What If Robert Griffin III Had Signed With Texas? An Alternate Recruiting History

Robert Grifin III's recruitment did not have the same multi-program effect that Tim Tebow's had, but he still may have made quite a difference in Austin had they chosen to actually offer him as a quarterback. Mack Brown is an ace recruiter, but there is no questioning that he made some mistakes in the Class of 2008. Part 1: What if Tim Tebow had signed with Alabama?

Texas certainly doesn't lack for recruiting stars. Each year, head coach Mack Brown brings in a ridiculous, highly-rated recruiting class full of blue-chippers and former stars. From 2006-11, his classes have averaged 1.7 five-star and 14 four-star signees. Barring any last-second surprises, it appears his 2012 class will follow exactly the same pattern: two five-star recruits and 14 four-stars. Mack Brown is, as has been said many times, the perfect CEO coach: he is as much politician as coach, he pays a lot for assistant coaches, he glad-hands, he brings in blue-chip talent, and he lets the chips fall where they may.

And to be sure, it has worked for the most part. The Longhorns won at least 10 games a season for nine straight years and at least nine games for 12. They won a national title in 2005, made the BCS championship game in 2009, and almost made it in 2001 and 2008. They were a national power again basically the moment he took the job.

But wow, have they lacked for a quarterback recently. And for the most part, it's their own damn fault.

From 2006 to 2011, Texas landed three quarterbacks who had earned either a four- (Jevan Snead, Connor Wood) or five-star designation (Garrett Gilbert), and they have either failed to develop what they had, they have failed to actually land a difference-maker (despite what the recruiting rankings say), or they have quite simply pursued the wrong people. Of course, the Horns got away with iffy quarterback recruiting for the most part, primarily because of two they did land: Vince Young (Rivals.com's No. 1 player in the country in 2002) and Colt McCoy (a three-star recruit in the 2005 class whom they chose over Graham Harrell and Chase Daniel). The former took Texas to a title, and the latter took them to the brink of two. But when McCoy and his passing downs magic departed Austin for Cleveland, the facade disappeared a bit. And a potentially egregious disaster of the 2008 recruiting class came to the forefront.


College football recruiting coverage as National Signing Day nears

Texas did not take a quarterback in the 2008 class. They had missed out on Matthew Stafford (from Dallas) in 2006 and Ryan Mallett (Texarkana) in 2007, choosing instead to sign Jevan Snead and Sherrod Harris in 2006 and G.J. Kinne in 2007; all three would transfer within a couple of years. But from what the Rivals database has to share, the 'Horns decided not to offer a quarterback in 2008. To say the least, this turned out to be quite the mistake, as three 2008 quarterbacks from the state of Texas ended up achieving at an incredibly high level.

  • Darron Thomas, a four-star quarterback from Aldine, was the No. 6 all-purpose quarterback in the class, according to Rivals, and was a four-star prospect overall. He chose Oregon over Florida and was behind center for the Ducks' BCS championship game run in 2010. While Texas was going 13-12 in 2010-11, Thomas was going 24-3. In two years as a starter, he completed 70 percent of his passes for 5,642 yards and threw 63 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. He was mostly a standard downs quarterback -- once Oregon fell into passing downs (a rarity), he was not necessarily capable of making a huge throw to move the chains that often. Still, he was an efficient quarterback in an efficiency-friendly system.
  • Andrew Luck, a four-star nomad who spent his final years of secondary education in Houston, camped at Texas in the spring of his junior year in high school. He had thrown for 3,000 yards and rushed for 700 as a junior but left Austin without an offer. He ended up the No. 68 overall prospect in the 2008 class, choosing Stanford, where he led a once-moribund program to two BCS bowls and 31 wins in three years. His final career stat line: 713-for-1,064 (67 percent), 9,430 yards, 82 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 957 rushing yards and two trips to New York as a Heisman finalist. He is likely the No. 1 pick in April's NFL Draft.
  • Robert Griffin III, a four-star quarterback from Copperas Cove, was a high school track star and, in general, an incredible overall athlete. Texas allegedly offered him as an "athlete" but didn't see him thriving at the quarterback position. Whoops. He originally chose Houston over offers from Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee and others, but when Houston coach Art Briles took the Baylor job, he followed Briles to Waco, where he led an even more moribund program, first to four wins in 2008, then seven in 2010 (after missing 2009 with a knee injury), then 10 in 2011. In 41 career games, he threw for a ridiculous 10,366 yards (67 completion rate, 78 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions), and he rushed for 2,254 yards and 33 touchdowns. He won the 2011 Heisman Trophy and is expected to be a Top 10 pick in April's NFL Draft.

