Category Archives: Big 12 Football

Now this is optimism.

Kansas State announces a 5-year contract extension for its 78-year old head coach.

That ought to take care of those negative rumors on the recruiting trail for a while.

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Filed under Big 12 Football

Just tryin’ to help, Kirby.

This is getting amusing.  Apparently losing to Georgia in the postseason gives Big 12 coaches a unique perspective on the problems the Dawgs would face if they played in that conference full time.

Cue the Gary Patterson keen observation.

Cue my smart ass response.

I’m sure Kirby appreciates the advice.

12 Comments

Filed under Big 12 Football, Georgia Football

All Riley-ed up

Okay, okay… it’s the dead part of the offseason and bloggers gotta blog, y’all.  Even with that as a backdrop, it turns out Allen Kenney, Ian Boyd and I are having a nice, three-cornered hat type of discussion arising from you know what.

Let’s break that down one last time.  Kanell is critical of a general perception about Big 12 defenses getting a bum rap because of the unique challenge posed by Big 12 offensive scheming and suggests that good defense should be defined differently based on conference settings.  Invited to respond, Riley suggests that the challenge posed by Big 12 offenses is unique, a challenge to which Georgia’s defense would inevitably succumb were it suddenly immersed in Big 12 play.  I’ll get back to that in just a sec.

Riley acknowledges the existence of “some” excellent Big 12 defenses, which by extension, I presume, means that there were others not so excellent.  A look at Bill Connelly’s defensive S&P+ ratings bears that out, as only TCU and Texas merit spots in the top 25.  (Iowa State, which Riley also mentions, finished a quite credible 32nd.)  The bulk of the conference is 70th or worse.  Defensive S&P+ is supposed to be relatively conference-free, context-wise, so that begs the question of how grounded in reality Riley’s assertion that defenses forced to play Big 12 offenses should be judged on their unique context is.

And this is where things start getting all twisty-turny for me.  Here, for example, is something Allen writes that would seem to undercut Riley’s argument:

None of what Riley said negates the reality that a large portion of Big 12 defenses are bad. Case in point, the Sooners.

In a sardonic sense, I have to admit the funniest part of this entire kerfuffle to me is the number of times I read or heard people making detours into extrapolating what the Bulldogs’ offensive mauling of OU meant. UGA lit up the Sooners’ defense… just like six or seven teams did in conference play.

OU’s defense was objectively poor last season. Riley himself has coachspeaked some semblance of that sentiment on multiple occasions since the season ended. (He even did it in response to a question during the same interview in which he made his comments about Georgia’s defense.)

In fact, it’s strange to me that Riley’s comments are being read in some corners as an argument that OU’s defense was better than it looked. There is not one word about that in his response. Notably, he brought up other Big 12 teams’ defenses – TCU and Iowa St. – as examples of quality units, but there was no mention of his own.

There are probably more bad defenses in the Big 12 than there are good ones. That shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Again, Riley was talking about how to identify the good ones.

I’m not sure I agree with that last sentence there; my perception of Riley’s comments is that he was arguing that Big 12 defenses — all Big 12 defenses — have to be judged differently from how the conventional wisdom tends to judge them.  That’s why he threw Georgia out as an example to make his point.

In other words, while we already have some idea of how to evaluate defenses, even if imperfectly, via advanced stats like defensive S&P+, Riley is attempting to make a bigger case with his “consistency and challenge” point, which is about the Big 12 as a whole, something more universal than Allen seems willing to accept.  (I agree with Allen, for what it’s worth.)

The other part of this conversation I want to introduce comes from Ian Boyd’s post yesterday in response to something I wrote yesterday.  (I said this was three-cornered.)  Ian is a far better Xs-and-Os analyst than I’ll ever hope to be, and I’ll certainly defer to his expertise on the Big 12, given his vastly greater familiarity, so when he writes,

As a Texas guy who’s watched the Longhorns languish the entire decade due to self-made problems while the league’s reputation and leverage across the sport has declined, I’ve got a fairly good view of what exactly the Big 12 is and what it isn’t.

