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PFF College Football: 25 observations ahead of Week 12

As you saw this past weekend in the much-hyped and high-scoring matchup between LSU and Alabama, now, more than ever, quarterback play is the primary determining factor in a team’s offensive performance and the game’s ultimate outcome. Thus, this week, we focus on the PFF Top-25 and give observations using PFF’s signature stats about each team’s signal-caller.

1. Clemson – Trevor Lawrence

87.1 overall grade
81.3 passing grade
73.7 adjusted completion percentage

After being one of the best in the nation in avoiding turnover-worthy plays as a freshman, Lawrence struggled early on this year, recording as many turnover-worthy plays (seven) in the first five games as he did in all of 2018. Since Clemson’s close call against North Carolina, though, he’s dialed back in, with only four turnover-worthy plays and the eighth-best passing grade over that five-week stretch.

2. LSU – Joe Burrow

92.6 overall grade
92.0 passing grade
84.0% adjusted completion percentage

The clear Heisman front-runner, Burrow can do no wrong in 2019. No matter the PFF metric, Burrow is at or near the top of the list. His accuracy has probably been the most impressive, as he leads all FBS quarterbacks in accurate-throw rate (75.3%) and “accuracy plus” (perfect ball placement) percentage.

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3. Alabama – Tua Tagovailoa

87.9 overall grade
88.0 passing grade
78.6% adjusted completion percentage

As has been the case since he’s been there, defenses just should not give Tua a clean pocket. Even against LSU’s supremely talented secondary, he was 17-30 for 394 yards and four touchdowns (91.3 grade) from a clean pocket. For the season, his 91.9 grade from a clean pocket is third in the FBS, and his 151.7 passer rating is second.

4. Ohio State – Justin Fields

91.3 overall grade
91.6 passing grade
78.9% adjusted completion percentage

Fields has been everything Buckeye fans hoped he’d be and more, and he currently has the second-highest passing grade behind Joe Burrow and the top passing grade from a clean pocket. Fields has also done a lot of his yardage damage (1,897 yards passing) himself, with 71.6% of his yards coming in the air, the second-most in the FBS. Lastly, despite this being his first season as a starter, Fields leads the FBS in passing grade on third down at 95.3, with zero turnover-worthy plays.

5. Georgia – Jake Fromm

89.1 overall grade
90.2 passing grade
73.4% adjusted completion percentage

Fromm has taken a leap forward in 2019, with his current overall and passing grade both being career highs. There’s an interesting dichotomy with him this year, however. His accuracy percentage (in terms of ball placement) of 57.7% is 39th in the FBS, but his “accuracy plus” percentage is second in the FBS behind Burrow. Thus, while he hasn’t been as on point as he was in 2018 (accuracy percentage was second in FBS), he is making perfect throws at a rate only behind Joe Burrow.

6. Minnesota – Tanner Morgan

83.4 overall grade
87.2 passing grade
76.9% adjusted completion percentage

Even though we at PFF have known who he is for a while, the rest of the college football world was introduced to Tanner Morgan this past weekend in the Gophers' victory over the next team on this list, Penn State. Morgan has especially thrived under pressure, as his 118.6 passer rating when pressured is third-best in the FBS.

7. Penn State – Sean Clifford

77.1 overall grade
77.4 passing grade
74.3% adjusted completion percentage

Clifford did his best to stave off the upset by the Gophers last weekend, as his 80.5 game grade was his second-highest in 2019. Clifford, unfortunately, has not had the most help this season, with the 23 drops and an 8.8% dropped-pass rate that's currently the ninth-highest in the FBS.

8. Auburn – Bo Nix

63.1 overall grade
62.0 passing grade
67.8% adjusted completion percentage

The Tigers' offense goes as the true freshman goes. In Auburn’s three toughest games (Oregon and losses to Florida and LSU), Nix has a 31.0 passing grade and 11 turnover-worthy plays. In the other six games, Nix has an 83.6 passing grade and only four turnover-worthy plays.

9. Michigan – Shea Patterson

70.1 overall grade
74.3 passing grade
67.0% adjusted completion percentage

Patterson has taken a step back in 2019, with his current overall and passing grade being lower than his sophomore season at Ole Miss. One area, though, where he has not struggled is in the deep passing game. On throws over 20 yards, Patterson has a 90.6 grade, nine big-time throws and only one turnover-worthy play.

10. Oklahoma – Jalen Hurts

91.7 overall grade
89.7 passing grade
78.9% adjusted completion percentage

Needless to say, Hurts’ transfer to Oklahoma has benefited both him and the Sooners. Hurts has been accurate and dynamic, both in the passing and running games. He’s been at his best from a clean pocket, as his 152.3 passer rating and 81.3 completion rate are both tops in the FBS.

11. Oregon – Justin Herbert

88.5 overall grade
90.3 passing grade
77.2% adjusted completion percentage

Herbert has put together a fantastic senior season and has the Ducks firmly in the playoff race. His passing grade is fourth-best in the FBS, and he’s been more accurate this year, as his adjusted completion percentage would tie his 2017 career-high and be a big improvement from 2018, while he’s also cut down on his mistakes, with only five turnover-worthy plays thus far.

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12. Utah – Tyler Huntley

88.3 overall grade
88.2 passing grade
85.9% adjusted completion percentage

Huntley is having a very low-key fantastic season. His passing grade is seventh-best in the FBS, and he also tops the FBS in deep passer rating. Huntley is also second in the FBS is adjusted completion percentage and passer rating under pressure. The under-pressure rating is impressive, considering he’s been pressured on 41.6% of his dropbacks. However, as a credit to his ability, Huntley has only been sacked on 7.6% of his dropbacks, fifth-best in the FBS.

