The Most Balanced Team in College Football Is... Eastern Michigan?

Leon Halip

Yesterday I looked at how the Bears improved balance-wise over the course of the 2012 season. Today, I'm looking at the entire scope of college football to determine which is the most balanced team in the country. I was ... not ready for what I found.

We all know by now, or at least you should because I've told you countless times, that Baylor had the best offense in college football in 2012 in terms of total yards. Who had the most balanced attack is, of course, a different question entirely and one I hope to answer today. The only problem is that the concept of "balance" is in and of itself at least somewhat subjective. Does a "balanced" offense mean one that averages close to the same amount of yards passing and rushing? If so, as you'll see, you may not like the results you get defining things that way. Is balance instead the team that ranks highest in the two pertinent categories? I think that gets us closer, but that approach also has it issues.

The honest answer is that I don't really know who is the most balanced offense in the country for the very reason I said above: how you define the term basically dictates your answer. What I've done, however, is try to put all the information I can in one place so that others (that's you) may help find the answer as closely as we can.

It's worth noting at the outset that I didn't intend for this to be another way of stroking Baylor's offensive ego, even if the results in some instances look favorable to the school I love. I didn't compile the information I compiled as a form of propaganda, and in fact, one of the reasons I didn't finalize my initial process was that it ended with Baylor on top. I'm sensitive to accusations of systemic bias like that. But all that said, here's where I started, with the top 10 offenses in the country ranked by total yards per game. This is the baseline.*

*Note: I'm just including the top ten at this point to show you were I went from here. My spreadsheet has all 120 FBS schools in it with compete information should you want to look.

ame Games Plays Yds Avg TDs Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank
Baylor 12 992 6945 7 69 578.75 1 225.5 19 353.25 3
Louisiana Tech 12 1054 6935 6.58 84 577.92 2 227.17 18 350.75 4
Texas A&M 12 959 6628 6.91 72 552.33 3 235.08 13 317.25 14
Oregon 12 989 6601 6.67 85 550.08 4 323.25 3 226.83 66
Oklahoma St. 12 939 6587 7.01 66 548.92 5 215.5 22 333.42 7
Marshall 12 1087 6411 5.9 65 534.25 6 169.17 56 365.08 1
Arizona 12 999 6262 6.27 58 521.83 7 230.42 15 291.42 29
West Virginia 12 940 6222 6.62 67 518.5 8 177.58 46 340.92 6
Clemson 12 962 6220 6.47 65 518.33 9 198.75 32 319.58 13
Oklahoma 12 922 6071 6.58 63 505.92 10 164.58 60 341.33 5

Like I said, I didn't intend for this to be a "OMG, Baylor is so awesome" post. That's just how it turned out. Of the top ten offenses in the country, the worst individual units-- meaning the teams that are most one-dimensional from the looks of things -- are the Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. rushing offenses and the Oregon passing offense. I suspect the latter is going to get a lot better as Marcus Mariotta gains experience and becomes not-a-freshman. The document I linked has the entire list sorted by total offense with whatever ranks you want to see.

Just for the heck of it, here's the worst ten offenses, too.

Name Games Plays Yds Avg TDs Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank
Minnesota 12 774 3810 4.92 31 317.5 111 146.08 79 171.42 105
Idaho 12 798 3781 4.74 19 315.08 112 89.25 116 225.83 67
Kentucky 12 790 3780 4.78 27 315 113 138.75 87 176.25 103
Iowa 12 793 3725 4.7 26 310.42 114 123 103 187.42 99
Auburn 12 695 3660 5.27 27 305 115 148.42 78 156.58 112
Colorado 12 829 3633 4.38 28 302.75 116 110.25 109 192.5 96
Wake Forest 12 829 3616 4.36 30 301.33 117 100.5 113 200.83 93
Hawaii 12 837 3569 4.26 31 297.42 118 108.58 111 188.83 98
Illinois 12 797 3560 4.47 25 296.67 119 127.83 97 168.83 106
Maryland 12 776 3417 4.4 30 284.75 120 103 112 181.75 100

And here's the Big 12 as a whole:

