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Oklahoma State Defense, a model of consistency

Continuing with my crusade to convince the world that the Oklahoma State defense, while not dominant, is effective and accomplishes what they need to accomplish... effectively making them a good defense. For previous defenses of the Defense, check out this and this.

Before I get too far into this, let me give a quick shout out to @pistolsguy for indirectly leading to this research. He tweetered yesterday that OSU is the only defense in the Big 12 to not give up over 30 points in a conference game. This lead to a discussion among me and some other folks about if that stat mattered as much as the fact that Oklahoma State is ranked 6th in the conference in scoring defense (points per game). What follows is where I come out on it... and it is correct..yup.

What I am really trying to address here is the error of basing judgment of a defense on total season stats. Total defense and scoring defense are the most common official measures that are used in evaluating a defense, and the most common informal measures are statements like, "They give up X number of points per game... you can't win giving up X number of points!" which is an informal way of using scoring defense. While these stats are nice to look at and all, college football is not a rotisserie league, so season stats function as nothing more than a high level barometer of how defenses are performing, not a direct correlation to wins and losses.

I will assume that everyone reading this has been exposed to fantasy sports (not much of an assumption since Scott from Finance is currently boring you with questions of who he should start this week). As we all have learned, evaluating fantasy players can be difficult because season stats are very misleading. Two WR's may have ended the previous season with similar yardage totals, but one did it by getting 80 yards every week, while the other would get 140 one week, and 20 the next. In a rotisserie league where cumulative yearly stats are used, these two WR's are equal, but in a head-to-head league where you win or lose each week, the guy that gives you 80 yards every week is much more valuable. His stats help you build to a win every week, while the unreliable WR may directly lead to a win one week, and a loss the next.

What I am getting at is that in head-to-head fantasy, when stats are evaluated every week, each week's performance is what is important, not a yearly total. Well, real football works the same way. The crystal football isn't given out to the team that finishes the season with the best combined scoring defense and scoring offense, it is given to the team that wins the most games.

In that vain, I would throw out there that what is most important in a college football defense isn't number of points given up for the season, it is how they perform from week-to-week. A team that gives up 20 every week is preferable to one that gives up 30 one week and 7 the next, even though the second example would have the better ranking in scoring defense. The defense that gives up 20 every week gives the offense a chance to win the game, the inconsistent defense wins or loses every game all on their own. Granted, there is balance here. A defense that consistently gives up 80 points a game is obviously not preferable to one that gives up 50 one week and 10 the next, but let's leave the extreme examples out of this.

This takes us back to Oklahoma State's defense. Through 7 games, they have given up 34, 14, 33, 29, 28, 26, and 24 points (note: I will go ahead and count the special teams scores and the int returns vs ULL against the defense since it makes this argument much less muddy). If you throw out the Arizona game, that is almost a straight line, and the fact that the one anomaly is in the positive direction makes it all the better. Now top that off with Oklahoma State's ability to score. Their offenses lowest output on the season is 30 vs A&M, and after that the scoring gets outlandish. 61, 37, 59, 30, 70, 38, and 45. Not nearly as consistent as the defense, but with a low water mark of 30, it can safely be assumed that as long as the defense can hold the opposing team to less than 30, we can count on a Cowboy W.

Now, let's compare this consistency to the rest of the conference.

Team Avg Points Against Avg Dev

Oklahoma State









Iowa State



Texas A&M



Texas Tech















The average deviation represents how far the points against swings from week to week. So Oklahoma State averages allowing 27 points to be put up on them, but for the most part, from week to week you can count on that 27, plus or minus 5. Compare that to say Texas, who has put together some nice defensive performances only giving up 9, 16, and 14 on varying weeks, however, that is contrasted with giving up 55 and 38 in other weeks. So the defense all but guaranteed a win for 3 weeks, and all but guaranteed a loss for 2 others. While this might be acceptable if a team's goal is bowl eligibility, when you are trying to go undefeated and play for a national championship, you absolutely have to have consistency. Even a one week slip up is unacceptable... just look at the Sooners for proof.

And speaking of the Sooners, let's use their defense as a comparison. I am choosing them because they are (or at least were) considered to be the best defense in the league. Sure, OU's defense allows 7.5 fewer points per game than Oklahoma State's defense, but does that make them better? And when I say "better", what I mean is: Does OU's defense put them in a position to win more games than Oklahoma State's defense?


The dashed lines are the averages for each team, the solid lines are the points given up each week, opponents are listed at the top and bottom.

I realize that I am picking on a team that just lost its first game, but the point here is more that the OU defense doesn't give up a consistent total from week to week. That is obviously most apparent in the Mizzou and Tech games, which were the team's two poorest performances on the season.


On the other hand, you have the orange line which (Arizona anomaly aside) stays steady and true. You know what you are getting from them, and more importantly, you know you are getting a total that is far less than what the offense can put up.

How about an A&M comparison as well since their defense is thought to be decent, or at least better than Oklahoma State's.


Good luck predicting what the A&M defense will give up each week (although it does appear they are trending in the right direction).

In conclusion, you can have all your scoring defense titles, we will take the consistency... even if our average is higher than 5 other teams in the conference. Oh ya... and while we are at it, I guess we will also take all the W's.