Saying that Kyle Trask is the Gators’ most important player in 2020 is obvious.
Dynamic quarterbacks are now a requirement to be a playoff contender in college football. Last season’s playoff teams had Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow (LSU) and frontrunners Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Justin Fields (Ohio State) and Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma). It’s difficult for teams to reach that peak without their quarterback being among the best in the country at the position.
But Burrow, Hurts and former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa are all gone now, and there are plenty of questions about who the best quarterbacks in the country are behind Lawrence and Fields. Could Kyle Trask be one of them?
Looking at Trask’s performance in 2019 should probably come with a caveat—he was a starting quarterback for the first time since his freshman year of high school. That’s not an easy situation to step into, especially in the SEC.
At the surface, Trask’s performance last season was solid. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, despite not starting until the Gators’ fourth game of the season, completed nearly 67 percent of his passes and had 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
Trask’s QBR of 81.3 was 10th in the country and third in the SEC. Among returning quarterbacks, he had the best QBR in the SEC and the sixth-best in the country.
His best attribute was arguably his accuracy, something his predecessor, Feleipe Franks, lacked at times. His completion percentage last season was fourth in the SEC and second among returning passers.
Starting in Week 3, when he took over after Franks’ injury against Kentucky, Trask was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the conference.
The thing about Trask is that he has to be accurate and make good decisions because he doesn’t have a big arm to keep defenses honest or fit passes into small windows. He thrived on passes that traveled 10-15 yards and did a great job of taking advantage of the matchups opposing teams gave him. On passes that were thrown between 0 and 15 yards, Trask completed 66.8 percent of them, which ranked fourth in the SEC, according to SEC Statcat.
Looking at yards per attempt, Trask was fifth in the SEC and third among returning quarterbacks after he took over. For the most part, while it wasn’t always flashy, Trask consistently picked up yards to keep the Gators’ offense moving.
Let’s look at three different metrics:
Predicted Points Added (PPA): I used this last week, but it is collegefootballdata.com’s Expected Points Added (EPA) model. Essentially, this shows the value (or the impact) of every play.
Passing down: Any second down with at least seven yards to the first-down marker or a third or fourth down with at least five yards to go. Using this, we can look at how quarterbacks perform in passing situations.
Standard down: All downs that are not passing downs are standard downs.
I was interested in how Trask compared to last season’s top quarterbacks, so I took the 20 quarterbacks in PPA per pass and looked at how they performed in those metrics.
Trask fits in relatively well with the rest of the country’s top passers, especially among those that didn’t graduate. He was 16th in average PPA on pass plays, 17th in average PPA on passing downs and 17th on standard downs. At the very least, it looks like he belongs in the tier of “very good” when it comes to returning quarterbacks.
Next, I did the same thing for returning quarterbacks in the SEC.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s pretty obvious that Trask is the favorite to be the best quarterback in the SEC in 2020. Out of the returning SEC quarterbacks, he was second in PPA per pass, first in passing downs and second on standard downs.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones was very good last season after Tagovailoa went down last year, but it’s still difficult to say that he’s as good as Trask because Jones only threw 116 passes compared to Trask’s 315.
That’s a recurring trend in the SEC right now as well. Of the top 14 quarterbacks in attempts last year, only eight remain.
The presence of a consistent returning quarterback is what makes the Gators dangerous in 2020, especially due to the lack of spring practices and the rushed preparations that need to be made because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Trask has his shortcomings—his arm isn’t great, and he throws too many passes that could result in turnovers—but he could still be enough for the Gators to pose a threat in both their division and in the conference.
Follow Brendan on Twitter @Bfarrell727 and contact him at [email protected].