Looking at the Big 12's Top Defenses

An advanced statistical metric allows us to take a deeper look at the play-by-play success rate of the Big 12's defenses.

In part two, we'll take a look at the Big 12's defenses, using the same S&P+ statistical metric from www.footballoutsiders.com, an outstanding play-by-play success rate weighted for competition and other factors. Like with the offenses, TCU and West Virginia have been included despite the fact that both played outside the Big 12 last year.


1) Texas — No. 4 Overall (No. 3 Rushing, No. 8 Passing)

2) Oklahoma — No. 7 Overall (No. 6, No. 10)

3) Oklahoma State — No. 17 Overall (No. 26, No. 14)

4) TCU — No. 28 Overall (No. 7, No. 75)

5) West Virginia — No. 52 Overall (No. 80, No. 60)

6) Kansas State — No. 58 Overall (No. 33, No. 50)

7) Iowa State — No. 67 Overall (No. 59, No. 39)

8) Baylor — No. 83 Overall (No. 62, No. 91)

9) Texas Tech — No. 110 Overall (No. 91, No. 104)

10) Kansas — No. 114 Overall (No. 89, No. 103)

Quick Thoughts

* The familiar talking point that the Big 12 stunk at defense applies mostly to the back end. If you include the other teams from 2011, the Big 12 had four teams in the top-20 defensively, the same number that the SEC (which, according to everyone is awesome on defense) had. The difference between the two leagues is that after that, the Big 12 kind of drops off a cliff, with Texas Tech and Kansas ranking among college football's worst 10 teams defensively.

* Oklahoma State is the team that is probably most different from everyone's impression of it. People ragged on the Cowboys for their defense, but Oklahoma State shows up at a very solid No. 17 nationally, including a No. 14 mark against the pass. So what could account for the change from popular perception? First, Oklahoma State faced a ton of plays defensively in 2011, and the more plays you face, the more yards, and points are typically put up. But on a play-by-play basis, the Cowboys' defense was actually pretty salty. Second, teams likely put up plenty of yardage in non-competitive situations, after the Cowboys already built their leads.

* We've discussed it before, but Texas, which wasn't a top-10 defense in either total defense or scoring defense in 2011, shows up well here. The Longhorns are fourth overall, and put up top-eight marks in both rushing (third) and passing (eighth) S&P+.

* I didn't include the stat here, but Kansas was horrific in passing situations. The Jayhawks ranked No. 104 in Passing Downs S&P+ (defined as second down with eight or more yards to go or third or fourth down with five or more yards to go). Obviously, when a defense puts a team into a passing situation, the defense is right where it wants to be. But not the Kansas. If the Jayhawks could learn to close out on passing downs, they'll have a chance to improve here, at least a little bit.

* TCU is typically known for having elite defenses, but the Horned Frogs were only elite in one category in 2011, and were poor in the other. Like Kansas, TCU was better on Standard Downs (loosely defined as any down not meeting the Passing Down criteria) than on Passing Downs. The Horned Frogs were No. 28 overall, thanks largely to a No. 7 ranking in Rushing S&P+. But TCU was No. 75 in Passing S&P+, by far the biggest gap (68 spots) between the two in the league.

* The second biggest gap came from the defense based in Waco. Baylor was No. 62 in Rushing S&P+ and No. 91 in Passing S&P+, a difference of 29 spots. So the margin at TCU was more than twice the size of the margin at Baylor.

* Oklahoma was the only defense besides Texas to field an elite defense. Like the Longhorns, the Sooners were top-10 in all three categories. Oklahoma had the No. 7 overall defense, the No. 6 Rushing S&P+ and the No. 10 Passing S&P+.

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