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Considering perception of the Pac-12

8/13/2013

The general perception of the Pac-12 is that it's a speed -- or finesse, if you're going for a pejorative -- conference with lots of passing and spread offenses and middling defense.

Some of that is reasonable. Nine conference teams run some sort of spread-type offense with an up-tempo component. And there's plenty of speed in the Pac-12.

But the lack of defense has long been overstated. In fact, one could argue the league was more defensively oriented than offensively in 2012 and might be that way again in 2013.

The Big 12 was the big offensive conference last season, with seven of the nation's top 14 offenses, according to ESPN Stats & Information's Expected Points Added (EPA) efficiency metric.

Just two Pac-12 offenses -- No. 3 Oregon and No. 10 Arizona -- ranked in the nation's 15 best, while four from the defensive-minded SEC were in the top 15. Texas A&M played in the Big 12 in 2011.

Meanwhile, four Pac-12 defenses -- No. 4 Stanford, No. 6 Oregon, No. 14 Oregon State and No. 18 Arizona State -- ranked among the top 18 for defensive EPA.

As for 2013, there are more Pac-12 starters back on defense than offense this fall: An average of 7.3 defensive players per team versus 7.1 for offense.

Further, in terms of finesse, the Pac-12 is hardly a conference of undersized linemen. ESPN Stats & Information reviewed the average size of linemen on both sides of the ball, and the Pac-12 ranked second in weight to the SEC. Big 12 offensive linemen were slightly bigger, while Pac-12 defensive linemen joined the SEC as the only league with an average weight of more than 270 pounds.

As for the up-tempo style, the Pac-12 does play fast, though not as fast as the Big 12, which averaged 75 offensive plays per game over the past two seasons. The Pac-12 was second among major conferences with 71.8 plays per game during that span, but that wasn't a stunning number. The national average was 71.5 plays per game.

Yet the Big 12 and Pac-12 aren't pass-first leagues. They are balanced leagues. Since 2004, in just one season -- the Big 12 in 2007 -- has either conference, on average, thrown more than it has run.

In 2008, Pac-12 teams rushed 54.4 percent of the time, the high since 2004. In 2011, the pass-run split was 50-50.

So how can the Pac-12 change negative stereotypes?

Well, for one, most intelligent fans respect the Pac-12 on both sides of the ball, though that won't stop the trash talking, one of the enjoyable aspects of being a fan. But the only way to minimize it is to win nonconference games, bowl games and national championships.