It's only March and we're already half way through the BCS leagues. This week, we'll examine the Big 12 and what to expect from that conference in the fall.
This first paragraph will explain how SDPI is calculated. So if you want the meat of this article skip on down. In the 2009 Big 12 regular season, conference play only, championship games excluded, the average Big 12 team gained and allowed 2926.917 yards. The standard deviation for yards gained (offense) was 419.36 yards. The standard deviation for yards allowed (defense) was 507.96 yards. Colorado gained 2352 yards and allowed 2721 yards. Their offensive SDPI was -1.37 = [(2721-2926.917)/419.36]. Their defensive SDPI was 0.41 = [(2926.917-2721)/507.96]. Their total SDPI was -0.97. This number ranked 10th in the Big 12.
To refresh your memory, here are the 2009 Big 12 standings.
Now here are the 2009 Big 12 SDPI standings. The standings are sorted by division by total SDPI with ranking for each category (out of 12 teams) in parentheses.The actual standings and the SDPI standings are a little misalligned. In the North, Missouri rates as the best team, despite the fact that Nebraska beat them on the field and in the standings. Elsewhere in the North, Iowa State ranks as the worst team (by far), yet they qualified for a bowl game, while Colorado and Kansas finished below them in the standings. In fact, the middle-four teams in the division (Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, and Colorado) were separated by only half a standard deviation. In the South, Oklahoma rated out as the best team, despite losing outright to both Texas Tech and Texas. Speaking of the Red Raiders, they rate as the second best team in the league, but they are always overvalued by SDPI because of the type of offense they run. We'll see if that continues with the changes at head coach.
Best Offense: Texas Tech 1.52
In an interesting twist, the Red Raiders were held in check only once in Big 12 play, when they were held to 259 total yards against Nebraska (worst since a loss to TCU in 2006). Nebraska featured the 2nd best defense in the Big 12. Against the league's best defense (Oklahoma), the Red Raiders rolled up 549 yards. Perhaps venue had a little something to do with that. The Nebraska game was in Lincoln, while the game against the Sooners came in Lubbock.
Worst Offense: Nebraska -1.60
The Cornhuskers gained over 400 yards only once in conference play, versus Kansas. They were held below 300 yards 6 times in league play. In the Big 12 Championship Game, the offense was what prevented the Huskers from shaking up the BCS standings, as they wasted a great defensive performance by gaining 106 total yards!
Best Defense: Oklahoma 1.29
Outside of the aforementioned game against Texas Tech, the Sooners held their Big 12 foes in check. Kansas (305) and Kansas State (364) were the only other Big 12 teams to gain over 300 yards against the Sooners defense.
Worst Defense: Texas A&M -1.50
The Aggies defense kept them from enjoying a sensational season as they featured the 2nd best offense in the league. Only Baylor (297) and Iowa State (324) failed to gain over 400 yards against the Aggies in Big 12 play.
What's in Store for Next Year?
Just as a duumvirate has emerged in the South Division with Texas and Oklahoma, I have a feeling the same is well on its way to occurring in the North. Nebraska and Missouri have won the past 4 North Division titles, and since Nebraska's resurrection began under Bo Pelini in 2008, the Tigers and Huskers are a combined 14-2 against the rest of the Big 12 North, with the average win coming by more than 2 touchdowns (16.9 points per game). Missouri is set in the backfield with cannon-armed quarterback Blaine Gabbert and running back Derrick Washington, but the Tigers lose Gabbert's favorite target, receiver Danario Alexander, who hauled in 113 balls last season. The Tigers will also be without the services of do-it-all linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. The Huskers will be more limited on offense, but should improved upon their dismal showing from last season. The defense, even with the loss of superstar defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, should once again be one of the Big 12's best. Couple the still strong defense with minor improvements on offense and the venue of this year's clash (Lincoln, Nebraska), and Nebraska should be the odds on favorite heading into 2010. The other 4 teams in the division, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State should not pose a serious threat to either Nebraska or Missouri. However, at least one, and perhaps two of the four will be participating in the bowl season. Colorado was a trendy sleeper last season, and the university's financial trouble could be a godsend for embattled coach Dan Hawkins. In most other economic climates, Hawkins would have been axed after a 4th straight losing season in 2009. However, Colorado couldn't afford his buyout, and Hawkins is around for year 5. I don't know that Colorado is a sleeper, but the Buffs were much better than a team that won only 2 league games. The defense was actually