Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Big 12 Won’t Win the BCS

Part 1 of 2

If past winners of the BCS championship have had anything in common it is defense. In a post on this earlier this year we demonstrated that BCS title winners since 2000 have had a defense that had an average national ranking of 5.63, and surrendered an average of 14.03 points per game. In fact we demonstrated that a top defense is the most common connection between BCS winners.

By those measures, the Big 12 this year doesn’t look very good. The national rankings of the Big 12 BCS contenders and their points per game –

Texas – 37th, 20.7 ppg

Texas Tech – 48th, 22.2 ppg

Oklahoma – 56th, 23.6 ppg

None of them rank anywhere near what one would expect from a top title contending team.

But maybe, just maybe, the Big 12 is different this year. Maybe those offenses are so devastating that one cannot reasonably expect their defenses to rank well nationally.


To show that the Big 12 defenses are indeed as inept as their national rankings indicate, let’s start with the case of lowly Texas A&M. On a national basis the Aggies rank 50th in total offense, scoring 27.0 ppg, as about “middle-of-the-road” offensively as one could imagine.

Now let’s look at the two parts of A&M’s schedule, and the results –

First non-conference

Arkansas State – lost 14-18
New Mexico – won 28-22
Miami (FL) – lost 23-41
Army – won 21-17

Average points scored in NON CONFERENCE contests – 21.5

Now the conference schedule –

Oklahoma State – lost 28-56
Kansas State – lost 30-44
Texas Tech – lost 25-43
Iowa State – won 49-35
Colorado – won 24-17
Oklahoma – lost 28-66

Average points scored in CONFERENCE contests – 30.7

Against a pretty weak non-conference slate of teams with a current record of 17-22, the Aggies scored 21.5 ppg. Against their conference opponents they did 9.2 ppg better, including an average score of 27 ppg against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma.

In other words, had Texas A&M played only a conference slate, their scoring offense would, at 30.7 ppg, be good enough to elevate them to 38th nationally rather than the current 50th. It was easier for the Aggies to score against the Big 12 than against other teams.

While A&M might seem an extreme example, how exaclty did the “big boys” of the Big 12 defenses fare against non-conference foes? Remembering that, for the most part, the non-conference opponents were a pretty lousy lot (the only exception is Oklahoma against TCU), here are the results –

Texas Tech

Non Conference Defense PPG – 16 (best team Nevada)
Conference Defense PPG – 26.3


Non Conference Defense PPG – 10.8 (best team Arkansas)
Conference Defense PPG – 27.5


Non Conference Defense PPG – 13 (best team TCU)
Conference Defense PPG – 30.6

Oklahoma State

Non Conference Defense PPG – 21.8 (best team Troy)
Conference Defense PPG – 26.3


Non Conference Defense PPG – 20.8 (best team Illinois)
Conference Defense PPG – 25.5

Big 12 Totals (Above teams)

Non Conference Defense PPG – 16.5
Conference Defense PPG – 27.2

Remember we would expect the non-conference scoring to be lower, and it is. Several of the teams played weren’t even FBS opponents.

How does this compare to, say the top 5 SEC teams?


Non Conference Defense PPG – 6.5 (best team Miami)
Conference Defense PPG – 13.4


Non Conference Defense PPG – 5.8 (best team Clemson)
Conference Defense PPG – 18


Non Conference Defense PPG – 16 (best team Arizona State)
Conference Defense PPG – 28.7


Non Conference Defense PPG – 8.7 (best team App State)
Conference Defense PPG – 32

South Carolina

Non Conference Defense PPG – 8.7 (best team NC State)
Conference Defense PPG – 18.6

SEC Totals (Above teams)

Non Conference Defense PPG – 9.1
Conference Defense PPG – 22.14

The SEC’s top teams, which have arguably played a harder group of non-conference opponents, have given up only 9.1 ppg to those teams, while the Big 12 gave up 16.5 ppg to it’s non-conference foes. When you look at the teams listed, every team but Georgia in the SEC has given up less points in out of conference games than every team in the Big 12.

Or, by percentages –

Big 12 to SEC percentage of points given to non-con opponents – 81.3% greater

Big 12 to SEC percentage of points given to conference opponents – 22.9% greater

It isn't just Big 12 offenses ruining Big 12 defenses - they give up a lot of points to EVERYBODY.

So if conventional wisdom holds the Big 12 has highly superior offenses while the SEC has highly superior defenses, only half of that wisdom is correct – the latter half. While the Big 12 teams score about 23% more against their conference opponents than top SEC teams, non-conference opponents score 81% more against Big 12 teams than SEC teams.

