont)Total Offense Stats

Rushing

Receiving

Total Off

Rk

Opponent (QB)

Final Score

No

yds

td

long

No

yds

td

long

16

Texas (Jake)

16-17

23

43

0

9

22

192

1

27

235

19

TCU (Riley)

28-38

50

139

1

32

15

215

1

42

354

83

UCF (Jake)

24-17

32

127

2

21

16

133

0

19

260

82

Oregon St (Riley)

38-28

48

282

2

41

17

217

3

46

499

Overall Texas and TCU are good comparison games for the two quarterbacks in set 1 and UCF and Oregon State are good comparison games for the two quarterbacks in set 2. Comparing Jake’s performance against Texas is the best way we can determine how he would have played against TCU or how Riley would’ve played against Texas. The same logic holds true for UCF and Oregon State.

Why the drop off, Jake?

If what people claim is true--that Jake is as good as Riley but faced stiffer competition--then given a similar quality of competition, Jake’s numbers would be as good if not better than Riley’s. That began to be true as evidenced by the Texas vs. TCU comparison but not in the 2nd set of comparison games. What was the difference? In the Texas game Jake was coming off a win, while in the UCF game he was coming off back to back losses. Though there were certainly a myriad of factors that affected Jake’s play, perhaps the most evident was that Jake had a harder time bouncing back from adversity.

People often commented on how visibly rattled Jake was whenever he got hit or threw an interception. Instead of bouncing back immediately it seemed to take him some time to recover his confidence. But Heaps shouldn’t have to shoulder the blame for his poor performance alone. A myriad of others had failed him on so many levels, and he made the best of the situation. Still, all the hype surrounding him—hype he eagerly encouraged—left Jake unable to see the deficiencies in his game—deficiencies that cost him his starting role.

Jake is a very skilled young player and will have a great time competing for a starting role in Charlie Weis’s system. While we lament losing any member of our Cougar family, the fact remains that Jake chose to leave on his own, and in the end BYU remains in good hands with Riley at the helm.

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