Aldine and Houston are about 175 miles east of Austin. Copperas Cove is 75 miles north. Three outstanding quarterbacks were playing high school football within three hours of the University of Texas, but the Longhorns passed on offering any of them (as quarterbacks, at least). As well as Texas typically does in the recruiting realm, this was perhaps the biggest mistake Brown and his staff have made, and it cost them significantly in 2010-11.

Since Colt McCoy left Austin following the 2009 season, the quarterback position has been, to put it kindly, a question mark. The triumvirate of Garrett Gilbert (in 2010 and two games in 2011), David Ash and Case McCoy (in 2011) have combined to produce the following stat line: 462-for-790 passing (58 percent), 5,014 yards, 22 touchdowns, 31 interceptions, 46 sacks for 377 yards (5.5 yards per pass attempt), 872 pre-sack rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.

I am still working on the most appropriate way to isolate quarterback proficiency from receivers, running backs, et cetera, but it is certainly fair to say that Texas quarterbacks' supporting cast of offensive talent has very much failed to live up to its recruiting hype. But it is also fair to say that, with the evidence at hand, either of the three above could have produced far better numbers, even with said talent. Luck almost won a Heisman throwing more to tight ends and fullbacks than anybody in the country; meanwhile, Griffin throws a deep ball so pretty and catchable that you would have scored three touchdowns as a Baylor receiver this past season.

So what if Texas had offered one of these quarterbacks? For the purposes of this post, we're going to focus on Griffin, since he at least had an offer of some sort, but one would have obviously seen improved results with either of the other two quarterbacks as well. Let's say that either a) Texas decides to take a chance on Griffin as a quarterback or b) Griffin takes his "athlete" offer and heads to Austin to prove his new coaches wrong.

We know Baylor without RGIII would've missed out on one of its best years ever. So how would Texas have done if they had brought in Robert Griffin III as a potential replacement to Colt McCoy?


Visit Texas blog Burnt Orange Nation and Baylor blog Our Daily Bears

No House Cleaning In Austin?

This "What If" isn't necessarily about a recruiting domino effect like yesterday's Tim Tebow piece was; Texas basically gets who they want from the home state already, and Griffin's presence wasn't going to change that, nor was it magically going to force them to offer scholarships to another player like Kendall Wright. This piece, then, is more about how one player may have made a difference on a team. Griffin was quite a bit better than Texas' quarterbacks in the last two years, but in Austin he would still be dealing with Texas' running backs, receiving corps, offensive line, et cetera. And the problems with the Longhorns' offense in the last two years has certainly gone beyond the quarterback position.

Let's get this out of the way up front: mathematicians are going to cringe horribly at what I'm about to do. We don't have a clean way to do play the "How many points is this quarterback worth?" game (yet), but we do have one piece of evidence to help us out: Nick Florence's stat line. Florence has been Baylor's backup quarterback since 2009; he took over the offense as a true freshman when Griffin got hurt in 2009, and he received spot duty in each of the past two seasons (including in 2011, when Griffin got concussed against Texas Tech). He has compiled a perfectly average career stat line, and he has done so with exactly the same receiving corps used by Griffin (with much of his action coming in non-garbage time thanks to the injuries). So if we compare Griffin's stats to Florence's, we get a decent read for the differences between Griffin and an average quarterback. This is imperfect in about 117 different ways, but this is, as it was labeled on Twitter yesterday, fan fiction. It is going to be imperfect.

