Taylor Kelly is the best quarterback in the past decade of ASU football

A statistical look at 10 years of quarterback play

The past decade of ASU quarterbacks has been, if nothing else, a wild ride. 

Loyal Sun Devil fans have seen the peaks, valleys and everything in between at the quarterback position. 

While Brock Osweiler and Mike Bercovici are both contenders for best quarterback in recent ASU history, Taylor Kelly utterly dominated his opposition for two straight seasons in 2012 and 2013. 

I dusted off the stat sheets to find where these passers stack up against each other.

Of course, analyzing the position of quarterback is in itself a subjective task, and it fails to factor in offensive line and receiver skill, but using statistics helps to add some objectivity to the process.

Stats overwhelmingly show that Kelly is the best ASU quarterback in the past 10 years. For those unfamiliar, Kelly was a machine for two straight seasons at ASU (and almost a third, before a devastating foot injury).

His 2013 season expected points added (EPA) of 55.6 ranks first out of the past 10 seasons of ASU starting quarterbacks, along with his 77 total quarterback rating (QBR).

Kelly scored 37 total touchdowns (including nine rushing) and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. As a dual threat quarterback, Kelly lead the Sun Devils to a 10-4 record and a Pac-12 Championship appearance in 2013.

His defining moment of the season came at Washington State, where he threw for 275 yards and five touchdowns, and rushed for 66 yards and two more touchdowns in a 55-21 rout of the Cougars. 

While Kelly's 2013 performance was certainly his banner season, he also dominated the field in 2012. 

His incredible 8.5 yards per attempt and 67 percent completion rate both outrank the competition, besting even his own 2013 numbers. 

Coupled with 30 total touchdowns, Kelly's performance was nothing short of transcendent. ASU’s 2012 squad finished 8-5 and earned a bowl game appearance, where they thrashed Navy behind Kelly's 17 of 19 passing, five touchdowns and 348 total yards. 

He was not only a quarterback who could complete virtually any play on the ground and through the air, but he also revitalized ASU's football program with national attention in his first two years as a starter. He runs away with the gold. 

Nevertheless, there are convincing cases to be made for Osweiler and Bercovici as top quarterbacks.

Osweiler's best argument is his 53.7 EPA, which ranks second only to Kelly's in 2013. He was also the only quarterback in contention to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season, and his 70.7 QBR is identical to Kelly's 2012 number.

Danny Sullivan, who started at quarterback for ASU in 2009 and who played alongside Osweiler, had high praise for him.

“The thing that set Brock above everyone else was his selflessness," Sullivan said. "(He) always had an upbeat attitude and (was) always pumping guys up if they were in the huddle or on the sideline." 

Osweiler’s intangibles made him the leader of his team and cemented his position as a respected passer, but his biggest fault was throwing interceptions (13). His 2.23 touchdown-to-interception ratio was worse than all but three of the quarterbacks in consideration, giving Kelly the edge. 

Bercovici's 51.7 EPA was high enough to earn him consideration in a season where he also scored a combined 36 total touchdowns and threw for nearly 3,900 yards. Contrary to Osweiler, Bercovici was excellent at protecting the football, throwing four touchdowns for every one interception.

And of course, who could forget the Jael Mary touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong that sealed a miraculous comeback win against USC as time expired. This is regarded as one of the best plays in ASU football history. 

However, Bercovici recorded a completion percentage south of 60 and a mediocre 66.5 QBR in 2015. And unlike Kelly, his season ended on a disappointing note in a heart-wrenching bowl game loss against West Virginia. These factors combined to push him from consideration for the top spot.

In an age where the quarterback position is under such intense scrutiny, it can be helpful to look back and appreciate the greatness of previous ASU quarterbacks. 

The lineage of the position has taken many faces and forms, but it is hard to deny that Taylor Kelly was not merely the most all-around dominant of the bunch in his dazzling 2013 season – he was an emotional leader who propelled ASU's football program into national relevance. 

Reach the columnist at jmsloan3@asu.edu or follow @jakeuzzi on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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