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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Offense in the BCS Conferences

Ever wondered how the various BCS conferences compare to each other in terms of scoring? Is the Big 12 really that much more high-scoring than the other conferences? Are points really at a premium in the SEC? To answer those questions, I examined every conference game in the six BCS conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10/12, and SEC) since 2005. In order to get what I felt was a more accurate assessment of scoring, instead of looking at total points which can be impacted by field goal accuracy and defensive and special team touchdowns, I looked solely at offensive touchdowns scored. The range from lowest to highest scoring conference was pretty high, with the average ACC conference game in 2006 seeing just 4.23 offensive touchdown per game (roughly 2.1 per team) to the 2008 Big 12 which saw an average of 8.5 offensive touchdowns per conference game. Below, I have plotted the course for each conference in terms of the average number of offensive touchdowns scored per conference game from 2005-2012, with some commentary spliced in. Enjoy.

The ACC was actually the impetus for this research. Anecdotally, it appeared to me ACC games were more high-scoring in the last few seasons, and lo and behold, I was correct. Why was the ACC so offensively challenged from 2005-2008? For starters, only two ACC quarterbacks (Charlie Whitehurst out of Clemson and Matt Ryan out of Boston College) were drafted during that span. Meanwhile, in the past two drafts, the ACC has had four quarterbacks taken (Christian Ponder out of Florida State, TJ Yates out of North Carolina, Tyrod Taylor our of Virginia Tech, and Russell Wilson out of NC State/Wisconsin) in the draft with two likely to be selected this April (Mike Glennon out of NC State and EJ Manuel out of Florida State). The recent addition of Chad Morris and his up-tempo offense at Clemson as well as the hire of an offensive-minded coach like Larry Fedora at North Carolina has helped fuel the increase in scoring in the ACC.

Despite the turnover, amongst its coaches, and more recently amongst its teams, the Big East has been remarkably consistent scoring wise. I find it interesting that the league did not reach its scoring peak when Rich Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino were coaching in the league (both coached in 2005 and 2006), but rather in the final year of the Brian Kelly-era at Cincinnati in 2009.

The addition of Nebraska has not dramatically affected the scoring levels in the Big 10. Scoring has decreased by a negligible amount in the two seasons the Huskers have been in the conference, but that has more to do with the turmoil surrounding Ohio State (2011) and the attrition at Illinois and Wisconsin (2012). The most interesting Big 10 season was probably 2007 when eight of the conferences eleven teams scored between 22 and 26 offensive touchdowns (2.75 to 3.25 per game).

 The Big 12 has a reputation as being the most offensively friendly conference, and the numbers seem to back up that conclusion. The Big 12 has finished with the most offensive touchdowns per conference game in five of the past eight seasons, and have never finished below fourth. You probably remember the 2008 season as the year Oklahoma scored over 700 points. In Big 12 play that season, the Sooners averaged 7.25 offensive touchdowns per game.

In 2005, behind the juggernaut Trojans and solid offensive seasons at Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, and UCLA, the Pac-10 featured the most offense in the nation. The next season with most of those players gone, only the ACC was less conducive to offense. Notice how the Pac-10/12 has been steadily climbing since Chip Kelly took the reigns at Oregon?

Like the Big 12, the SEC conforms to its stereotype. The SEC has finished with the worst offensive numbers (or best defensive numbers depending on your point of view) in three of the past eight seasons, and has finished in the top-half of BCS conferences in offensive touchdowns just once (in 2007 when they finished second). While going through these numbers, I noticed something that gave me even more respect for the 2008 Florida team. In the 2008 SEC season, conference games featured just over five combined offensive touchdowns per game (5.13). Florida scored 44 touchdowns in their eight league games (an average of 5.5) meaning they scored more than double what the average SEC team did that season!


  1. 8.5 offensive TDs/game in the Big 12 in 2008! That's almost 30 points/game/team without FGs and non-offensive TDs. And then 5.6 in 2009? The Bradford Effect?

  2. That and I think 3/5ths of his Fortress of Solitude O-line moved on after the 2008 season. Let's not put all the blame at the feet of Landry Jones. :)

    1. Fortress of Solitude: Does that make Bradford Superman? And BYU is Lex Luther? Is Landry Jones Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen ( ?

      I would never put the blame at Landry Jones' feet, I'd put it at the end of that porn-stache. I remember Colt wasn't as good that year either.

  3. If not Luthor, BYU certainly was his Kryptonite. I think Landry would be super-boy, primarily because the Sooners never did live up to expectations with him, and certainly also because of his filthy stache.