It isn’t the SEC, the passion level and interest isn’t there, the investment isn’t there, and the talent isn’t there. Something this decade has made pretty clear is that when Texas or Oklahoma aren’t good enough to snag the blue chip recruits within Texas, those players don’t then say “we’ll, maybe I’ll give TCU or Baylor a look.” I mean some of the wide receivers have, sure, or the occasional Andrew Billings or other 4-star dude, but the majority of them are instead looking out of state to go to LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame, Stanford, or whoever else is offering something comparable to a Texas or OU offer when Texas and OU are on top.

In particular, the SEC has a massive demographic advantage over the B12 which tends to manifest in the SEC having a much larger supply of 250+ pound plus athletes to man their DL. They also tend to have better athletes on the OL and more freak athletes in general.

The SEC generally plays better football than the Big 12, but not really because of tactics or other factors but because of superior resources and talent.

… I’m not inclined to argue.  He goes on to make the point that the Big 12 attempts to make up for the talent disparity through a combination of reliance on experience and coaching innovation.  It’s a making lemonade out of lemons argument (one that, by the way, is something I consider to be one of college football’s great strengths), but, again, it’s not relevant to Riley’s point that Big 12 offenses in general operate as a leveler of college football defenses.  That’s why I made the snarky comment that concluded my post, which presumably led Ian to write,

It’s silly for the SEC and their fans to sit back and laugh at the Big 12 all the while stealing all of their tactical innovations, it just is.

I’m not laughing at the Big 12.  I do think Riley is guilty of a fair amount of exaggeration, though.  (I should probably mention the irony of citing theft of the Big 12’s tactical innovations in the context of Riley being a branch of the Air Raid coaching tree, which received its P5 planting at Kentucky.  But I digress.)

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in Boyd’s post, so take a minute to read it in its entirety.  That being said, I’m going to circle around to what I still think is my bottom line in discussing Riley’s answer, from a post of a few days ago.

I hate to be like this, but the idea that “any team would struggle with the consistency and challenge you do week in and week out in this league” is as indefensible for the Big 12 as it is for any P5 conference (and, yes, that includes the SEC, unless you think I’m totally off base about the greatness of Arkansas and Vanderbilt, for example).

No conference is close to being the way Riley describes, not the Big 12, not the SEC.  So that’s one thing.

Another consideration from Ching that’s spot on is this:

… Defending a Big 12 offense is different from defending an SEC offense, although the groups have grown more similar in recent years.

Georgia’s defense is constructed to face bigger opponents who are physical along the line of scrimmage, as those traits characterize the toughest teams the Bulldogs will meet in conference play. Oklahoma’s is smaller and quicker in order to defend offenses that are generally more likely to spread out their defensive opponents with a wide-open passing attack.

You defend to win the conference you play in.  That’s where everything starts.  If Georgia were in the Big 12, is it that unreasonable to assume Kirby would recruit successfully to build a defense in a way best suited for that type of play?  I sure don’t think so, and that’s a reason I don’t think Riley is being as profound making his point as he thinks he is.

To put it more succinctly,

That’s why I think this whole “it’s the conference, stupid” argument is… well, kinda stupid.  Yeah, there’s a lot of innovation in the Big 12, but it’s not like Georgia’s staff can’t coach a little, either.  To speculate on the hypothetical Riley suggests ultimately is a waste of time, because there’s no way to know how Georgia would tailor its offensive and defensive schemes, although there’s no reason to think Kirby’s recruiting would slow down.

That’s where I’ll leave things, at least until Allen and Ian weigh in again.  Who said the offseason has to be boring?

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Filed under Big 12 Football, Strategery And Mechanics

And we’re back to Lincoln Riley… again.

I really, truly, honestly thought I was done with the Lincoln Riley kerfluffle, but people keep talking about it.

Like Shane Beamer’s coachsplaining, per Seth Emerson ($$):

“I know what he was saying. And he came right back and said that it wasn’t a shot at Georgia, it was a testament to the offenses in that league,” Beamer said. “It’s all about the plays you run, and the more plays that offenses run against you, the worse your stats from a defensive standpoint are going to be. And out there in that league, everybody’s running 80, 90 plays a game. So your defenses are out there for a lot more if they can’t get themselves off the field.