Robert Griffin III Nick Florence
Career Passing Line:
800-for-1,192
10,366 yards
78 TD, 17 INT
Career Passing Line:
180-for-290
1,992 yards
8 TD, 9 INT
8.7 yards per pass 6.9 yards per pass
13.0 yards per completion 11.1 yards per completion
67.1% completion rate
62.1% completion rate
1.4% INT Rate 3.1% INT Rate

So Griffin averaged about 17 percent more yards per completion, completed about eight percent more passes, threw 132 percent more touchdowns, and threw 55 percent fewer interceptions. If you have seen the two play, this makes sense. Florence is perfectly acceptable, but Griffin was remarkable, in part, because of his ability to avoid picks with good decision-making and throw one of the best deep balls you've ever seen.

If you accept the potentially generous premise, then, that Texas' recent quarterbacks -- Gilbert, McCoy and Ash -- are also average quarterbacks, then we now have a general read for where Griffin may have exceeded expectations. Now we just need a way to attribute differences in yards and turnovers to points.

Yards: Phil Steele readers probably recognize the term "yards per point." It is an interesting way of measuring whether a team is being efficient with its overall opportunities. If your yards-per-point average is small in a given year (meaning you required fewer yards to score and therefore may have been getting a little lucky), you can probably expect that figure to rise the next year. Generally speaking, however, we can use it for exactly what it measures; on average, 13.9 yards in the box score equates to one point on the scoreboard.

Turnovers: Using equivalent points, we can find that the average turnover is worth something in the neighborhood of 5.0 points.

So for every turnover Griffin wouldn't have committed (compared to Texas' original quarterbacks), Texas gets an extra five points; and for every 13.9 extra yards he would have produced, Texas gets an extra point.

Keeping this as clean as possible, we can derive the following (while acknowledging that, with Griffin as quarterback, the gameplan quite possibly would have been entirely different for the 'Horns):

  • Using the differences above, here are two stat lines from 2010, using the same number of pass attempts:

    Texas Quarterbacks, 2010: 260-for-441, 2,744 yards, 10 touchdowns, 17 interceptions; 101 rushes, 380 yards
    Projected Griffin, 2010: 278-for-441, 3,549 yards, 23 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 101 rushes, 430 yards

    805 extra passing yards = 57.9 extra points
    Nine fewer turnovers = 45.0 extra points
    50 extra rushing yards = 3.6 extra points

    Extra Texas Points With Griffin: 106.5 (8.9 per game)

Are there 1,000 flaws in this method? Of course. But there is no better method for now. So let's assume, then, that Griffin is worth nine extra points per game to Texas. Here are the Longhorns' losses in 2010:

UCLA 34, Texas 12
Oklahoma 28, Texas 20
Iowa State 28, Texas 21
Baylor 30, Texas 22
Kansas State 39, Texas 14
Oklahoma State 33, Texas 16
Texas A&M 24, Texas 17

Texas lost four of seven games by eight points or less that year, meaning it is reasonable to think that Griffin may have led the 'Horns to something closer to a 9-3 season.

(And this says nothing of the 2009 BCS Championship game, of course. Making the same adjustments to Gilbert's title game stat line, you could say that Griffin may have been worth 12 extra points to the 'Horns in a game they trailed by just three points with three minutes left. But we won't go there, in part because Griffin was injured in the real-life 2009.)

