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I’m on a mission over the next two or three days to convince you that OSU’s defense isn’t as bad as everyone thinks it is. It’ll be like the debate last night: it doesn’t really matter what I believe or what you believe for that matter. The only thing that matters is what I can convince you to believe that I believe. Get all that?! Let’s go.

The question about OSU’s defense is not (or shouldn’t be) “does OSU have the best defense in the country?” They don’t and only a fool would tell you otherwise, even though it is better than you think (more on that coming in tomorrow’s post).

The correct consideration is this: “is OSU’s defense, when teamed with its offense, good enough to win a national title?” The answer is yes, and let me show you why.

People act like there’s some unwritten rule that for a team to be a national championship contender, it must beat other teams by scores of 21-0 or 35-3. It’s true that defense wins championships but to say only defense wins championships would be a bit short-sighted.

I think the formula is more like: timely defense + solid offense + good special teams + not very many penalties + solid coaching with strong clock management equals championships. Or something along those lines.

Let’s take a look at the total defensive scoring rank, turnover margin, and point differential of the last four title game teams and see if we can’t find a doppelganger for this year’s OSU squad.

tOSU scoring D: 1st
tOSU turnover margin: -0.23
tOSU point differential: 18.6 points

LSU scoring D: 17th
LSU turnover margin: 1.43
LSU point differential: 18.7 points

Florida scoring D: 4th
Florida turnover margin: 1.57
Florida point differential: 30.7 points

OU scoring D: 58th
OU turnover margin: 1.64
OU point differential: 26.6 points

Alabama scoring D: 2nd
Alabama turnover margin: 1.31
Alabama point differential: 20.4

Texas scoring D: 12th
Texas turnover margin: 0.69
Texas point differential: 22.6

Auburn scoring D: 63rd
Auburn turnover margin: .36
Auburn point differential: 17.1

Oregon scoring D: 12th
Oregon turnover margin: 1.0
Oregon point differential: 29.3

Oklahoma State scoring D: 68th
Oklahoma State turnover margin: 2.0
Oklahoma State point differential: 21.9

I think that 2008 OU team proves my point perfectly (the teams from last year do too but let’s stick with OU for now). They gave up almost four touchdowns a game but it didn’t matter because they scored 51.5 points a game. They also led the country in turnover margin that year  at +1.64/game. Average scoring D + opportunistic turnover ability + world-class offense = very good things. Even if it did end with Nic Harris getting Gator-chomped in Miami. And while we’re here, how freaking sick was that ’08 Florida team? They outscored their opponents 43.6 to 12.9 and had over +1.5 takeaways a game. Kind of makes their loss at home to Ole Miss even more unbelievable.

It sounds cliche for a defensive player to wax poetic about his side’s ability to make plays but Jamie Blatnick is kind of right when he said this after the Kansas game:

(We tell the offense), ‘Just relax’.“We’re going to get turnovers and give you the ball back, I promise. We’re going to do it every time. It’s what we do.

He’s right. They’re currently tied for second in the country with that 2.0/game differential. If you believe a turnover is worth 4 points like Football Outsiders do then that number is nothing to sneeze at. It’s a built-in touchdown advantage every game and, if it holds, would be the highest mark in the last five years by a full .3 margin.

Should OSU continue to bank on turnovers keeping their defense above water? Well that’s probably another argument for another time, but the point (for now) is that it’s working.

And this formula is working beautifully, just like it did for OU in ’08 and Auburn and Oregon last year. Score and score often, get the ball back and score some more. And tomorrow I’ll show you why that #68 scoring defense ranking for OSU is a complete farce anyway.

I should note the people who helped knock some sense into me regarding defensive stats and what really matters: CowboysRFF and OKC Dave.

Oh and let me know what you like/don’t like about this post in the comments, but take it easy, this is one of my first forays deep into the dark world of statistical analysis.

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