Last week, Hank wrote a post on current Cincinnati offensive coordinator Eddie Gran who is reportedly the leading candidate to replace Shannon Dawson. Hank's post highlights the impressive numbers that Cincinnati's offense has produced under Gran since 2013. Gran's name was floated last year, and Stoops' public comments to ESPN Radio Lexington that he wants to hire someone this time that he knows, adds to the speculation.
Cincinnati's Adjusted Statistical Performances
I want to add to Hank's original post by measuring Cincinnati's offensive efficiency relative to strength of schedule, garbage time stats, and other factors included in the FEI and S&P+ advanced stats. The numbers by themselves are impressive, but how impressive are they when compared against the American Athletic Conference?
Here is the description of FEI and S&P+ as a reminder:
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football. All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams - win or lose; and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.
The S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from both play-by-play and drive data from all 800+ of a season's FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). There are four key components to the S&P+
Simply put, FEI measures total possessions while S&P+ measures total plays. If interested, here is a glossary that might be helpful.
Gran inherited an offense that was approximately ranked in the twenties in 2011 and 2012 by both measures, but after a step back in 2013, his offense bounced back in 2014 and stabilized last year. These numbers suggest Gran's success at Cincinnati have a solid shot at being replicated in a P5 conference. I wouldn't expect the raw numbers to be as high, but an offense ranked in the thirties in either FEI or S&P+ in 2015 would be comparable to Auburn, Ole Miss, Tennessee, or LSU in 2015. If you negate the outliers in that group - Ole Miss on the high-side, and Auburn on the low-side - those offenses averaged about 32 points per game in 2015.
Strict comparisons will miss key nuances. Experienced personnel being one of them. Unlike Kentucky, the Bearcats 2015 offense started: six seniors, two redshirt juniors, and three true juniors. Meanwhile, the second string featured six upperclassmen.
Kentucky's offensive starters for most of the season included: one senior, two juniors, three redshirt sophomores, four true sophomores, and a freshman. Only three members of the second string were upperclassmen. Next season, whomever was to be UK's offensive coordinator, will inherit more experienced personnel and should benefit from the growing pains of the 2015 campaign.
There will be weapons. As I've previously noted, sophomore receivers Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson were responsible for the most receiving yards of any one UK receiver since Chris Matthews and Randall Cobb. Baker tripled his production in terms of receptions and yards, while Johnson double his receptions and nearly tripled his yards. They have capable running mates in Jeff Badet, Ryan Timmons, and Blake Bone.
Running back Boom Williams rushed for nearly 900 yards in only 10 games which is similar to Derrick Locke's production as a senior in 2010. Williams leads UK's deepest position as Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton are both capable back-ups while true freshman Sihiem King showed promise in flashes this season.
Freshman tight end CJ Conrad was named to the SEC's All-Freshman Team, and was a third team Freshman All-American selectee. The offensive line will remain a concern in 2016 for now, mostly due to depth at the tackle position. That personnel grouping may succeed by how well the coaches are able to scheme around their limitations, but it's far too early to draw definitive conclusions.
Which leads me to a conversation about quarterbacks. I've previously written that in the last 10 years, UK hasn't needed exceptional quarterback play to make the postseason. A strong rush defense, a few offensive play-makers, and solid special teams works wonders if your expectations are six or seven win seasons. Nevertheless, there's a wide gulf between bad quarterback play and at least slightly above average quarterback play. The former could have a huge impact on good defense and special teams play.
Eddie Gran has not been a quarterback position coach as an assistant. His duties have directed towards running backs, special teams, and receivers. His hire could fit into the staff's finite number by replacing Tommy Mainord as the wide receiver position coach. One assumes he'd also oversee the return side of special teams while Andy Buh continues to focus on the coverage aspects. Yet, UK's quarterbacks need a position coach.
Perhaps Shannon Dawson's greatest failing was in developing UK's quarterbacks. I don't think calling deep pass plays played to UK's strengths along the offensive line, but the lack of consistent touch from Patrick Towles on those throws showed little improvement. In charting UK's games this season, nearly 40% of Towles incompletions came from overthrown balls.
This is why, if UK hires Gran, the immediate second move needs to be a good quarterback coach. Drew Barker was not capable of beating out Patrick Towles last season until things became dire. Let that sink in for a moment.
The Twitterati indicate Cincinnati's current quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Darin Hinshaw will come to Lexington along with Gran, but why would he barring a massive pay raise? He's already the passing game coordinator which is a symbolic title given to those being groomed to stay at particular programs and give their agents leverage when universities come head-hunting.
He seems a likely replacement for Gran if he were to leave Cincinnati which was a savvy move by Tommy Tuberville. It seems reasonable Hinshaw would receive the same salary as Gran did as Cincinnati's coordinator ($350,000), and do you think UK would shell-out $350,000 for a quarterback coach? That's what Vince Marrow makes even before ignoring the fact any sane individual would take the more prestigious job if the salaries are equal.
Given those realities, it's probably safe to assume that if Gran is UK's next coordinator, Hinshaw won't be heading to Lexington. That doesn't change the fact that Mark Stoops most important hire may not even be the next offensive coordinator, but rather the quarterback coach. That may be the biggest story of the off-season and it appears to largely be flying under the radar.