Now, 9-3 still represents a dropoff from Colt McCoy's final two seasons (25-2), but in this scenario the 'Horns show enough potential and explosiveness that Mack Brown quite possibly doesn't clean house in his assistant coaching staff after the season. Brown replaced his offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, offensive line coach, receivers coach, defensive tackles coach and strength-and-conditioning coach in the offseason. While the defensive coordinator (Will Muschamp) would have almost certainly left to take the Florida head coaching job regardless, it is conceivable that Greg Davis, the much-maligned O.C., may have kept his job for another year without a total collapse. Maybe he would have resigned or retired anyway, but it is not a guarantee.

So that would be the first primary question for Texas fans, then: is that a fair trade? Would you take a decent 2010 season (as opposed to the dreadful 5-7 campaign that actually occurred) in exchange for the continued employment of coaches like Davis and others?

-----

RGIII 2012

The rumor out of Waco this past fall was that Griffin would probably return for his senior season unless he won the Heisman. Using the same shaky method above, it is safe to figure that he wouldn't have won the Heisman as a Longhorn in 2011.

  • Texas Quarterbacks, 2011: 202-for-349, 2,360 yards, 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions; 97 rushes, 100 yards
    Projected Griffin, 2011
    : 218-for-349, 2,764 yards, 28 touchdowns, six interceptions; 97 rushes, 390 yards

    404 extra passing yards = 29.1 extra points
    Eight fewer turnovers = 40.0 extra points
    290 extra rushing yards = 20.9 extra points


    Extra Texas Points With Griffin
    : 90.0 (6.9 per game)

Now, we're getting into "what-if of a what-if" territory here. With Davis as coordinator instead of Bryan Harsin, and with Griffin as quarterback instead of limited youth like Ash and McCoy, Texas probably doesn't run nearly as much in 2011. We can assume they would stay around 2010 levels (Adj. Run% for Texas in 2010: 47.3 percent; in 2011: 59.1 percent). And more passing ends up meaning more points for Griffin's 'Horns. But with that in mind, what would an extra seven points have done for Texas in 2011? Here were their losses:

Oklahoma 55, Texas 17
Oklahoma State 38, Texas 26
Missouri 17, Texas 5
Kansas State 17, Texas 13
Baylor 48, Texas 24

Texas lost only one game by fewer than 12 points, so even if you bring in a "Baylor doesn't beat Texas if RGIII is on the opposite team" factor, that is still probably a three-loss season. Texas' offensive issues -- a banged-up unit of running backs, a limited set of receivers, an underachieving offensive line -- still hold them back even with a phenomenal quarterback behind center. (At the same time, one can very easily get starry-eyed over the thought of Griffin throwing deep balls to speedster Marquise Goodwin.)

Of course, at the same time, the odds are decent that Griffin returns in 2012 after a "disappointing" nine- or 10-win season that probably doesn't result in a Heisman Trophy. And if that's the case, then Texas is almost certainly a Top Five team heading into the 2012 season, with Manny Diaz still manning a great defense and blue-chip running back Johnathan Gray joining the mix in the fall. Instead, the 'Horns will likely still be held back.

-----

This isn't the Butterfly Effect that Tebow-to-Bama would have been. It hasn't necessarily impacted recruiting quite all that much (at least for teams not named Baylor), but it certainly cost Texas some wins. They went an incredibly mediocre 13-12 in 2010-11, and they probably would have won 18-19 games with Griffin. (The result would have probably been similar with Andrew Luck.) At the same time, however, they have begun to address some offensive issues that they may have danced around had they continued to win nine or ten games.

Colt McCoy and receivers like Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby were able to dig the 'Horns out of jams (i.e. passing downs) in 2008-09, but really, they faced a few more jams than an elite team should have probably been facing. When McCoy left, the issues came to light.

So knowing what you know now, would recruiting Griffin have been worth it? If you're a Texas fan, do you trade short-term pain for, in theory, more long-term gain? Griffin would have been great in burnt orange, but he might not have been enough to keep them in contention for national titles, at least not before 2012. Mack Brown brought new blood into his coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball, and if you think it will eventually pay off (which is certainly debatable), then in part you have the 2010 disaster to thank for it.

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