solid last season, and with only 4 starters gone, should remain the strength of the team. Colorado won't set the Big 12 afire in 2010, but with a little luck, Hawkins should have his first winning season in Boulder. Whether or not that's grounds for remaining employed is not up to me. Of the other 3 schools, Kansas State has the next best shot at getting to a bowl. In Bill Snyder's first year back in Manhattan, the Wildcats went from the worst defense in the Big 12 to merely below average. The offense, despite the loss of 1st round pick Josh Freeman, stayed about the same. Like Colorado, the Wildcats shouldn't be a legitimate threat to the top teams in the conference, but should only need to corral 3 league wins to get to the postseason. Iowa State was a great story last season, as only a madman or genius would have picked them to go to a bowl after an 0-8 Big 12 season in 2008. However, statistically, the 2009 bowl-winning Cyclones were a shade worse than their 0-fer Big 12 play 2008 incarnation. The difference was close games (3-2 in one-score games in 2009 after going 0-4 in such games in 2008) and turnovers (+8 in Big 12 play in 2009 and -2 in 2008). The Cyclones won't go winless in the Big 12 in 2010, but I wouldn't pencil them in for postseason play either. Kansas should compete with the Cyclones for the cellar in the North. Kansas is under new management with Turner Gill taking the reigns from Mark Mangino. Unfortunately, Gill will not have the services of 3 key skill position players that helped the Jayhawks win the Orange Bowl in 2007 (quarterback Todd Reesing, running back Jake Sharp, and receiver Kerry Meier). This will likely be a rebuilding year in Lawrence.
I'm not gonna come up with any ground-breaking predictions for the Big 12 South. For the 100th straight year (actually just the 12th) either Oklahoma or Texas will win the division. Oklahoma should be the odds on favorite for several reasons. Statistically, the Sooners had both a better offense and defense than Texas in 2009. Oklahoma was done in by poor luck in close games (1-4 in one-score contests) and an average turnover margin (even in Big 12 play). Meanwhile, Texas won both their one-score games, and featured a fabulous turnover margin (+11 in Big 12 play). Texas also scored 11 non-offensive touchdowns to Oklahoma's 4. Those other facets of play all help to win football games, but unfortunately for Texas, they are also not as consistent year-to-year as outperforming your opponent on a down-by-down basis. Another big reason to like the Sooners in 2010 is that their quarterback was thrown into the fire last season. Following Sam Bradford's injury in the season opener against BYU, Landry Jones threw passes in each game save one (Baylor). He learned on the job, and also performed well overall (130.82 passer rating ranked 52nd nationally), though he did have a few stinkers in the Sooners losses (3 touchdown passes and 8 picks in the 5 games the Sooners lost). Texas also had their quarterback get some crucial on the job training, but unfortunately it came in the BCS National Championship Game after Colt McCoy was knocked out early. Garret Gilbert had an uneven performance against one of the best defenses in the nation, and he probably won't face any circumstances as dire as that game in his college career. Still, the Sooners have a decided edge at perhaps the most important position. Elsewhere in the South, Oklahoma State enjoyed yet another solid campaign under Mike Gundy, posting one of their best defensive performances in recent memory. It's a true shame Dez Bryant only got to play in 3 games before the NCAA kicked him to the curb, as the accomplishments in Stillwater could have been historic. Without him, the offense was only 7th in the Big 12, and the Cowboys proved to be paper tigers against the more elite teams they faced. A downturn is sure to ensue after the Cowboys bid adieu to 8 starters on defense and the school's all-time leading passer in Zac Robinson. Texas Tech will be a team everyone has their eye on in 2010. Can Tommy Tuberville maintain the pace set by Mike Leach at a football outpost in Lubbock? Tuberville is a fine coach, but Mike Leach did some amazing things in his decade-long run at Tech. Texas A&M will also be an interesting team to watch. They were certainly the epitome of an unbalanced team in 2009. Their offense, behind quarterback Jerrod Johnson, was 2nd in the Big 12, but their defense was dead last. The defense loses only one significant contributor, but again, it was dead last. If the offense can at least somewhat resemble their 2009 form and the defense can become bad instead of awful, the Aggies could be a proverbial darkhorse in 2010. And finally, Baylor will attempt to qualify for their first bowl game since joining the Big 12. The Bears do have a stud in quarterback Robert Griffin, who was sidelined in the 3rd game last season with a torn ACL. If he returns to form, the Bears will have a puncher's chance of picking up some wins against the Big 12 underbelly (Kansas, Kansas St, and Texas A&M all come to Waco), and could play in their first bowl game since 1994.