Friday, June 24, 2011

James Vandenberg in 2011: What can we Expect?

 More of this. Less Nortwestern/Minnesota please. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America)
The 2011 season is only a couple of months away, and the Hawkeyes are breaking in new faces at a bunch of new positions this year. And, one of those positions just so happens to be quarterback. Which means, there will be a different guy under center this year, in place of Uncle Sam's favorite quarterback.

As Iowa fans, we had grown accustomed to seeing Ricky Stanzi line up under center for the last three years. But, his replacement, James Vandenberg, isn't a totally new face. Hawkeye fans know who he is. He has seen action in 7 games over his career, and started two of them. He already has a reputation built up around him, as he came ever so close to beating Ohio State at the Horseshoe back in 2009. He had a bit of an interception problem that game, but he completed 60.6% of his passes and averaged 7.1 yards per attempt. Pretty good against a team that allowed a completion percentage of 54.3% and an average of 5.4 yards per attempt on the season. Not to mention, that Vandenberg threw 20% of all touchdown passes allowed by the Ohio State secondary that year.

However, it wasn't all great in 2009. Vandenberg struggled against Northwestern and Minnesota. He didn't really take any meangingful snaps last season, so Iowa fans only have memories of that 2009 season to go off of.

After having another year and a half since his last meaningful pass attempt in a game, Vandenberg should be much more comfortable stepping in as the starting quarterback for the most popular team in a state of about 3 million people. So what are some realistic expectations for him this upcoming season?

Well, first we have too look at what Iowa has returning on offense. Vandenberg has one proven wide receiver returning in Marvin McNutt. After that, he has tight end Brad Herman, who, given his past and Iowa's past at grooming tight ends, should be ready to be a main target in the passing game. Next on the list, are two guys who are largely unproven, but were big time recruits coming out of high school. Good years from Keenan Davis and C.J. Fiedorowicz would go a long way in giving the Hawkeyes an above average passing attack. Depending on who steps up for Iowa, they could be pretty decent throwing the ball. It's the ground game that may hold the answer to our question of "How will Vandenberg do this season?"

Marcus Coker is the lone returning running back with any real game experience. But, he's also a good one. Averaging over 5 yards per carry last year, Iowa will most likely look to feed him the ball a lot. It also helps that Iowa is returning an experienced offensive line. With not much depth (as of now, anyway), Coker could be carrying the ball as much as Shonn Greene did in 2008. If he's that successful, Vandenberg could be relegated to 300 or less pass attempts. If Coker goes down to injury, or for some reason isn't as effective as last year, Vandenberg could see more pass attempts.

Now that we have the offensive storyline for 2011 accounted for, let's try to make some projections.

First, I looked at what the average starting quarterback under Kirk Ferentz has averaged over the last twelve years. The 2000 season was a little complicated, considering three quarterbacks had over 100 pass attempts that year. So for the 2000 season, I just combined all three players into one stat line, so it wouldn't drag down the twelve year average. What was the result?

12 Year Iowa Starting QB Average:

13 Games, 187-317 (58.79%), 2363 Yards, 18 TD, 10 INT, 7.45 YPA, 133.92 QB Rating

That actually doesn't look like a half bad projection. But, that's only one projection. I wanted to see if I could find a little more context specific projection. I looked at seasons by Junior quarterbacks in the Kirk Ferentz era. There have been four such seasons: 1999 Scott Mullen, 2000 Kyle McCann, 2005 Drew Tate, and 2009 Ricky Stanzi. What was their average?

Junior Iowa Starting QB Average:

11 Games, 149-255 (58.45%), 1881 Yards, 12 TD, 8 INT, 7.39 YPA, 129.92 QB Rating

Mullen and McCann really drag this average down, as they had quarterback ratings of 109 and 117, respectively. That was also during a time where Iowa's teams were not very good. I think we can agree, that while this season's Iowa team isn't a juggernaut by any means, they could still be a very solid team. I decided to drop those two seasons, and go with a more recent average of Drew Tate and Ricky Stanzi during their Junior campaign's.

Recent Junior Iowa Starting QB Average:

12 Games, 195-328 (59.45%), 2623 Yards, 20 TD, 11 INT, 8.0 YPA, 139.52 QB Rating

We get our most optimistic projection here. I think with the running game this year, 328 attempts might be a little high. Which would probably chop some off the yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. This stat line would be more believable if all signs didn't point to Iowa handing the ball off to a stud running back running behind an experienced offensive line.

Finally, I decided to try to get some fan projections by asking people on Twitter. I didn't get as many responses as I would have liked, but I still wanted to use the ones I did get. Thanks to @OC_Hawkeye, @PlannedSickdays, and @pfac51 for answering. Here are there projections with completion percentage, yards per attempt, and quarterback rating calculated by me:
  • @OC_Hawkeye: 170-285, 2315 Yards, 8.12 YPA, 16 TD, 13 INT, 137.28 QB Rating; Numbers are a bit low because I am projecting he misses 2.5 games for blowouts/injuries.
  • @PlannedSickDays: 170/300 (56.67%), 2500 Yards, 8.33 YPA, 15/8 TD/INT, 137.83 QB Rating. 1. I think Iowa rides the Coker train, and 2. I looked at Stanzi's 09 stats and gave him similar.
  • @pfac51- Vandy; 181 - 294 (61.56%): 2421yds; 8.23 YPA; 22TDs; 9 picks; 149.31 QB Rating.
Average Twitter Projection:

12 Games, 174-293 (59.27%), 2412, 18 TD, 10 INT, 8.23 YPA, 141.49

Overall, that's not a bad projection either. @pfac51's projection is the most optimistic, which pulls the average up. The yards per attempt might be high, as only four Ferentz era quarterbacks have accomplished over 8 yards per attempt (2001 Kyle McCann, 2002 Brad Banks, 2005 Drew Tate, and 2010 Ricky Stanzi). The quarterback rating is probably a little high, but again, that is @pfac51's 149.31 pulling the average up. Small sample size aside, I think that too is reasonable projection.
Well, there you have it. This post wasn't intended to give a hard concrete answer. Instead, I wanted to get some estimates, take the average, and come up with a good starting point from which to adjust expectations up or down from as the year goes on. I think this post does just that. There are three projection lines to start from: the twelve year average, the recent Junior average, and the Twitter average (small sample size be damned). I think that something around 300 pass attempts, 59% completion percentage, 2400 yards, 18 TD, 10 INT, 7.8 yards per attempt, and around a 135.0 quarterback rating seems like the best guess. Depending on how good the run game is this year, you could adjust expectations either way. The running game could be so good, that Vandenberg just needs to be a game manager in his first year as starter. Coker could also have his ACL explode, and Vandenberg may throw for 2800 yards. Who knows? I sure as hell don't. But, hey. That's why they play the games.

Follow me on Twitter: GoHawks1123

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