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Mid-Major Monday: How Good is Colt Brennan?

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...or, If You Throw a Touchdown Against Utah State, Should Anyone Notice?
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Colt Brennan's 2006 season wasn't only amazing for the sheer number of yards and touchdowns he threw, but also for the obscene relative dominance of Hawaii's offense. Most big passing numbers from smaller schools are generated less by throwing well than they are by simply throwing a lot - Brennan's most prolific competitors in terms of overall yards and touchdowns, for example, New Mexico State's Chase Holbrook and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, were ordinary in "equal footing" categories like yards per attempt and touchdown percentage; their offenses are designed to complete a lot of short, routine passes within the system, and most any competent passer could accumulate huge numbers under those circumstances. Some of them can even fool the scouts in the process: witness top five draft picks David Klingler and Tim Couch and Heisman winners Andre Ware and Ty Detmer, looming as eternal warnings to stat worshippers.

Hawaii's system is philosophically the same - everybody June Jones sticks in there is among the nation's passing leaders, without fail - and Brennan strikes me as a fundamentally within-the-offense quarterback, one of the reasons he has no realistic shot at winning the Heisman or going high in the first round of the draft. But unlike his hit-or-miss predecessor Timmy Chang, whose record yardage was accompanied by a record number of interceptions, Brennan is a machine who executes the system with vastly fewer mistakes (12 INTs last year in 559 attempts). He was the best statistical passer in the nation last year in the following major categories, all by a significant margin, and all of them measures of efficiency rather than cumulative piling-on:

• Completion percentage
• Yards per attempt
• Touchdown percentage (TDs/Attempt)
• Passer Rating
No other big-yardage passer has come near that level of efficiency. The passer rating and touchdown percentage are unmatched anywhere in the country since the start of the decade, and only Stefan LeFors in 2004 had a higher single-season completion percentage. Statistically, Brennan's season was probably the most thoroughly dominant in the modern era.

I don't know how to begin to account for the level of competition he faced, though, which was rock-bottom awful, and the reason he'll never get past the spectre of "statistical" dominance. I had one idea, which was to compare Hawaii's passing performance against the average defensive effort of its opponents. If Louisiana Tech and Utah State were that bad - and they were atrocious, last and next-to-last in pass efficiency defense - then it should be easier to put his numbers into context based on what other quarterbacks were doing against the same kitten units. Again, we're stripping away a misleading number like total yards here to put the numbers into perspective:

Hawaii Passing vs. Opponent Averages
Points Comp. % Yds./Att. 1st Downs Pass TD Rating
at Alabama - 2.5 + 12.6 + 1.2 + 9.5 + 0.9 + 27.5
UNLV + 22.2 + 6.3 - 0.4 + 8.0 + 0.3 - 7.6
at Boise State + 16.4 + 10.4 + 4.1 + 9.1 + 3.6 + 80.0
Nevada + 21.5 + 17.0 + 1.9 + 12.3 + 2.8 + 58.3
at Fresno State + 39.7 + 20.3 + 3.4 + 9.2 + 3.8 + 72.9
at New Mexico State + 18.2 + 8.9 + 2.0 + 5.8 + 3.7 + 54.4
Idaho + 33.2 + 15.8 + 2.0 + 14.9 + 3.8 + 56.4
at Utah State + 25.2 - 3.8 + 3.3 + 7.7 + 4.2 + 48.2
Louisiana Tech + 19.3 + 6.8 + 2.3 + 7.9 + 2.4 + 36.8
San Jose State + 33.3 + 11.0 + 3.5 + 10.5 + 3.6 + 70.1
Purdue + 15.3 + 7.5 + 1.6 + 11.9 + 1.6 + 27.9
Oregon State + 9.8 + 19.8 + 0.7 + 11.1 + 0.8 + 26.1
vs. Arizona State + 15.9 + 24.2 + 6.3 + 17.4 + 3.0 + 95.2
Season Avg. + 20.6 + 12.1 + 2.5 + 10.4 + 2.7 + 49.7

Again, that's stacking Brennan above or below the average yields for each of Hawaii's opponents. For comparison, here are those totals against the same numbers for Boise State, which played an almost identical schedule and had the sixth-rated passing offense in the country while throwing far less:

Passing vs. Opponent Averages
Points Comp. % Yds./Att. 1st Downs Pass TD Rating
Boise State + 12.0 + 7.7 + 1.1 – 0.93 – 0.28 + 34.9
Hawaii + 20.6 + 12.1 + 2.5 + 10.4 + 2.7 + 49.7

Colt Brennan is a dominant son of a bitch across the board, no doubt, but the departures from the norm dip significantly against two of the three respectable defenses he saw,


Just for kicks, Colt goes helmet-free in the Friday night game at San Jose State.
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Alabama and Oregon State, and even the returns against Purdue were noticeably diminished from the lucre amassed at the expense of its less gifted WAC counterparts. Against a steadier diet of BCS conference secondaries and pass rushes, it's easy to take those games as evidence Brennan would be just another assembly line Kliff Kingsbury or B.J. Symons at a place like Texas Tech, and for lack of a truly elite defense to gauge, I lean toward that slightly pessimistic conclusion. More than anything, Brennan is a product of his environment and its benefits, namely a week-in, week-out dose of the crappiest defenses the Bowl Subdivision has to offer.

Speaking of which, the Rainbows' upcoming schedule follows, with last year's pass efficiency rank for each opponent. Whatever records can fall will fall:

Northern Colorado: I-AA (1-10 last year as "re-classifying/provisional" from Div. II)
Louisiana Tech: 118
UNLV: 113
Charleston Southern: I-AA (68th; allowed 300-plus yards to Wingate and Coastal Carolina)
Idaho: 101
Utah State: 119
San Jose State: 67
New Mexico State: 111
Fresno State: 107
Nevada: 48
Boise State: 30
Washington: 74

But to what end if Hawaii can't get by Boise and/or Washington? Look at that disgrace of a lineup. We won't be able to draw any solid conclusions about Brennan or the balance of system and individual in June Jones' run-and-shoot unless UH fulfills Phil Steele's BCS prophecy, and then doesn't draw a hapless secondary like Pittsburgh or Notre Dame in the process (or maybe West Virginia or Louisville, for that matter, though the result of either matching up with Hawaii would dynamite the furthest boundaries of entertainment potential).

Still, two games last year particularly stand out in Brennan's favor: at Boise State (a Hawaii loss) and the bowl game against Arizona State, easily the most ridiculous performance considering the competition. ASU was already inclined to leaving the field with a toasty crisp around the edges, and Brennan put up a decent game's worth of production on top of what the Devils usually allowed. This probably proves nothing.

Anyway, click here for a picture of Colt shirtless! That's all you cretins really care about.