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The Eternal Good Offense vs. Bad Defense Debate

A tackle, huh?  Almost made it.

I think the Heisman is stupid. If someone offered me a Heisman vote I would turn it down because I have more important things to do, like, um, make fun of Big XII defenses.

Dr. Saturday unleashed the type of compilation stat chart you are used to if you've been reading his blog for any length of time. The premise:

[J]ust compare these three quarterbacks to the dozen quarterbacks who have been named "Most Outstanding" since 1988 (plus a couple legendary second-place finishers who could have won it, Vince Young and Peyton Manning). This is easy, since the trophy's been won every year since 2000 by a quarterback whose team is playing for the mythical championship (with the exception of Reggie Bush in 2005, who -- like many of his colleagues -- is lucky the vote came before the bowl game). If you ignore how often they throw (sorry, Andre and Ty) and account for what happens when they do, this is how the trio from 2008 stacks up against best quarterbacks of the past two decades (order is according to pass efficiency rating, with the best number in each category in red):

The chart, which is worth a look, is a list of the most popular quarterbacks since 1988 and, you'll never guess, but when sorted by QB rating the three 2009 candidates fill out the top three spots. Not only that, but they account for the best number in the field for every metric listed (comp%, Yds/Pass, TD%, Int% and, of course, Rating).

There has been a lot of talk about the three dominant Big XII offenses, and on paper they are pretty impressive:

Team (National Rank PPG / YPG)
Texas (5/9)
Oklahoma (1/3)
Texas Tech (4/4)

So essentially three of the most statistically productive offenses in the nation. But are they the best three offenses ever? Or are they benefiting from a conference that doesn't play defense? It's impossible to say for sure, but take a look at some other Big XII schools that aren't considered very good when compared to teams from other conferences.

Team (National Rank PPG / YPG)
Missouri (6/6)
Oklahoma St. (8/7)
Nebraska (18/12)
Kansas St (21/33)
Kansas (27/23)
Iowa St (63/42)
Baylor (46/49)
Texas A&M (67/77)
Colorado (99/93)

So even if you aren't led by a prolific, Heisman finalist quarterback, if you play in the Big XII you are still probably scoring a lot of points.  Bullets:

  • The five ranked teams are spread out 1 through 25 in the AP poll, yet all five are ranked among the top eight offenses (statistically) in the nation.
  • Only two teams in the entire conference are not ranked a top 50 offense.
  • Kansas State is the 21st best scoring offense and still won only two league games.
  • In the three games between the top Big XII teams, only once did an offense manage less 400 yards (Texas, @ TT, 374).  The average offensive production in those games was 476 yards per team.

Now there is more to be had if you want to go game by game here, looking out OOC play and such, but this was never meant to be that detailed of an analysis. The Big XII won the Media's Favorite Conference race this year, overcoming the heavily favored SEC, on the back of consistent 80 point totals. The Heisman presentation on Saturday night was dominated by talk of records and production, but no one challenged the context.

Texas Tech was able to pull into the national race by playing a Division III OOC schedule and then beating Texas on a very well executed final drive...they won with offense. Maybe, instead of Tech finally getting over the hump (they hadn't been able to get over .500 in league play since 2005) they finally found the right environment: a conference where no one will defend anything so every team with a productive offense can win.

If everyone in the entire conference is scoring loads and loads of points, might there be something else going on here?  The two Big XII representatives in New York this weekend were labeled the two best quarterbacks to play college football in the last 20 years, but does anyone really believe that?   Maybe things are as they appear, but I'd like to see some evidence.

Now, as always, we are going to have to hope that the minuscule sample size of bowl season validates our claims:

  • The best chance for this thing to become more evident is the game played in Arizona. Ohio State, who has already started adding to the potential list of excuses, is ranked 20th in defensive rushing YPG but 38th in rushing YPA. Their pass defense is very good, 6th nationally in YPG and 3rd in YPA, so they should be able to somewhat contain the high flying attack but may be forced to cheat if Texas runs the ball at all. Still, if they can overcome whatever it is that led to the previous two BCS embarrassments, a possibility exists for some reality here.
  • Oklahoma may see a similar situation against Florida; the Gators are second in the nation in opponent QB Rating and fifth in YPA. Oklahoma has a very good run game, something that sets them apart in the Big XII, and Florida is just 20th in rushing YPA.
  • Texas Tech's opponent, Ole Miss, has a great rush defense (3rd in rush YPA), but, luckily for the Red Raiders, they don't ever run the ball. Ready for this? Ole Miss comes in 62nd in pass YPG, 43rd in opponent QB Rating. Not going to be pretty.
  • Oklahoma State, the only other team the MSM might actually pay attention to from the Big XII, is matched with Oregon. They are even worse than Ole Miss; the Ducks are 57 in opponent QB Rating, #48 in passing YPA and (oh, comeon!) #109 in passing YPG.

So that's two games that could help debunk what I think is offense without context, but two less visible games that are probably a scoreboardman's nightmare. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Vegas over/unders for the four games (in order of the bullets above): 53.5, 72, 70.5 , and 77. Only two bowl games not listed here have totals over 70.

(photo: Donna Mcwilliam / AP)