BCS history tells us teams that don’t have good defenses don’t fare well on the big stage, and the Big 12 doesn’t have good defenses, even when accounting for their high powered offenses. Will this year be different, and a big scoring offense be able to overcome a stout defense? I doubt it, but we will likely see.

Part 2 – If not the Big 12, then who?


Anonymous said...

Hey Mergz, have you noticed any warning signs that Alabama is overrated like you did before UF played Ohio State in '06?

Clark said...

Have you looked at the offensive numbers of past BCS champs to compare with the Big 12 teams this year? I'd be curious to know how many more points (if any) they've been scoring than teams of yesteryear. One could argue that if their offenses are sufficiently more potent than teams of the past, that could compensate for their lack of defense. I'm not saying that's the best argument in the world, but it would be interesting to see where the numbers come out.

Mergz said...

anon - I don't want to call 'Bama "overrated" before we get a chance to play them as I think they are a good YOUNG team. However they really haven't played a tough schedule this year and are currently ranked 84th by the NCAA. For comparison's sake Florida is 23rd and Georgia is 2nd. Penn State, which got a bad rap for its schedule, is better than Alabama at 70th.

I don't think they have been tested yet, though LSU was pretty close.

Clark - on the link in this post I did look at the average offenses of BCS champs past. A good offense was not a common characteristic (think Florida 2006). In fact highly successful passing offenses tended to be less successful at becoming BCS champs.

The average scoring offense of a BCS Champ has been 37.76 ppg. Oklahoma is 51.4, Texas Tech 47.9, Texas 44.3 and Florida 42.8. Are these enough to overcome a bad defense? Who knows.

Anonymous said...

42.8 IS...

44.3? 47.9? 51.4? Probably not...



Anonymous said...

One thing (that may be too much) to consider, there could be a hidden bias going on in the Big 12 defenses because of garbage time points. When a team scores a lot and is way ahead, they usually put in their second-strings. This allows the opposing team to score more points and so deflate defensive statistics.

I don't say this because I think the Big 12 actually has good defenses, I just think it's important to consider the possibility that someone's statistics don't correlate well to how good that team is at doing something.

Anonymous said...

Amos is correct. Garbage time points are huge for a team like A&M.

Anonymous said...

"The SEC’s top teams, which have arguably played a harder group of non-conference opponents." Really?!?!

The FBS opponents have of the B-12 teams listed have a record of 68-74. SEC FBS opponents have a record of 42-70. At this point in the season, B-12 teams have played two more FCS opponents to even it out a bit, but it's hard to argue that the SEC teams have faced tougher schedules. In fact the best two non-conference opponents of any teams listed, both played oklahoma (TCU and Cincinnati).

The rest of your post may be valid (though I do think there is something to quick scoring offenses leading to lesser defensive stats), so don't weaken it with a statement that has no basis in reality and could indicate bias.

Anonymous said...

Tech and Texas pulled their starters at the start of the 4th quarter because of their large leads. To have a better picture in the Big 12, see how they fared up until the end of the 3rd quarter for the games.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

The "garbage time" argument is bullshit. To believe it you'd have to believe that none of the other top teams in the BCS era dominated their opponents so much so as to have no garbage time. Mergz has analyzed the characteristics of BCS champions. Let's face it, the defenses in the Big 12 are not good.

Anonymous said...

of course they wont.. tech will struggle with the sooners..

bcs national champions will be fromt he sec... florida :D

Anonymous said...

gators youre an idiot. Even if Texas Tech struggles with the sooners they are 59-2 under stoops in Norman. A win in Norman no matter how hard the struggle will only validate the fact that we can go into a hostile environment (such as miami come championship time) and beat a good football team over adversity. when we win in Oklahoma perhaps you will give the respect most definitely earned by a great football team. Besides Florida you have no other offenses racking anywhere near 40 ppg in the SEC. hmm... think that might have something to do with allowed ppg? yall dont even have the offenses to match what we play against week in and week out in the big 12. I think you will find that your precious 6th ranked defense may not hold down the red raiders offense the way you imagine, an offense alike nothing in the SEC. And I think you might see that a defense that holds much higher powered offenses than the likes of the SEC to only 22.2 ppg is not such a bad defense at all. If we can hold offenses like Texas, OU, OSU, MIZZOU whose average ppg are well into the 40's (above florida even) to only 22.2 ppg I'd say we are better than you think. Come play our schedule and try giving up only 14.3 ppg, absolutely no way you could do it.