So, now it’s the number of plays that sets Big 12 defenses apart.  Let’s look at the tape, shall we?

TOTAL OFFENSE NUMBER OF PLAYS RUN

  • 7.  Auburn
  • 10.  Oklahoma State
  • 11.  Texas
  • 13.  Texas Tech
  • 17.  Mississippi State
  • 23.  Oklahoma
  • 25.  Georgia
  • 30.  TCU
  • 34.  Texas A&M
  • 39.  Alabama
  • 40.  West Virginia
  • 51.  Missouri
  • 62.  Iowa State
  • 71.  Baylor
  • 77.  LSU
  • 84.  Kansas
  • 103.  Kentucky
  • 109.  Ole Miss
  • 110.  Arkansas
  • 110.  South Carolina
  • 113.  Kansas State
  • 121.  Vanderbilt
  • 125.  Tennessee
  • 128.  Florida

You won’t find a single team on that list that averaged 80+ plays a game last season. Oklahoma State was tops in the Big 12, with about 77.5 plays per game.  Yeah, the bottom of the list is populated by more SEC teams, but most of those didn’t enjoy a postseason experience.  (Florida, by the way, averaged about four more plays a game than did Kansas State.  It’s just that the Gators played two fewer games than KSU did.)  Beamer’s exaggerating, in other words, which makes it hard to accept his rationale.

I await the next explanation eagerly.  (Actually, I don’t, but I expect somebody else is gonna try.)

What I’ll share with you in the meantime is an Ian Boyd post that explores the factors involved in the better defenses in the Big 12.  See if you can catch a difference in approach to how the SEC operates.

Originally I tried to look at this by examining the average star ranking of DL recruits for every team over three years but quickly found that there was little to no correlation there either between good defense and star ranking. The consistent problem has been that Texas and OU always recruit the highest ranked players and don’t always play even good defense while TCU rarely recruits competitively ranked players but consistently rank amongst the league’s better units.

Obviously most of the league is clustered around the “we recruit mostly 3-stars and we give up around 30 points (adjusted) a game.”

Iowa State, TCU, and Texas all broke out of the pack and the former two did it with pretty standard talent levels (per rankings) while Texas did it with their usual blue-chip laden roster.

Here’s a look at how these things shook out by experience level.

 

There’s a few interesting things here to note. The first is that things are still mostly clustered this time around the “we play mostly third and fourth year players and give up around 30 points (adjusted) per game.”

There’s a few things on here that both dispel and prove the “talent matters!” perspective. One is that you can see how K-State jumped up above most of the league on the Y-axis by virtue of playing a lot of fifth year seniors so the argument could be made that their higher level of experience negates the recruiting ranking disadvantage. Especially since the 2017 K-State roster included a large number of former 0-stars that were walk-ons.

On the other hand, you can see that Texas was in some sense less experienced than Iowa State or TCU but “made up for it” with talent. However, Texas’ “inexperienced talent” included a ton of third-year players who’d been starting for multiple seasons so the idea that talent overcame a lack of experience isn’t that strong an argument for explaining Texas’ rankings relative to TCU and Iowa State.

The common thread is this, the three teams that played base dime defense (if you count Travin Howard at 210 pounds as a LB/S hybrid) are the teams that broke out of the pack from the rest of the league[Emphasis added.]

Hmmm… so let me see if I’ve got this straight:  experience trumps talent and the most successful base defense has been the dime package.  No wonder the rest of the world fails to appreciate something special about the Big 12’s defensive prowess.

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Filed under Big 12 Football, SEC Football, Strategery And Mechanics

Mama, I got ‘dem cosmic Lincoln Riley, Big 12 defense blues.

Trust me when I tell you my intent behind this post isn’t to club a dead horse.  There’s a point I’ll get to that requires me to journey past that prostate prostrate equine, though.

Riley’s comments inspired a couple of other posts yesterday, one from Ian Boyd that riffed on what Allen Kenney and I wrote about it, and another from David Ching.  Both lead to points that are bigger than the one Riley tried to make in response to Kanell’s question.

