Are Fast-Paced College Football Teams More Successful?
Art Briles' Baylor Bears. Gary Patterson's TCU Horned Frogs. Mark Helfrich's Oregon Ducks.
Over the last two years, what do these programs have in common? They have fast, no-huddle, spread offenses and have been winning games and scoring a crazy number of points.
How crazy? See for yourself.
Last year, these three teams ranked first, second and third in points per game, respectively. They also ranked 1st, 10th and 37th in plays per game.
More importantly, dating back to the beginning of last year the three have combined for 50 wins. A year ago, Oregon finished as the national runner-up in the first ever College Football Playoff while Baylor and TCU had pretty legitimate beefs for their own spots in the four-team playoff as well.
It's safe to say that these three teams have been the most successful college football teams with high-paced, spread offenses.
Don't let the numbers above fool you though -- Oregon is just 3-3 this year. And yes I know, Ohio State had a great offense last year and won the national title, but this year has been a different story. They're averaging 68.8 plays per game (the national average is 71.6), are 26th in points per game (36.8) and haven't looked in sync at all so far this season.
On the other hand, Ohio State fans shouldn't be too worried. Outside of Baylor and TCU, there haven't been many high-paced offenses enjoying success this season.
Of the seven teams averaging over 80 plays per game, just four (West Virginia, Houston, Indiana and Bowling Green) have a positive nERD. Of those four teams, only two (West Virginia and Houston) crack the top 30 in our power rankings. For those of you unfamiliar, nERD is our in-house metric that measures overall team efficiency. It estimates a team's score differential against a league-average team on a neutral field.
The win/loss records agree with the metrics. So far this season, the seven highest-paced offenses have combined for a record of 21-11 and a win percentage of 65.6%. That's not really awful or anything but winning just under two-thirds of your games won't get you in contention for a title.
Houston and West Virginia have good enough defenses, but maybe teams like Tulsa, Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Indiana and Washington State should slow it down a little.
According to our numbers, each of these teams are in the bottom half of the nation in adjusted rush yards allowed per carry. Bowling Green is the stoutest run defense, surrendering 4.37 adjusted yards per rush -- and that's saying something.
Washington State and Cincinnati have decent pass defenses, but the other three teams give up at least 7.51 adjusted yards per pass play, which amounts to what is a bottom-30 pass defense.
Tulsa is in a league of its own though. The Golden Hurricane boast the nation's fastest pace (92.2 plays per contest), but their defense suffers as a result. They are continually assaulted through the air and on the ground as they allow 8.17 adjusted yards per pass and 5.72 adjusted rush yards per attempt. The latter is horrific enough for fifth-worst in all of college football.
That shouldn't come as a surprise. Tulsa edges out other high-paced teams like Texas Tech, Oregon and Bowling Green for tops the nation in plays against per game. That's not where you want your defense to be.
So what points to these teams enjoying any more success if they would ever decide to slow down their offensive attack?
Plain and simple -- the numbers.
Like I alluded to above, only West Virginia and Houston crack the top 30 of our power rankings. They're the only two teams there with a pace over 80 plays per game, and the Mountaineers are the only of their kind to make it into the top 10.
The rest of the top 30 are made up of teams who average between 61.5 and 79.8 plays per game. The average of the top 10 teams is 74.0, which is 2.4 plays above the national average. So really the Tulsa-like teams, even your Texas Techs and Oregons of 2015 could aim for just above average. If they could slow it down a little and give their mediocre defenses a chance to rest, their efficiency numbers could creep closer to numbers the top teams are displaying this year.
The average adjusted rush yards allowed per rush is 3.2 (which would rank 19th in the country), and no single team among them gives up more than 4.66 adjusted yards per rush. More notably, their average adjusted pass yards per play is 4.6 (which would rank 17th).
Teams trying to replicate the Baylors, TCUs and Oregons of the college football world shouldn't. They, unlike the imitators, are the exception.
The numbers suggest teams should slow it down in order to perform more efficiently -- particularly on defense.
Sometimes, slow and steady does win the race.