The Big 12's Best Offense: the Baylor Bears

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

You know, I honestly didn't think I was going to need to write this post because I thought the answer to this question was obvious, but in the wake of David Ubben's decision this morning to throw out the results of his poll on ESPN.com, here we are.

You guys know where I stand on Baylor's ranking in terms of offense in the Big 12 in 2012: we were the best. You also know most of why I feel that way since I've shared the statistics underlying that conclusion repeatedly. Since this is a discussion of some note, however, given Mr. Ubben's decision above, it appears as though rehashing the discussion is necessary.

In his post, Ubben mentions 4 basic reasons why he chose Kansas State over Baylor for the offensive crown: the fact that Collin Klein went to NYC for the Heisman ceremony, the Wildcats' starting field position, the percentage of drives on which they scored points, and their high points per game average despite a relatively low number of plays. Of the four, the last is the best argument against the other potential suitors, but it's still not great. Let's look at the numbers.

Because I absolutely love the spreadsheet I made last week for my "Most Balanced Team in CFB" post, I'll start there. These are the top six offenses by yards per game in the Big 12, complete with their rankings in passing and rushing. The number of TDs actually scored by the offense is also included.

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

As you already knew, Baylor is not only first in the conference, but also first in the country, as well. Kansas State, on the other hand, finished seventh in the conference in total offense per game, seventh in average yards per play gained, fifth in total offensive touchdowns, fourth in rushing yards per game, and a distant ninth in passing yards. There's no real argument, based on the numbers here, that Kansas State's was the best offense in the Big 12 this season, at least not in terms of actually gaining yards or points.

Ubben's best argument, to the extent he made it, is one of efficiency. Indeed, if you craft a "touchdowns per offensive play" metric not represented here, Kansas State comes out first, having scored touchdowns on 8.04% of their offensive plays. (Baylor, for the sake of comparison, scored touchdowns on 6.96% of our plays). I don't have a good formula for efficiency in terms of yardage or that takes into consideration the situations with which an offense is presented, but luckily for us, someone does.

To the best of my ability to transcribe information, here's where the conference as a whole finished the season by each of FootballOutsiders' advanced offensive metrics, starting with FEI. As a quick reminder:

  • OFEI: Offensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team's offense.
  • OE: Offensive Efficiency, the raw unadjusted efficiency of the given team's offense, a measure of its actual drive success against expected drive success based on field position.
  • FD: First Down rate, the percentage of offensive drives that result in at least one first down or touchdown.
  • AY: Available Yards, yards earned by the offense divided by the total number of yards available based on starting field position.
  • Ex: Explosive Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
  • Me: Methodical Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives that run 10 or more plays.
  • Va: Value Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives beginning on its own side of the field that reach at least the opponent's 30-yard line.
Name OFEI OE FD Rk AY Rk EX Rk ME Rk VA Rk
Baylor 1 3 1 3 9 4 2
Oklahoma 5 5 4 8 39 17 13
Oklahoma St. 8 19 11 12 17 52 14
West Virginia 11 7 16 21 3 82 12
Texas 18 13 21 17 10 35 18
Kansas St. 20 20 38 7 6 72 9
Texas Tech 24 21 24 22 16 70 11
Iowa St. 59 77 97 86 117 43 95
TCU 78 98 95 81 98 96 66
Kansas 82 99 94 91 110 23 88

Oh that doesn't look good for Mr. Ubben's argument. Even by FEI, which is based on efficiency without adjusting for opposing defenses, Kansas State finishes sixth in the conference in both OFEI and raw offensive efficiency. They were good at picking up available yards but struggled to convert first downs relative to their peers and had difficulty in methodical drives, as we saw in their game against Baylor. Once again, the efficiency stats seem to point to the same conclusion as the unadjusted absolute totals: the best offense in the conference belonged to the Baylor Bears. Let's move on to S&P+.

  • Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.
  • EqPts Per Play (PPP): An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.
  • Opponent adjustments: Success Rate and PPP combine to form S&P, an OPS-like measure for football. Then each team's S&P output for a given category (Rushing/Passing on either Standard Downs or Passing Downs) is compared to the expected output based upon their opponents and their opponents' opponents. This is a schedule-based adjustment designed to reward tougher schedules and punish weaker ones.

Furthermore, Passing Downs are defined as:

  • second down with 8 or more yards to go
  • third or fourth down with 5 or more yards to go

All other downs are Standard Downs. There is no adjustment for so-called "running downs," short-yardage situations on third or fourth downs where you would expect an offense to run the ball. That's something they might consider adding in the future.

Name Off S&P+ Rush Rk Pass Rk Std. Downs Rk Pass Downs Rk Succ Rk. PPP S&P
West Virginia 9 23 6 11 12 13 4 5
Baylor 15 8 17 9 10 7 10 8
Oklahoma 21 24 24 22 7 3 23 13
Texas 24 10 41 20 25 21 16 15
Oklahoma St. 26 20 30 16 52 24 13 14
Kansas St. 28 22 29 24 19 11 14 10
Texas Tech 29 54 23 33 18 2 19 9
TCU 92 106 64 86 82 94 82 86
Iowa St. 94 99 78 106 58 101 90 97
Kansas 100 61 120 54 118 102 103 103

In S&P+ we finally have a true contender to Baylor's crown while Kansas State is revealed once again as a pretender in the offensive realm. West Virginia's Air Raid offense won them the title in S&P+ as the best offense in the conference, though it could be argued that Baylor's balance between the run and pass makes them more dangerous on the whole. Still, there is basically no argument that Kansas State is not the best offensive team in the Big 12 once again. A better argument, I think, is that Kansas State's offense is good enough when paired with their defense and special teams (ranked first in the country by FEI) to win ball games. The Snydercats as a whole were an exceptional team this season, but they weren't an exceptional offensive team.

For the record, I didn't do this today entirely to prove Mr. Ubben wrong. I'm not trying to make him look bad. I'm also not trying to toot Baylor's hor-- ok, I am trying to do that at least a little bit. My point was to look at everything available as a whole; everyone is free to take the stats as presented and draw their own conclusions.

My conclusion, after weighing everything available, is that our Baylor Bears had the best offense in the conference this season. That means the anonymous voters that went for Baylor got it right in ESPN's poll, though those voting for teams like West Virginia and Oklahoma State probably have at least a decent argument, too. I don't think it's important or really even relevant if an offense put a player in NYC because record matters so much to the voters for that particular award. Collin Klein didn't get there because Kansas State's offense was good; he got there because Kansas State was good. Lastly, while Ubben's decision not to punish Kansas State for their average starting position is both admirable and likely correct because it doesn't reflect negatively on their offense, it doesn't reflect positively, either. Kansas State wasn't better on offense than, for example, TCU, because they started in better position. Any argument that they were is facile.

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