Start with Ching:

Aside from the whole thing being a silly conversation, though, Riley’s comments to Kanell might also be incorrect.

“What’s different here is you’re facing those (explosive) offenses every single week. You just don’t have that in any other league,” Riley said. “It’s not that you don’t have good offenses in other leagues – of course you do. You just don’t have the consistency and the challenge that you do week in and week out in this league.”

I’m just not sure the evidence backs up Riley’s statement here. Again, Oklahoma boasted the nation’s best offense last season. The Sooners rank among the best nearly every season. Oklahoma State was also near the top of the leaderboard.

In fact, Oklahoma (8.29 yards per play) and Oklahoma State (7.34) ranked first and fifth nationally last season in yards per play, for my money the best statistical indicator of an offense’s explosiveness. However, they were the only Big 12 offenses to rank in the top 20 in the category. Meanwhile, the SEC had four top-20 teams: Missouri (7.13 ypp), Ole Miss (6.9), Georgia (6.7) and Alabama (6.59).

Both conferences had six offenses rank in the nation’s top 50 in yards per play, and both also had two offenses rank 100th or worse. Pretty even in my book. Outdated, lazy thinking produces the narrative that the Big 12 has somehow cornered the market on innovative offense, while the SEC is playing a brand of football straight out of the 1960s. That is simply no longer the case.

That ties in with a point I made.

I hate to be like this, but the idea that “any team would struggle with the consistency and challenge you do week in and week out in this league” is as indefensible for the Big 12 as it is for any P5 conference (and, yes, that includes the SEC, unless you think I’m totally off base about the greatness of Arkansas and Vanderbilt, for example).

No conference is close to being the way Riley describes, not the Big 12, not the SEC.  So that’s one thing.

Another consideration from Ching that’s spot on is this:

… Defending a Big 12 offense is different from defending an SEC offense, although the groups have grown more similar in recent years.

Georgia’s defense is constructed to face bigger opponents who are physical along the line of scrimmage, as those traits characterize the toughest teams the Bulldogs will meet in conference play. Oklahoma’s is smaller and quicker in order to defend offenses that are generally more likely to spread out their defensive opponents with a wide-open passing attack.

You defend to win the conference you play in.  That’s where everything starts.  If Georgia were in the Big 12, is it that unreasonable to assume Kirby would recruit successfully to build a defense in a way best suited for that type of play?  I sure don’t think so, and that’s a reason I don’t think Riley is being as profound making his point as he thinks he is.

As far as Boyd’s post goes, it led to a Twitter exchange where I made a point that I think is being overlooked by Riley and those who defend what he says, although to be fair, it wasn’t the question Kanell was asking.

Georgia wasn’t great last season because it had a top-five defense.  For one thing, it didn’t have a top-five defense.  What it did have was the best balance between offense, defense and special teams of any national title contender.  Take a look at the final S&P+ rankings to see what I mean.  Georgia finished 14th on offense, 11th on defense and 3rd on special teams.  There wasn’t another team close to that.  Ohio State, for example, ranked better on offense and defense, but was 35th on special teams.  Alabama’s defense was killer, as we know, but the offense finished 23rd and special teams were a pedestrian 52nd.  Clemson, 114th on special teams.  Oklahoma, 71st on special teams, 101st on defense… well, you get the idea.

One of Mark Richt’s flaws that frustrated me consistently was the way he’d fix a problem that plagued his team one year, only to see a new problem emerge that led to another season’s shortcomings.  That didn’t happen last year.  If there’s one thing that should make you optimistic about this team’s future, that’s it, even if it took Lincoln Riley’s comment to make you realize that.

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Filed under Big 12 Football, Georgia Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man

Trust me, you never like it when something you post causes another blogger whom you like to take umbrage.  Such was the case yesterday with my reaction here at the blog to Lincoln Riley’s comment about Georgia’s defense made during his interview with Danny Kanell.

In response to that, Allen Kenney, who publishes the terrific Sooner-centric Blatant Homerism blog and has been gracious enough to have me on his podcasts occasionally, had this more in sorrow than in anger comment about my post:

Bending over backwards far enough to read that as sour grapes from Riley over the Sooners’ loss to Georgia in the Rose Bowl requires superhuman contortion.

