Numbers reveal areas of improvement


Numbers never lie isn’t just a television show on ESPN.

Those three words are a reminder that we can learn a lot from overlooked statistics which can point to an area of potential improvement or signal the reasons for a team’s struggles. Here is a look at a single statistic -- thanks to ESPN Stats & Info -- each Big 12 school will be looking to improve in 2012 and a reason to be hopeful those numbers will change.

Baylor: The Bears finished with a 27.1 opponent three-and-out percentage, second worst in the Big 12. The Big 12 average was 32.4 percent. Coupled with a 52.1 percent third-down conversion allowed percentage and its easy to see why the Bears finished 4-5 in Big 12 play despite boasting one of the conference’s top offenses. Hope for 2013: BU returns seven starters on defense, which could help the Bears rise to the occasion on third down. A simple understanding of down-and-distance and the importance of third downs should come with the added on-field experience.

Iowa State: 44.8 percent of Cyclone offensive drives that ended in a punt, placing them at the bottom of the league. The Big 12 is known for offense --the conference average was 30.8 percent -- but this number points to why ISU is not. Hope for 2013: Quarterback Sam Richardson should be much more comfortable in his sophomore season. And quality quarterback play is critical to moving the ball. There’s no reason this number shouldn’t drop in 2013.

Kansas: The Jayhawks finished at the bottom of the conference with 4.96 yards per play. The Big 12 average was 6.19 yards per play. Even though KU features one of the Big 12’s top running backs in James Sims, they struggled to move the ball consistently. Hope for 2013: With Jake Heaps at the helm to help keep defenses honest while Sims runs the football, this number could increase this fall.

Kansas State: Only 73.2 percent of the Wildcats’ goal-to-go attempts ended with a touchdown. Even though KSU had a tough physical running game led by Collin Klein, they finished eighth in the Big 12 in this category. The league average was 79.5. Hope for 2013: Klein was very good in pretty much every aspect a year ago but Jake Waters or Daniel Sams -- whoever wins the starting job -- may have better luck in goal-to-go situations.

Oklahoma: The Sooners finished in the Big 12 basement allowing 5.15 yards per rushing attempt. The league average was 4.29 yards allowed per rush. Tavon Austin and Johnny Manziel made it obvious just how susceptible the Sooners’ rush defense was in 2012 with huge games against OU late in the season. Hope for 2013: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has vowed to utilize his linebackers better with an eye on putting the Sooners in better position to stop the run.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys intercepted only 2 percent of pass attempts (11 total interceptions) against their defense. It’s a staggering number considering opponents attempted 544 passes. The league average was 3.1 percent. Hope for 2013: If Justin Gilbert returns to his sophomore form (five interceptions), that would be a terrific first step. The Cowboys also need to turn up their pass rush with an eye on forcing mistakes from opposing quarterbacks.

Texas: Even though the Longhorns have had a backfield full of talented running backs, UT averaged just 4.53 yards per rush, eighth in the Big 12. The league average was 4.67 yards per rush. Only Iowa State and TCU were worse than UT and OSU paced the conference at 5.29. Hope for 2013: The names Johnathan Gray, Joe Bergeron, Daje Johnson and Malcolm Brown provide plenty of hope. Add in a revamped offensive line and it’s hard to imagine this number not improving.

TCU: The Horned Frogs’ drives ended in a three-and-out 36.9 percent of the time last season. TCU had well documented struggles at the quarterback position which led to this number as Trevone Boykin tried to get comfortable at the position. The Big 12 average was 27.8. Hope for 2013: Casey Pachall’s return should help along with a deeper group of running backs and a couple of talented transfers (JaJuan Story, Josh Doctson) at receiver.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders finished with a minus-60 points off turnover margin, putting them at the bottom of the Big 12. The conference average was 24 and only Oklahoma and Kansas joined Texas Tech in negative figures. Hope for 2013: Simply put, Texas Tech needs to do a much better job creating turnovers. They finished No. 118 in the nation with just 11 turnovers forced in 2012. Expect the Red Raiders to try to be more opportunistic in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers allowed 9.38 net yards per pass attempt. That’s never a good sign when facing the explosive passing attacks the Big 12 brings to the table. It’s easy to see why WVU finished last in the conference in that category and points allowed per game. Hope for 2013: New defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is bringing a simplified, 3-4 attacking defense to the table with an eye on slowing Big 12 offenses better than the Mountaineers did in 2013.