The Case for Ben DiNucci as CAA Offensive POTY

Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications

By Bennett Conlin

Coming into the season, fans were skeptical of Ben DiNucci. After his performance against Colgate, fans wondered if DiNucci could ever be “the guy” to lead JMU to a national title.

While the postseason isn’t here yet, DiNucci has shown that he’s more than capable of leading the Dukes to Frisco. He’s playing at an elite level, and he’s thrown fewer interceptions (4) in 10 games this season than he did in the Colgate game (5).

He’s an improved quarterback. Not only is DiNucci improved, but he’s arguably the best player in the CAA.

Efficiency

What makes DiNucci elite is his efficiency. He limits turnovers, completes roughly 70% of his passes and scores touchdowns.

DiNucci leads the CAA and ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency. He puts the ball in the hands of his skill players and allows them to do the rest. He’s an effective short and intermediate passer, and his deep ball looks elite this season.

Of players in the three major FCS leagues (Big Sky, CAA, MVFC), only North Dakota State’s Trey Lance has a higher passing efficiency, and he’s been discussed as the best player in the entire country.

Only five players from those three leagues have 15 or more passing TDs and 4 or fewer INTs:

  • Trey Lance, NDSU
  • Eric Barriere, EWU
  • Tom Flacco, Towson
  • Will McElvain, UNI
  • Ben DiNucci, JMU

Those quarterbacks are frequently talked about as the best in the country.

DiNucci only has four interceptions all season, and he’s yet to have a game with multiple interceptions. After turnovers hurt DiNucci last season, he’s improved his ball security.

Scoring

The best quarterbacks lead offenses that light up scoreboards. DiNucci’s Dukes rank third in the FCS in scoring offense per game, and he’s found the end zone 20 times (17 passing TDs, 3 rushing TDs). He didn’t score in the West Virginia game, which means he’s scored 20 touchdowns in nine FCS games.

JMU’s 45-10 win over Elon is the only FCS game DiNucci didn’t score multiple touchdowns. He scored one rushing touchdown in the efficient team performance.

Since that game, DiNucci has led the Dukes to five conference wins against four teams that were ranked at the time, and he’s scored multiple touchdowns and surpassed 200 total yards in each game.

The redshirt senior scored three touchdowns and amassed 308 total yards last week on 27 total carries and passing attempts in a 54-16 win over New Hampshire, which ranks second only to JMU in pass defense efficiency in the CAA. DiNucci an average of 11.4 yards per carry/attempt.

In games against quarterbacks not named DiNucci, UNH’s pass defense held quarterbacks to a 57% completion percentage, four passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions. DiNucci completed 79% of his passes for 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Comparisons

How has DiNucci compared to his CAA peers? Let’s dive into DiNucci’s numbers compared to some of the best CAA QBs.

Completion percentage

Ben DiNucci, JMU – 68.9%

Joe Mancuso, Richmond – 65%

Tom Flacco, Towson – 60%

Daniel Smith, Villanova – 57.8%

Jeff Undercuffler, Albany – 57.6%

Tyquell Fields, Stony Brook – 49.6%

Passing efficiency

DiNucci – 165.8

Mancuso – 154.9

Undercuffler – 148.8

Flacco – 145.1

Smith – 137.6

Fields – 135.1

Yards per pass attempt

DiNucci – 9.2

Mancuso – 9

Fields – 8.9

Flacco – 8.1

Undercuffler – 7.7

Smith – 7.5

Total touchdowns

Undercuffler – 32

Smith – 27

Mancuso – 22

DiNucci – 20

Flacco – 20

Fields – 17

Here’s what makes DiNucci such an interesting case. If he threw as many passes as Undercuffler’s 335 passes and kept his same level of production, DiNucci would have 3,081 passing yards and 23 passing touchdowns. That doesn’t account for what could happen with a higher total of rushing attempts as well compared to other quarterbacks.

DiNucci’s usage is lower than players like Flacco and Undercuffler, but DiNucci’s production is more efficient and as productive as those quarterbacks in many categories. He’s playing at an exceptionally high level, and he’s added 305 rushing yards on 68 attempts. For comparison, Flacco has 315 yards on 96 attempts.

Both DiNucci and Flacco have nearly identical production, but DiNucci has thrown 56 fewer passes and rushed the ball 28 fewer times. Flacco is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but there’s a legitimate argument that DiNucci is better.

The bottom line

Ben DiNucci deserves CAA Offensive Player of the Year consideration. He’s consistently reliable, and he’s posting elite numbers, especially in terms of efficiency. He’s playing at a level that very few players can match, yet he rarely seems to draw headlines.

The CAA needs to look beyond surface level stats when selecting the CAA Offensive Player of the Year and consider DiNucci’s efficiency when selecting an award winner.

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