When the Big 12 released its annual preseason all-conference team last week, there was one selection that probably came as somewhat of a surprise to Iowa State fans.
And honestly, to say it was a surprise is probably a little bit disingenuous.
The selection was Texas’ Sam Ehlinger being named the quarterback of the preseason All-Big 12 team over Iowa State’s Brock Purdy. (Full disclosure, I voted for Purdy on the ballot I submitted last month.)
Some might say that is me wearing cardinal and gold glasses and maybe it is to an extent, but I believe there is a statistical and logical path to why Purdy should have been the choice.
That will be detailed below, but I’m also going to lay out the case for why Ehlinger was selected outside of the obvious, and easy, “he plays for Texas and not Iowa State” narrative.
Since Ehlinger was the official pick, we will start with him.
The Case for Sam Ehlinger…
The case for Ehlinger really has to start with just one number — 10,400. Those are the total yards of offense Ehlinger has accounted for during the first 1,595 plays of his college career — and it is a number that leads active FBS players entering the 2020 football season.
He also leads all active FBS players in passing yards with 8,870 in 36 games. His 68 career touchdown passes are the second-most among active FBS quarterbacks, and that number accounts for the majority of his active-player leading 93 total touchdowns responsible for once you add his 25 career rushing touchdowns.
He also adds 1,526 yards rushing, which is among the leaders for active FBS quarterbacks.
So just from looking at those numbers, it is easy to see why Ehlinger would be an easy pick for the preseason All-Big 12 team. He enters the season as the most productive returning quarterback in all of college football based on career statistics and was a third-team All-Big 12 selection last season, despite what many would consider a disappointing season for the Longhorns (finishing 8-5, 5-4 ) after starting the year as a top-10 team with Big 12 and national title aspirations coming off a win in the 2019 Sugar Bowl).
Really, the argument for Ehlinger can start and stop there. He’s the league’s elder statesman under center and has been highly-productive for all three years of his collegiate career.
The fact his team will likely factor into the Big 12 title race is an added bonus.
The Case for Brock Purdy…
When making the case for Purdy, it is harder to look at the career numbers, no matter how prolific they are by historical Iowa State standards, considering he’s played in only 23 games so far during his college career. This has to be about season averages, and in that case he stacks up very favorably against Ehlinger.
Ehlinger’s three-season average for total offense is 3,466.7 yards. Purdy’s through most of two seasons is 3,394.5.
Purdy has a considerable lead when it comes to passing yards averaging 3,116 yards per season compared to Ehlinger’s 2,956.7. Purdy also leads with 271 passing yards per game to Ehlinger’s 246.4 per game.
Purdy’s total offense per game average is also higher, although not by much, with 295.2 per game to 288.9 for Ehlinger. Texas’ gunslinger does have a lead in touchdowns accounted for per season average with 31 to Purdy’s 28.
When you just look at last season alone, Purdy was one of two quarterbacks nationally to compile more than 3,900 yards passing, at least 35 passing touchdowns and fewer than 10 interceptions. The other one was Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
He was one of four players in FBS to have at least 27 passing touchdowns and eight rushing touchdowns. The other three were Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts, Heisman second-runner-up Justin Fields and Heisman voting seventh-place finisher Trevor Lawrence.
Purdy became the first Cyclone since 1986 to lead the conference in passing, and finished fourth nationally.
All of those numbers last season earned Purdy second-team All-Big 12 honors from the league’s coaches, which leads to the next piece of the argument. If the league’s first-team All-Big 12 quarterback graduates (in this case it was Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts) and the second-team quarterback from the previous season is returning, shouldn’t it mean something to a voter when looking at the next preseason team?
It is also worth noting that Iowa State and Texas finished with the same Big 12 record last season, and the Cyclones won the head-to-head matchup between the two teams. Purdy led his team to that 5-4 league-record with roster talent that rates No. 56 nationally, according to the 247Sports Team Talent formula, which is behind schools such as Houston, UCF, Louisville and NC State.
In that same formula, Ehlinger’s Texas squad comes in at No. 7.
So, Purdy has been putting up prolific numbers both in individual games as well as in entire seasons plus winning conference games at the same rate and doing it with what is considerably less talent than what Ehlinger has to line up next to on Saturdays based on that metric.
Even with one less season under his belt, Purdy and the Cyclones only need to win four Big 12 games in 2020 to equal Ehlinger’s post-junior season number of league victories as a starter (11 vs. 15).
Obviously, this is an Iowa State website and I am a writer who both went to Iowa State and now covers them closely. There is some inherent bias that is hard to overcome when making decisions on voting in things like this.
With that said, when you look past prolific career total numbers and the logos on the sides of each player’s helmet, there is very little differentiating these two quarterbacks from each other outside of, maybe, Ehlinger’s talents in the running game, but even that, to me, is a stretch when Purdy’s passing numbers and his own ability in the run game seem to mitigate some of that difference.
In the end, each of the voters had to make their own decision, and apparently most of them disagreed with me, which is perfectly fine.
Someone had to lay out Brock Purdy’s case though. Hopefully he can continue to do it himself on the football field this fall.