BIG 12 FOOTBALL: Not necessarily all about the offense.


While the focus, especially in recent years, is all about offensive production, defenses still hold a critical key in determining who wins championships.

With all the debate around whether or not OSU's defense, now and in the recent past, was good, bad, great, or horrible, I thought it would be interesting to look at some key defensive "old school" stats from years past in the Big 12.

There's a lot of discussion about new metrics to take into account different paces of play so that we can compare teams across conferences and styles of play. That is not what this is about. I presumed that within the conference, defensive numbers should be relative since teams are playing each other.

I'm also NOT saying that offense is meaningless, just that defense is also critical in winning championships, maybe even slightly more so, than offense.

I used Big 12 conference game stats only (no championship games), and only back to 2005, as that's as far back as the Big 12 lists "conference only" numbers online. When looking down the list of results, it was obvious that non-conference games were skewing the stats, especially when there were 3 or 4 per season back when we had divisions AND a championship game.

First the stats:

-1st Downs Allowed in conference play, ranking, fewest to most
-% of 1st Downs Allowed on either 1st or 2nd down plays in conference play
-3rd Down Conversion % in conference play, ranking, lowest to highest
-Turnover Margin (TOM) in conference play, ranking, best (+) to worst (-)
-Actual TOM for conference play
-Average ranking for that defense across the listed rankings

Year Champ 1st Dns Allowed Conf Rk % of 1st Dns Allowed on 1st/2nd Dn plays 3rd Dn Conv% Conf Rk TOM Conf Rk Actual TOM Avg Rk
2012 K-State 3 64.6% 6 1 19 3.3
2011 OSU 12 63.4% 4 1 17 5.7
2010 OU 1 59.0% 1 4 3 2.0
2009 Texas 2 59.0% 3 1 11 2.0
2008 OU 3 71.6% 1 1 14 1.7
2007 OU 2 60.4% 4 4 5 3.3
2006 OU 1 58.0% 2 11 -6 4.7
2005 Texas 2 63.7% 1 2 5 1.7

Next, here are the comparative rankings in conference of the eventual champions for Scoring Offense (SO), Scoring Defense (SD), Total Offense (TO), and Total Defense (TD), and a repeat of Turnover Margin (TOM):

Year Champ SO SD TO TD TOM
2012 K-State 4 1 8 2 1
2011 OSU 1 1 2 7 1
2010 OU 1 3 3 3 4
2009 Texas 1 3 5 3 1
2008 OU 1 4 1 6 1
2007 OU 6 2 9 3 4
2006 OU 7 1 8 1 11
2005 Texas 1 1 1 3 2
Avg 2.8 2.0 4.6 3.5 3.1

Some observations...

-When a defense is not good in a category, they are REALLY good in one or two others;
-I didn't show the rank for "% of 1st Dns allowed on 1st/2nd Dn plays" because looking across seasons it was obvious that it was more about the % than where a team ranked among the other teams in the conference. The "% of 1st downs allowed on 1st or 2nd down plays" shows the defense's ability to force teams to 3rd & 4th downs. The data shows that holding that number below 60% is a huge start for a defense. Combine that with a high (good) ranking in 3rd down conversion %, and that defense will likely carry the day.
-If you remove the anomalies (OSU 2011 & OU 2006), the average ranking in both "1st Dns Allowed" and "TOM" is 2.
-It's obvious we should care the least about total yards, but the defensive number is obviously more important than the offensive number.

How significant is that TOM number?

It's also notable that NOBODY wins the conference title without a defense that is good at SOMETHING, and, surprise surprise, it's usually about the points.

Only once since 2005 has a team won the Big 12 WITHOUT either the #1 scoring offense or defense. Kind of like we say in golf..."They don't ask how, just how many." How those teams accomplished those feats defensively varies a bit, but TOM is usually involved.

Just look at the last two champs.

From 2005 through 2010, every conference champ's defense ranked no worse than #2 in either 1st downs allowed or 3rd down conversion %. Kansas State and OSU blew that out of the water with the 2 highest TOM's in the Big 12's history of conference play. The Wildcats complimented that with a plodding offense that limited possession time for the oppenent's offense. The Cowboys did just the opposite, complimenting their TOM with an avalanche of offense.

Sans turnovers, your team better have a more traditionally stingy defense. That's exactly what OU did in 2006.

You would think that a -6 TOM, good for #11 in the conference, would doom almost any team, especially if that team was #7 in scoring offense and #8 in total offense.

Not a problem for the Sooners, who fielded one of the best defenses in Big 12 history. OU allowed only 112 first downs in conference play (14/gm), and the next closest defense allowed 138. They only gave up 58% of those first downs on 1st & 2nd down plays, and were #2 in 3rd down conversions at 30.6%. Understandably, this group was #1 in both scoring and total defense. That is the only time that has happened since 2005, and it is also the only time since 2005 that the conference champ was the #1 team in total defense.

But still, TOM overcomes a lot. Notice that only two conference champs since 2005 have less than a +5 TOM in conference play, and both of those were incredibly tough defenses fielded by OU.

Talk all you want about offensive production in a pass happy Big 12, but when you start to analyze the numbers it is obvious that defense holds the keys to the kingdom. It might not look like the SEC, but the teams that do the best job defending still make the difference.

Brace yourselves, because Yurcich wants to go faster, and that will mean even more exposure for the OSU defense. Traditional stats folks may have a stroke, and Pistols Guy will be scouring every inch of the internet to find all the advanced stats he can locate to show us how "good" our defense truly is.

Either way, it will come down to a simple equation, just like in golf...

At the end of the day, what's on the scorecard?


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