Name Games Plays Yds Avg TDs Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank
Baylor 12 992 6945 7 69 578.75 1 225.5 19 353.25 3
Oklahoma St. 12 939 6587 7.01 66 548.92 5 215.5 22 333.42 7
West Virginia 12 940 6222 6.62 67 518.5 8 177.58 46 340.92 6
Oklahoma 12 922 6071 6.58 63 505.92 10 164.58 60 341.33 5
Texas Tech 12 922 6017 6.53 58 501.42 12 139.5 86 361.92 2
Texas 12 826 5292 6.41 58 441 37 176 48 265 40
Kansas St. 12 771 4925 6.39 62 410.42 55 198.33 33 212.08 85
TCU 12 855 4764 5.57 42 397 64 157.5 65 239.5 55
Iowa St. 12 867 4466 5.15 39 372.17 88 154.42 69 217.75 78
Kansas 12 871 4324 4.96 27 360.33 94 211.67 24 148.67 113

Now that the fun part is over:

My first thought upon getting the data entered was to simply add the two ranks together (rushing and passing offense) and use that as a crude proxy for overall balance. Here's how it turned out--

Name Games Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank Total Rank Points Balance Rank
Baylor 12 578.75 1 225.5 19 353.25 3 22 1
Louisiana Tech 12 577.92 2 227.17 18 350.75 4 22 1
Texas A&M 12 552.33 3 235.08 13 317.25 14 27 3
Oklahoma St. 12 548.92 5 215.5 22 333.42 7 29 4
Arizona 12 521.83 7 230.42 15 291.42 29 44 5
Clemson 12 518.33 9 198.75 32 319.58 13 45 6
West Virginia 12 518.5 8 177.58 46 340.92 6 52 7
Marshall 12 534.25 6 169.17 56 365.08 1 57 8
Nevada 12 502.83 11 260 7 242.83 53 60 9
Arkansas St. 12 481.83 17 217.42 21 264.42 41 62 10
UCLA 13 474.54 20 202.92 26 271.62 36 62 10

This is where the definition of "balance" becomes a problem. Though the rankings seem legitimate in that the best offenses are predictably near the top, I'm not comfortable with the idea that Baylor (or LA Tech) is ranked above Texas A&M in this system. The reason that happens is that simply adding the two ranks together favors lower numbers significantly. I'm not sure if that's a proper view of what "balance" really is. Why should Texas A&M be seemingly punished for ranking 13th and 14th in running and passing offense, respectively, when that appears to be more balanced than a Baylor offense that is 19th and 3rd? At the same time, however, A&M's rankings in the midst of the entire country don't really show how balanced they are, either. To steal a phrase from Inception, we need to go deeper.

Name Games Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank Total Rank Points Balance Rank Quadratic Mean (Yards) QM Ranking
Baylor 12 578.75 1 225.5 19 353.25 3 22 1 296.34086 1
Louisiana Tech 12 577.92 2 227.17 18 350.75 4 22 1 295.49262 2
Marshall 12 534.25 6 169.17 56 365.08 1 57 8 284.5188 3
Oklahoma St. 12 548.92 5 215.5 22 333.42 7 29 4 280.72152 4
Oregon 12 550.08 4 323.25 3 226.83 66 69 17 279.23325 5
Texas A&M 12 552.33 3 235.08 13 317.25 14 27 3 279.20438 6
Texas Tech 12 501.42 12 139.5 86 361.92 2 88 28 274.26842 7
West Virginia 12 518.5 8 177.58 46 340.92 6 52 7 271.80977 8
Oklahoma 12 505.92 10 164.58 60 341.33 5 65 13 267.94845 9
Clemson 12 518.33 9 198.75 32 319.58 13 45 6 266.11364 10

This time I added another metric taking the quadratic mean of the actual yardage going into each ranking. National ranks themselves don't matter so much as the yards they represent. Again, however, the system slants toward higher individual numbers. That may not be a problem-- I'm not an expert in statistics-- but it made me uneasy.

Name Games Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank Mean Ranking QM (of Ranks) QM (of Ranks) Rank
Louisiana Tech 12 577.92 2 227.17 18 350.75 4 75 13.0384 1
Texas A&M 12 552.33 3 235.08 13 317.25 14 48 13.50926 2
Baylor 12 578.75 1 225.5 19 353.25 3 77 13.60147 3
Oklahoma St. 12 548.92 5 215.5 22 333.42 7 74 16.32483 4
Arizona 12 521.83 7 230.42 15 291.42 29 33 23.08679 5
Clemson 12 518.33 9 198.75 32 319.58 13 76 24.42335 6
UCLA 13 474.54 20 202.92 26 271.62 36 39 31.40064 7
North Carolina 12 485.58 16 193.83 36 291.75 28 65 32.24903 8
Arkansas St. 12 481.83 17 217.42 21 264.42 41 25 32.57299 9
West Virginia 12 518.5 8 177.58 46 340.92 6 92 32.80244 10

This time I went back and took the quadratic mean of the rankings themselves instead of the yards going into the rankings. This brought me back to a ranking system I felt much better about, and one that eliminated some of the bias from simply adding the ranks together. By this process, Louisiana Tech wins and the Aggies come in second. They'll love that. Let's keep going.

