Over the past 10 to 15 years, college football passing attacks have adopted an increasingly dink and dunk flavor where they get an increase in their completion percentage by decreasing their yards per completion. In 2000, the NCAA had an average completion percentage of 54.1% and an average of 12.7 yards per completion, compared to 2011, where the averages are now 60.4% and 12.0.
The problem with this approach, however, is that some teams have taken the dink and dunk to enough of an extreme that their increase in completion is not sufficient to overcome the loss of efficiency resulting from shorter throws. Take a look at the grid below, which shows the winning percentage for a given combination of completion percentage and yards per completion. This is based on over 13,000 games played between 2001 and 2011.
Note the neat little diagonal in the middle of the chart which shows where the threshold is between a winning and losing record. It also shows that even if a team can complete 70%-75% of their passes, if they average less than 10 yards per completion, their odds of winning are still less than 50%.
This season, Jake Heaps has completed 57% of his passes for 10.1 yards per completion. The grid above shows that historically, that results in a winning percentage of 35%. Contrast that to Riley Nelson’s 61% completions for 14.8 yds per completion, which matches up with a winning percentage of 69% in the grid. Nelson is completing a higher percentage of his passes than Heaps and for a significantly larger average gain. This is the single biggest reason why BYU’s offensive output has shot up over the beginning of the season.