Bowl Season Reveals Big 12 Doesn’t Play Defense, but Neither Does Anyone Else

Dec 28, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) attempts a pass while being hit by Virginia Tech Hokies defensive end Houshun Gaines (11) during the second half in the 2017 Camping World Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Written by Kyle Porter

I went back and counted up the numbers between the 45 games played by Power 5 teams to see if in fact that Big 12 doesn’t play any defense (spoiler: it does not). What the numbers showed, though, is that nobody else does, either.

For however flawed bowl numbers are from year to year, the Big 12 put up an impressive net PPG compared to the rest of the country. It also had the second-best winning percentage at 5-3 behind the Big Ten, which went 7-1.

Here are the defensive numbers.

Conference Defense PPG
Big Ten 22.5
SEC 28.6
Big 12 29.1
ACC 30.5
Pac-12 35.2

Do we get to say the SEC doesn’t play any defense now? Or do we just keep trotting out that narrative that the Big 12 stinks and is the worst conference in NCAA history?

Conference Offense PPG
Big 12 31.8
Big Ten 30.4
ACC 29.0
SEC 29.0
Pac-12 25.6

No surprises here, and I thought Mike Gundy said it well during the national championship game. You might score in the Big 12, but good luck defending anybody.

Gary Patterson chimed in as well.

The net PPG numbers more or less correlated with which conferences performed best in the postseason (goodness, Pac-12!)

Conference Net PPG
Big Ten 7.9
Big 12 2.6
SEC 0.3
ACC -1.5
Pac-12 -9.7

Again, I’m not sure how much the bowl games actually tell us. They’re exhibitions a month after the season between teams that may or may not be evenly matched. But like Kyle Cox noted a few weeks ago, they can’t mean nothing. And hopefully (although I’m not optimistic) the rest of the country will start seeing that an offense-centric college football team is not necessarily worse. It’s just different.

  • zachattachone

    There is a lot here that you can explain away due to match-ups/team motivation and other factors if you try hard enough, but what is abundantly clear is that the Pac-12 was (and is) absolutely trash.

    • Alum in AZ

      That’s why I wish the merger with the Pac12 would have worked a few years ago. We’d be killing it out here. Might have had lots of detrimental effects over time however…

      • Adam M.

        Couldn’t be any worse than staying in a ten team, destined to be liquidated, Big 12.

  • Gundy4Life

    You can’t take statistics from only one round of games and make a season long conclusion from that evidence. I get that bowl matchups cross conference lines and pit different styles of play against each other but you can’t say that bowl games actually answer the question as to what style of play is more/less effective and which conferences do or not play defense. There are too many outliers in any one single game that affect the outcome that you cannot get a consistent answer to the question you are asking. That’s Stat 101. Again, I get this is all you have to go on but instead I would like to see the season long PPG numbers. That’s really the only data you can go on to reliably get anywhere near the conclusion that you are wanting to draw.

    • Big D

      “You can’t take statistics from only one round of games and make a season long conclusion from that evidence”

      Yet that’s what the talking heads do every year. Actually, they do worse. They take 1 GAME, the championship, to “prove” the SEC is the greatest CONFERENCE..because their best team beat the second best team in the land. Why not let it work in our favor for once?

      • CowPoke

        And not only that, they go back years earlier to say their team is better than a current team now, because they were better several years ago.

  • Gumby

    I think there’s something to this. Georgia and Auburn looked below average against OU and UCF, VT and Washington just looked average against OSU and PSU. On a Points per Drive basis, Georgia is #5, Auburn #2 and VT #8 and Washington #10. When a premier defense faces a premier offense, the defense just looks average or worse.

    Is it conclusive, no. But premier offenses are rarely shut down.

    • OrangeTuono

      I think it shows that schematically it’s a different game today than it was 20 years ago when all of the institutional knowledge (“what we know”) was set.
      Today, you simply cannot shut down excellent offenses schematically. You can disrupt them enough to keep them from scoring on every drive, but sub 20 point/team games are rare today.

  • Chino_05

    What about points per drive and yards per play? We (this blog and most Big12 fans, in general) bemoan the fact that national pundits spout defensive yards per game and points per game numbers, so why would we use similar metrics to argue in our favor?