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OSU vs. Big 12



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OKC Dave will be taking a deep dive into some really intriguing stats surrounding your Cowboys once a week during football season. I asked him to keep it simple for the laypeople among us [raises hand]. I’ll also be providing the footnotes so I hope you guys enjoy.

@pistolsguy gave me the good idea of looking at how OSU’s offense and defense has compared to the Big 12 in the Gundy era[1. Honestly probably where you get the majority of your ideas…]. I think the best way to look at it is to use data from conference play only. This levels out the playing field, removing all of the Savannah State-type games.

I evaluated each offense and defense by two measures: yards/play and points/play. Looking at each unit on a per-play basis removes the bias you see when looking at total yards due to some teams using more up-tempo styles[2. Lot of discussion around this between me and OKC Dave. It’s fun to look at points and yards per game and season but the true story can be found in yards and points per play. Remember that when you need to defend the OSU defense.]. This gets down to how efficient each unit is.

Things to consider as you look at the charts

-All of the figures in the chart are from conference play only.

-OSU is the orange dot…every other team in the Big 12 is a gray dot. The line is the average for the conference excluding OSU’s numbers[3. Strong data work by Dave here, does Jonah Keri need any help?].

-The charts run from 2005 to 2011 (Gundy era)[4. The charts in the 90s would be unbearable.]. The years are at the bottom of each chart along with the initials of the coordinator for that year. I did not include 2012 this time around, but I will come back to this later this year.

-This goes for every chart: the closer to the top, the better the unit did that season.

Offense has always been the first priority in the Gundy era, so let’s start there.


The charts tell a story we all know pretty well by now. Aside from 2005 and 2009, OSU’s offense has been well above average and outstanding in some cases.

A few things stand out to me:

-In conference play last year, OSU averaged 7.3 yards per play. Think about how impressive that is. It is the highest figure for any Big 12 offense in this time period. Baylor averaged 7.6 yards per play when they gained 700 yards against West Virginia this weekend. Imagine sustaining that over an entire conference season[5. This is stupid, I don’t think we’ll ever truly appreciate how sick that squad was for another decade or so.]. The average for all teams not named OSU during the Gundy era is 5.5.

-The undisputed three best offenses in recent conference history are 2005 Texas, 2008 Oklahoma, and 2011 OSU[6. Would be a fun round robin tournament.]. Two out of the three featured teams that played for the national title. If we beat Iowa State, all three of them do. I will never get over that loss. Who thinks WVU will move into this elite neighborhood this year?

-What caused the league-wide decrease in offensive production in 2009? Graham Harrell, Chase Daniel, and Josh Freeman went to the NFL, Sam Bradford and Zac Robinson got hurt, and Dez got suspended. Colt McCoy was really the only quarterback that made D-coordinators nervous that year.

-Big 12 offenses have shown improvement since the dip in 2009, and by all indications 2012 could battle with 2008 for the best offensive year in recent history.

-OSU is the best offensive program in yards/play and the second best in points/play over this entire time period (we narrowly trail UT in points/play)

-The best individual offense? 2011 OSU in yards/play at 7.3. 2005 Texas in points/play at 0.69

-The worst individual offense? 2010 Kansas in yards/play at 4.0. 2009 Baylor in points/play at 0.19.

It’s fun to look at our offensive numbers because we’re always good. But you already know that. Let’s spend a little more time looking at the defensive side of the ball. Again: the closer to the top of the chart, the better the defense.



Okay, what can this tell us?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had a conversation or several where you talked about how all we need is an average to above-average defense to compete in this conference. The way our offense produces you don’t need an elite defense to contend for conference titles (unless you’re trying to prove to the media that you belong in the title game).

Well, over the last four years OSU has had an above-average defense in the Big 12 in both yards/play and points/play[7. I’m so geeked up (and geeked out) over these charts and numbers. Great, great work.]. I bet not many would have guessed that. Football Outsiders agrees, by the way. In their S&P ratings, our defensive rankings from 2008-11 are 58, 24, 32, and 17 (we are currently #49 this year).

We have never really been great on the defensive side of the ball under Gundy. But I think in the high-powered Big 12 it is hard to be really good on the defensive side of the ball. Our backup QB just torched the best defense in the conference for 8.6 yards/play.

The good news for OSU fans is the trend line. While Big 12 defenses have generally declined[8. Who thinks this is going to continue this year? (every single person reading this raises hand).] in performance over time, the OSU defense has clearly improved, particularly under Bill Young’s reign. You may not agree with some of his defensive philosophies, but you can’t argue with the numbers. We are not elite, but we are above-average in our own conference — and I think many would sign up for that for the next four years.

It’s too early to say where we are this year on D, but I’ll revisit this later on in the year. I know the 3rd- and 4th-down conversions were frustrating on Saturday, but we allowed 5.5 yards/play (the league average was 5.7 last year) and 0.51 points/play (league average: 0.43). So we’re not off to an awful start despite playing one of the best teams in the league.

A few more notes on the defensive charts

-The only defensive units I would call elite (excellent in both categories) during this time period are Texas in 2005, Oklahoma in 2006, and OU and Nebraska in 2009. We’ve had one really good defense in the last 6 years in this conference, and I don’t see any signs of one this year

-The best defense? Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska allowed 4.1 yards/play in 2009. That same team also allowed 0.19 points/play, good for #1 in that category and less than half of the league average of 0.40. This was the last elite defense we’ve seen in the Big 12.

-The worst defense? Iowa State allowed 7.1 yards/play in 2008. Texas Tech allowed 0.59 points/play last season[9. ’11 O-State vs. ’08 Iowa State, who you got?].

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