Gary Doran

New ASU Devils Den Passing Metric


The passing game in the Pac-12 has gone into overdrive over the last few years with the adoption of the spread offense by most if not all of the teams in conference. Last year alone the twelve schools combined to throw for over 44,000 yards. To help better gauge the effectiveness of these different passing attacks, we here at the ASU Devils Den have tried to develop a new qualitative metric to better measure the “quality” of the passing game within the conference from a completions standpoint.  Because as we know, not every completed pass is worth the same.

Here are three graphs that use the percentage of passes completed, the total yards gained by the pass and the average yards gained per pass attempt as a means to rank the twelve conference teams by each of the measures. As with any one single measurement, it doesn’t present the whole story.


Total Yards


A New ASU Devils Den Metric

To help broaden the perspective of the effectiveness of the difference conference passing attacks, our new ASU Devils Den metric assigns three different levels of “quality” to each type of completed pass, and then assigns the completed passes into one of the three categories. Therefore, the use of this metric is only to measure the “quality” of the passes completed. Additionally, if a completion has more than one quality attributed to it, for instance a completion for a touchdown that also covered more than 25 yards, that completion only counts as a single quality entry. The three categories and what constitutes each can be found below.

High Quality Completions (registering a very desirable outcome)

  • A completion for a touchdown
  • A completion converting a third or fourth down play into a first down
  • A completion of 25 yards or more

Medium Quality Completions (a standard first down completion)

  • A completion that gets a first down, but wasn’t for a touchdown, was less than 25 yards and wasn’t a third or fourth down conversion play.

Low Quality Completions (a basic completion)

  • Did not get a touchdown
  • Did not convert a third or fourth down
  • Did not gain 25 yards or more
  • Did not get a first down

What the numbers say


This is the same overall completion data as the first graph above, except now the completions are broken into the three different “quality” categories.

  • USC, ASU and Oregon generated the largest percentage of their completions as “high quality” completions, meaning that if a pass was completed for these teams, more often compared to the other teams, it had a very favorable result.
  • Arizona, Oregon State and Colorado registered the lowest percentage of their completions as “high quality” completions. Obviously for this group, a smaller percentage of their completions netted very desirable results.
  • Stanford, Oregon and Washington State registered the highest rate of “medium quality” completions. These types of completions could be seen as momentum-type completions in moving the chains in usually non-critical situations and without highly desirable results.
  • Washington, USC and ASU had the lowest percentage of medium quality completions.
  • UCLA, Washington and Colorado had the greatest percentage of their pass completions lack real meaning, as they can best be seen as “low quality” completions, or just completions.
  • ASU, Stanford and Oregon had the lowest percentage of passes that were just completions, meaning more of their pass completions netted desirable outcomes.
  • When the high and medium completion categories are combined, Oregon has the highest percentage of passes in these two categories combined, next was ASU and third was Stanford.


  • Oregon, ASU and Stanford had roughly two-thirds of their pass completions result in some type of quality outcome, whereas Washington, Colorado, UCLA and Oregon State saw less than half of their completions result in a quality outcome.
  • What makes the results better for Oregon and Stanford than for ASU is that both those teams had a higher percentage of completions than ASU, (68.8 percent and 65.1 percent compared to 60.2 percent). ASU is completing good quality passes; but it just needs to complete their passes more often.
  • Notice that UCLA completed a very high percentage of its passes during the season, (68.5 percent), however, more than half of them resulted in a low quality outcome. Additionally, USC’s conference leading passing percentage seem to be helped along by the fact that almost half of the completions netted low quality outcomes.
  • Then there was Oregon with Marcus Mariota having a high percentage of pass completions and with a higher majority of those completions resulting in quality outcomes. Heisman-type passing results to be sure.
  • Oregon State and Utah registered a double negative in that almost half of their completions resulted in a low quality outcome and yet their percentage of completions were somewhat low within the conference.
  • It also appears that Washington and Colorado’s completion percentages were helped along by a large percentage of low quality completions.


From an ASU perspective, the new metric appears to show that when an ASU quarterback completed a pass last year, it had a greater probability of being a quality outcome compared to the other Pac-12 teams. The downside to this was that there just weren’t enough of the passes completed compared to the other Pac-12 team completion percentages.

One other area the new metric highlights is that completing a higher percentage of low quality completions may have helped several of the teams that registered a higher percentage of completions for the year.

The four pass happy offenses in the conference all saw different results in light of our quality classifications. California seemed to have the best results in that they completed a smaller percentage of low quality completions yet still completed 61.5 percent of their passes. Completing almost half of the passes of low quality completions may have helped Washington State’s 66.1 percent completion rate. Colorado’s 63.9 percent completion rate may have also been helped along by having over half of their completions be low quality completions. Finally, Arizona had the fifth lowest percentage of low quality completions in the conference, but only completed 56.7 percent of their passes, which was lowest in the conference.

There you have it, our first look at the completions within the conference using our new completion quality metric. As you can tell, we do not have a name for the new metric, nor do we have interesting names for our three different quality categories, (high, medium and low quality). If you have any suggestions for interesting names, please hit up Rob or Don.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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