It was at this point that I got a tip from a friend to to try to normalize the yardage itself, so I did. But things got really weird, really fast.

Name Games Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank Quadratic Mean (Yards) QM Ranking Normal Mean Mean Difference Mean Ranking
Eastern Mich. 12 335.75 103 164.17 61 171.58 104 167.91588 107 167.875 0.0408797 1
Auburn 12 305 115 148.42 78 156.58 112 152.55457 118 152.5 0.0545686 2
Alabama 13 439.08 40 224.62 20 214.46 84 219.59877 49 219.54 0.0587659 3
Michigan 12 385.42 80 187.33 39 198.08 95 192.77995 87 192.705 0.0749462 4
Northern Ill. 13 485.77 15 250.15 9 235.62 60 242.99363 22 242.885 0.1086284 5
Kansas St. 12 410.42 55 198.33 33 212.08 85 205.32013 67 205.205 0.1151345 6
Southern Miss. 12 322.83 106 154.58 68 168.25 107 161.55965 110 161.415 0.1446467 7
Nevada 12 502.83 11 260 7 242.83 53 251.56153 16 251.415 0.1465321 8
Notre Dame 12 421.33 49 202.5 27 218.83 75 210.82317 59 210.665 0.158171 9
Memphis 12 318.33 109 151.74 71 166.58 109 159.33287 111 159.16 0.1728654 10
Rice 12 421.08 50 201.25 29 219.83 72 210.74486 60 210.54 0.2048592 11

Fans of the SEC probably just wet themselves at this table before they even knew what I did, so I'll explain. This time, I took the quadratic mean of total yardage and then subtracted the actual mean for each team in an attempt to normalize great offenses versus the not-so-great. Lower numbers in the second column from the right means a lower spread between the two numbers. The problem is that we ended up with a ranking of the teams whose yardage totals were the most similar in the two columns. Some might think that's actual balance and that I'd done what I set out to do. Any system that ranks the 103rd-best offense as the "most balanced", though, is going to be rejected. Sorry.

To prove that's what it did, though, here's the resulting table from taking each team's run/pass ratio and finding the standard deviations away from the mean of each spread. It yields a ranking of each team in terms of who was the most equal in their yardage.

Name Games Total Offense Rank Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank Rush % of Total Yards Pass % of Total Yards Rushing Yards (Total) Passing Yards (Total) Pass%-Run% StdDevs StdDevs Rank
Eastern Mich. 12 335.75 103 164.17 61 171.58 104 48.90% 51.10% 1970 2059 2.21% 0.146045 1
Alabama 13 439.08 40 224.62 20 214.46 84 51.16% 48.84% 2920 2788 2.31% 0.153122 2
Auburn 12 305 115 148.42 78 156.58 112 48.66% 51.34% 1781 1879 2.68% 0.177041 3
Michigan 12 385.42 80 187.33 39 198.08 95 48.60% 51.39% 2248 2377 2.79% 0.18457 4
Northern Ill. 13 485.77 15 250.15 9 235.62 60 51.50% 48.50% 3252 3063 2.99% 0.197933 5
Kansas St. 12 410.42 55 198.33 33 212.08 85 48.32% 51.67% 2380 2545 3.35% 0.221698 6
Nevada 12 502.83 11 260 7 242.83 53 51.71% 48.29% 3120 2914 3.41% 0.225959 7
Notre Dame 12 421.33 49 202.5 27 218.83 75 48.06% 51.94% 2430 2626 3.88% 0.256474 8
Southern Miss. 12 322.83 106 154.58 68 168.25 107 47.88% 52.12% 1855 2019 4.23% 0.280203 9
Tulsa 13 460.77 25 240.23 11 220.54 71 52.14% 47.86% 3123 2867 4.27% 0.282778 10

So there you have it: Eastern Michigan might well be the most balanced team in the country.

I'm going to keep working on this tonight, but in the meantime, if you have any suggestions for things I might do, please let me know. Until then, you can check out the Google Docs spreadsheet I'm working from (I actually built it in Excel).

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