13. Florida – Kyle Trask

68.8 overall grade
66.6 passing grade
75.3% adj. completion

Trask has shown ability in his time at the helm since Felipe Franks was lost for the season, especially from a clean pocket. In that situation, Trask has an 85.0 passing grade and 79.4 adjusted completion percentage. However, Trask has also been prone to turnovers. His 11 turnover-worthy plays are the 11th most in the FBS, despite only having 288 dropbacks.

14. Notre Dame – Ian Book

69.3 overall grade
66.9 passing grade
71.5% adjusted completion percentage

Book has been the same player in 2019 as he was in 2018, as his overall and passing grade are, in essence, the same as they were a year ago. However, he still continues to be a threat as a runner, which he definitively showed this past weekend against Duke. For the season, Book has 12 runs of 10 or more yards, and he has generated 25 total first downs with his legs.

15. Wisconsin – Jack Coan

76.1 overall grade
77.4 passing grade
80.9% adj. completion

Coan has been solid and extremely accurate for the Badgers. His 80.9 adjusted completion percentage is fourth-best in the FBS, and he’s also been especially good on third down. His 89.4 passing grade on third down is eighth-best in the FBS.

16. Iowa – Nate Stanley

76.9 overall grade
72.0 passing grade
71.2% adjusted completion percentage

In his third season as the starter, Stanley has been a consistent leader. The Hawkeyes’ three losses are only by a combined 14 points, and Stanley has got better as the season has progressed. Over his past three games, Stanley has a 78.4 passing grade, six big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. That will need to continue if the Hawkeyes want to upset undefeated Minnesota this weekend.

17. Baylor – Charlie Brewer

82.7 overall grade
78.6 passing grade
76.3% adjusted completion percentage

This is now two straight years Brewer has been a highly graded quarterback. While not quite at his 91.3 overall grade from a year, Brewer has delivered the throws when it matters most as Baylor gets set to host its biggest game of the season this week against Oklahoma. When pressured, Brewer’s adjusted completion percentage of 72.7 is the eighth-best in the FBS.

18. Texas – Sam Ehlinger

87.6 overall grade
84.7 passing grade
75.3% adjusted completion percentage

Ehlinger has improved his accuracy each season for the Longhorns, and especially in regards to high-level ball placement. His “accuracy plus” percentage is the third-highest in the FBS, behind only Jake Fromm and Joe Burrow. He’s also been lethal on intermediate throws (10-19 yards), posting a 92.9 grade on those throws (seventh-best), including eight big-time throws.

19. Texas A&M – Kellen Mond

76.5 overall grade
72.4 passing grade
73.3% adjusted completion percentage

Mond has been good, not great again for the Aggies in 2019, as he has finished only one game, the opener against Texas State, with a grade above 80.0. One area Mond and the Aggies do not attack is deep. Only 9.8% of Mond’s attempts are over 20 yards, and his adjusted completion percentage on those throws is just 37.9%.

20. Washington – Jacob Eason

84.2 overall grade
82.4 passing grade
74.6% adjusted completion percentage

Eason has taken great strides forward in 2019, showcasing his NFL-level arm talent and also improving his accuracy. Interestingly, and possibly a function of his arm talent, in both his freshman season at Georgia and this year at Washington, he has dealt with drops. He had 29 passes dropped in 2016 (13th most in the FBS) and already 26 drops this year, which is currently the fourth-most in the FBS.

21. Missouri – Kelly Bryant

70.7 overall grade
66.1 passing grade
72.8% adjusted completion percentage

Until his recent injury issues, Bryant had been putting in a solid graduate transfer season. Through the season’s first eight weeks, Bryant had a 74.4 passing grade before struggling against Vanderbilt and Kentucky and not being able to play against Georgia.

22. Pittsburgh – Kenny Pickett

68.4 overall grade
68.7 passing grade
72.0% adjusted completion percentage

Pickett has been solid for the Panthers despite being one of the most heavily pressured quarterbacks in the nation. Pickett has been pressured on 40.9% of his dropbacks so far, but he's only been sacked on 13.1% of those dropbacks.

23. Iowa State – Brock Purdy

77.3 overall grade
80.6 passing grade
73.8% adjusted completion percentage

While not quite the 89.3 overall grade he put up as a freshman, Purdy has still been excellent for the Cyclones, particularly on play-action. Purdy’s 89.3 passing grade on play-action is good for sixth-best in the FBS, and he has 10 big-time throws and only two turnover-worthy plays off play-action.

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24. Memphis – Brady White

77.1 overall grade
82.8 passing grade
74.1% adjusted completion percentage

White and the Tigers are certainly not afraid to chuck it deep, especially considering how good White has been on those throws. His 135.4 passer rating on throws over 20 yards is tied for second nationally with Joe Burrow. He’s also been putting a lot of throws on the money, as his overall ‘accuracy plus’ percentage is ninth-best in the FBS.

25. Virginia – Bryce Perkins

61.1 overall grade
54.0 passing grade
70.2% adjusted completion percentage

Perkins, like Kenny Pickett above, is another quarterback who’s been under pressure a lot, on 40% of his dropbacks to be exact. Those pressures are turning into sacks or throwaways, unfortunately. Perkins has been sacked 37 times, second-most in the FBS, and also has the sixth-most throwaways (18).

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