The kind numbers geniuses over at ESPN Stats & Info compiled some fun numbers for us this week: total number of offensive plays longer than 20 yards over the past three seasons. That's a perhaps underrated number, but how important is it? We'll see. First, here are the numbers, ranked in order with their national rank.
10. Oklahoma State -- 75
14. Baylor -- 69
17. Oklahoma -- 68
21. Nebraska -- 66
28. Missouri -- 63
41. Texas Tech -- 59
48. Kansas State -- 57
56. Texas A&M -- 56
72. Texas -- 51
96. Colorado -- 43
112. Iowa State -- 32
112. Kansas -- 32
A few observations:
It's no surprise that four of the top five teams in the league all won at least a share of their division. This is also a good indication of how imperative it is for Baylor to improve on defense. New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett put it simply: Briles has got them going really well on offense. They just need a defense to go along with it. Look out for the Bears if that happens.
Would anyone else have guessed that Kansas State would have more big plays than Texas A&M? That's the craziest part of that stat. I would describe Texas A&M's offense as very good, but not necessarily explosive. Kansas State? Whatever the opposite of explosive is ... that's how most people, myself included, see their offense. Perhaps that's not quite the case.
For all of the talk about Missouri lacking a big-play threat, its number was a lot higher than I would have thought. It still needs someone like Danario Alexander, Jeremy Maclin or Jared Perry to emerge and make defenses truly respect the deep ball, but they won 10 games without such a player. That's pretty good.
It's definitely not a coincidence that the bottom four teams in this category finished at the bottom of their divisions. Winning in the Big 12 with offense may be cliche, but it's true. Unless your defense is on par with some of the best in the nation (a la Nebraska in 2009), you're not getting far in the Big 12. It's safe to say neither of those four teams qualify. Offenses with defenses to match are the teams that emerge as elite, but there seems to be a baseline for success (i.e. a bowl game for Kansas State) that comes with being able to move the ball in chunks.
The information wasn't available, but it would be interesting to see how many of Nebraska's plays longer than 20 yards came before Taylor Martinez's injury in the win over Missouri, and how many came after. I imagine there was sharp decline.
Some of the numbers are going to be skewed a bit from teams like Nebraska or Oklahoma that played 14 games rather than 12 or 13, or teams like Oklahoma that run fast-paced offenses and can run upwards of 100 plays in a game, but I'd say it's still pretty representative.
Now, let's take a look at how the Big 12 stacks up over the past three seasons:
2008-2010 seasons (in chronological order)
Oklahoma -- 95, 55, 69 -- 219
Missouri -- 73, 66, 63 -- 202
Oklahoma State -- 75, 51, 71 -- 197
Texas Tech -- 74, 64, 59 -- 197
Nebraska -- 66, 52, 74 -- 192
Texas -- 70, 54, 51 -- 175
Baylor -- 56, 49, 69 -- 174
Texas A&M -- 49, 61, 56 -- 166
Kansas State -- 52, 45, 57 -- 154
Kansas -- 65, 51, 32 -- 148
Colorado -- 40, 45, 43 -- 128
Iowa State -- 52, 44, 32 -- 128
Finally, a few notes and observations:
Oklahoma's 95 plays of 20-plus yards in 2008 were No. 3 nationally that year, the best mark of any team in the conference over that span. You might also remember that offense as the highest-scoring unit in college football history, hanging 718 points on the board in 14 games, capped by a loss in the BCS National Championship.
Considering the talent lost by Kansas from its 2008 team to its 2010 team, the drop isn't surprising. But as a fan base, it's easy to see why attendance was lacking this season. It's tough to see guys like Todd Reesing, Dez Briscoe and Kerry Meier playing a refined game of pitch-and-catch in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and then two years later, watch the Jayhawks put three points on the board in the season opener against North Dakota State. The Jayhawks are getting better, but I feel for their fans. No team saw anywhere near as sharp a drop as them. The 65 plays in 2008 fell to 32 in 2010.
I was a little surprised Texas didn't put up better numbers with Colt McCoy, but considering their troubles running the ball, it makes a little more sense. Big plays are tougher when you're running almost exclusively out of the shotgun, defenses don't respect the run and you have just one real threat down the field: Jordan Shipley. A great offense by other measures like points scored, but not an "explosive" offense.