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Tramel: Big 12 football efficiency ratings promise a fascinating finish

Berry Tramel

The Big 12 football season hits the homestretch, and if not for the COVID, it would be a wild two weeks, with all kinds of possibilities on the horizon, including at least five teams in the running for a berth in the Arlington championship game. 

Of course, if not for COVID, we wouldn’t be in the homestretch. We’d be home, awaiting the Big 12 title game.

But if you can see past the pandemic, some of the remaining matchups are fascinating, as shown by the Big 12 efficiency ratings.

West Virginia has an excellent defense. Its rating of .175 is fantastic. But the Mountaineers are scheduled to finish the season with Iowa State (Saturday) and OU (December 12), and the Cyclones and Sooners represent not just the two best offenses in the conference, but the two best offenses by a mile.

The OSU defense has been torched the last two weeks, against OU and Texas Tech, but finishes against lower-division offenses TCU and Baylor, and the Cowboys could post a defensive efficiency number that indeed shows tremendous progress under coordinator Jim Knowles.

As Texas apparently ponders a coaching change, the Longhorns, which this week have two lost cornerstone players to indifference, finish with Kansas State and Kansas. UT’s efficiency ratings belie a 5-3 team. The Longhorns have played like a .500 team. Games against Texas Tech, TCU, OU, OSU, West Virginia and Iowa State all went to the wire. The ‘Horns were 3-3 in those games.

Remember, I gauge offenses on how often they score. Touchdowns are full credit, field goals are half credit, and they are divided by number of possessions. Same with defenses’ opposition.

Here are the rankings:

1. Oklahoma .494: Playing well is no longer the Sooners’ problem. Just playing at all is OU’s prime directive.

2. Iowa State .447: The Cyclones have become this year’s Tech or OSU -- the only offense that can mostly keep up with OU.

3. Texas .330: The difference between the top two offenses and the rest of the pack is stunning. With this number, I’m hard-pressed to accept Sam Ehlinger as the all-Big 12 quarterback. It has to be OU’s Spencer Rattler or ISU’s Brock Purdy. Probably Rattler.

4. Texas Tech .316: You could slice out the Tech efficiency ratings by quarterback, since the Red Raiders have used both Alan Bowman and Henri Colombi. I don’t have to drill down completely, but a quick observation shows that Bowman has been the more effective QB, and that’s going all the way against OSU and much of the game against Iowa State. So it’s not like Colombi had to do all the heavy lifting against the best defenses.

5. Oklahoma State .313: The Cowboys are just average offensively. Middle of the road in the Big 12. That 50-44 victory over Tech on Saturday included two non-offensive touchdowns, plus a safety. OSU’s offense scored five touchdowns in 14 possessions, which is good (not great) production in general but is just average against Tech. 

6. West Virginia .299: The Mountaineer offense finishes against Big 12 defenses ranked second (ISU) and fifth (OU) in the league. Tough test.

7. TCU .291: Here’s why you should always look past the final score. The Horned Frogs beat Kansas 59-23, and while we know it’s KU, we also said, that’s what a good offense should do to the Jayhawks? But TCU had three returns for touchdowns -- kickoff, interception, fumble. Take those away, and TCU’s offense underperformed 

8. Kansas State .280: I like KSU coach Chris Klieman. I think he was a home-run hire for the Wildcats. But the 32-31 loss at Baylor was Klieman. Three times in the second half, Baylor cut KSU’s lead to two points. The first two times, Klieman’s offense was free-wheeling, and the Wildcats scored two quick touchdowns. But the final time, KSU took possession up 31-29 with 4:16 left. And sat on the ball. Two straight handoffs up the middle, then a third-and-long incompletion. Baylor went down and kicked the game-winning field goal.

9. Baylor .273: The Bears’ offense is getting better. A rating of .323 the last three games, against Iowa State, Tech and K-State.

10. Kansas .136: Maybe the Jayhawks are building. It’s hard to care.

Defense

1. West Virginia .175: Seems unlikely that the Mountaineers will finish No. 1 in defense, if they have to play Iowa State and OU.

2. Iowa State .231: The Cyclones have just one game left, against West Virginia, which means this number is close to the final number. Iowa State plays strong defense. 

3. Oklahoma State .271: The Cowboy defense wasn’t very good against Tech, but cut it a little slack. Tech had 17 offensive possessions. In eight years of chronicling Big 12 efficiency, that’s the second-highest number of possessions that I remember.

4. TCU .278: Makes for an interesting game in Fort Worth on Saturday. OSU and TCU defenses have been quite similar, with the Cowboys having a small margin of better offense.

5. Oklahoma .287: Playing West Virginia and Baylor to end the season, the Sooners can bring down this number even more. The Alex Grinch progress is legit.

6. Baylor .313: Here’s what’s crazy about this COVID season. It’s December, and neither Oklahoma team has played Baylor. I’m a Big 12 addict, so I’ve seen the Bears quite a bit -- I watched all of Baylor-KSU and parts of some other Bear games -- but many Oklahomans haven’t spotted the green and gold all year.  

7. Kansas State .319: If you watch Kansas State and then you watch Texas, you say, no way could the Wildcats hang with the Longhorns. But KSU has a slightly better defense. It could be a good game.

8. Texas .335: Tom Herman’s change of coordinators -- former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash is running the UT defense, former OSU coordinator Mike Yurcich is running the UT offense -- has not worked out well.

9. Texas Tech .388: Strange. Tech’s defensive rating dropped from .393 after a 50-44 loss in Stillwater.

10. Kansas .484: Strange. KU’s defensive rating dropped from .494 after a 59-23 loss to TCU.

These numbers can be used to give us a ballpark estimate on what the weekend games could hold, averaging offensive efficiency with the opposing defensive efficiency and dividing by the average number of possessions. Here are the games this weekend:

Oklahoma at Baylor: Sooners 34-24. Could be closer than everyone expects.

Oklahoma State at TCU: Cowboys 27-25. Should be a nail-biter all the way.

West Virginia at Iowa State: Cyclones 26-21. Can the Mountaineers keep it this close?

Texas at Kansas State: Longhorns 28-26. I wouldn’t be betting a lot of money on Texas.

Kansas at Texas Tech: Red Raiders 38-24. Probably will be a much higher spread. This metric doesn’t project epic blowouts.