The Trouble With Fun Facts

KC Joyner's article for ESPN Insider--"Wilson could struggle with Badgers"--has gotten plenty of attention from the Wisconsin side. I have no issue with the general premise--Wilson definitely could struggle at Wisconsin. He has a quick adjustment to make, and he's been playing baseball all spring. I don't have a time machine (yet), and you never know.

What I have an issue with is stuff like this, which was excerpted from Joyner's article by Badgers beat writer Dave Heller:

"Wilson won only 11 conference games in three seasons with the Wolfpack. The chances that he will automatically run off seven or eight conference victories in an even tougher league or guide his team to an unbeaten season on the way to a berth in the BCS title game seem quite low. Given the issues brought up here as they pertain to his so-so metrics, and the fact that Wilson will be adjusting to a new system on the fly, it appears likely that Wilson's only season with the Badgers could ultimately go down as a disappointment."

There is nothing predictive about the fact that Wilson won 11 conference games at NC State. To cite this as a shortcoming is akin to knocking Russell Wilson for being unable to prevent a cascade of devastating injuries while also being incapable of playing defensive back, offensive line, and defensive line at the same time. The win total says more about what Wilson didn't have around him than about how he actually performed, and at any rate it makes zero sense to use that number as a basis for translating 2011. (It's true that the odds of Wilson leading Wisconsin to an undefeated season and title game appearance are low. Because the odds of anyone leading any team to an undefeated season and the title game are low.)

Then there is this:

Looking at efficiency numbers, Wilson completed 68 percent of his passes twice. Tolzien completed 68 percent of his passes 11 times and 75 percent or better eight times. Wilson averaged 6.8 yards per attempt (tied for 68th nationally). Tolzien averaged 9.2 yards (5th nationally). Wilson threw 14 interceptions (among the nation’s worst). Tolzien threw just six (among the nation’s best).

A number without context isn't an argument, it's a fun fact. Tolzien threw 6 INTs in 266 pass attempts, which is an INT percentage of 2.3. Take that INT% and multiply by 526 (the number of passes Wilson attempted) and you get 12. Not quite the huge gap in judgment suggested by the unadjusted numbers cited above. Wilson threw an INT on 2.7% of his throws.

TBL's tyduffy makes note of the difference in workloads between Wilson and Tolzien but stops before taking the necessary next step. The interception figures can be adjusted. The effects of a running game that averaged 5.5 yards per carry while accounting for two-thirds of the plays (which was the case with Wisconsin last season)...that's a bit tougher, and those factors go unacknowledged. Context context context.

We don't know what a smaller workload will mean for Russell. I expect he'll become more efficient as a result. More efficient than Tolzien? Again, who knows. I have no problem with arguments against Wilson's success, but they should be framed correctly.

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