Yeah, I’m a little bummed that he’s bummed, especially because I thought we had a pretty good Twitter exchange about Riley’s comments yesterday.

That being said, I do have a few things to say after further thought.  After all, if you can’t make a mountain out of a molehill on the Blogosphere, where can you?  And this really does qualify as such.

To start with, though, I do have one unqualified mea culpa to offer here.  I made the mistake of taking Kanell’s troll bait and reacted without reading the entire give and take surrounding Riley’s observation about the Georgia defense.  That was a mistake, so let’s rectify that by posting the entirety of the Q&A now.

screenshot2018-07-03at5-24-06pm

For Allen, that qualifies as nothing more than an anodyne response about measuring defense in the Big 12 and as such makes all the criticism of Riley’s point about Georgia overwrought.  Me, I look at that and my first thought is now, wait a minute.

Kanell, whose agenda isn’t exactly something he’s been shy about sharing, may have been fishing, but he didn’t mention the SEC, let alone Georgia directly, in his question.  He struck gold when Riley decided to bring that up on his own in his answer.

Further, while some of what Riley says there is what any successful coach would say about the conference his program plays in, some of it is flat-out inaccurate.  Missouri and Auburn, for example, both had success moving the ball on Georgia’s defense last season, something I noted in a tweet in which I also made what I think is a bigger knock on Riley’s argument.

I hate to be like this, but the idea that “any team would struggle with the consistency and challenge you do week in and week out in this league” is as indefensible for the Big 12 as it is for any P5 conference (and, yes, that includes the SEC, unless you think I’m totally off base about the greatness of Arkansas and Vanderbilt, for example).  Oklahoma’s offense was peerless last season, the best in college football, but to try to cloak the rest of the conference in the Sooners’ mantle in that way requires its own kind of contorted thinking.

The Rose Bowl isn’t evidence that Big 12 teams play better defense than they’re given credit for; it’s that Oklahoma’s offense was fantastic and a complete bear to defend.  To use that game as proof of B12 defensive prowess ignores how Georgia was able to roar back from a 17-point deficit against that offense.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I seem to remember hearing a good bit of criticism about Mike Stoops’ performance from Oklahoma fans in the aftermath of the Rose Bowl loss.  That’s a funny way of going about appreciating excellent defense.

Was my sour grapes crack unfair?  Eh, maybe.  I admit I can’t say for sure what’s on Lincoln Riley’s mind.  Maybe he had just come from film study before the interview with Kanell and it was fresh in his head.  Then again, human nature being what it is, maybe losing the biggest game of his coaching career to date in overtime after blowing a large lead has left a little emotional scarring.

There’s also that Riley felt the need to offer clarification after Kanell’s tweet generated the kind of reaction Kanell was hoping for.

Riley offered a measured statement in response, but it was rare, if only because he infrequently, if ever, uses Twitter to defend himself.

“That’s not a shot at Georgia….they were absolutely one of the best defenses last year…it’s a compliment to our league,” he replied directly to FootballScooop.com.

And here’s someone with the audacity to suggest an ulterior motive, one that’s hardly new at Oklahoma.

Would Georgia and Alabama still have dominant defenses in the offense-heavy Big 12? Would Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have prolific offenses in the Southeastern Conference, which annually produces some of the nation’s the top defensive talent? It’s a common debate.

Riley is candid enough to engage in it, taking a page from the book of former OU coach Bob Stoops, who never feared making an argument against what he once called SEC “propaganda” during his tenure. OU still recruits against those schools while trying to upgrade its defense.

And Riley, as an offensive coordinator, is simultaneously selling his style of offense as part of a shifting tide in college football.

Ya’ think?  If I ever were motivated to write a book about college football, I know I’d entitle it In The End, It’s All About The Recruiting.

Riley may not have known much about Kanell’s shtick before yesterday, but I guarantee you he does now.  And that’s probably where I should leave things.

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Filed under Big 12 Football, Georgia Football, Social Media Is The Devil's Playground

“… and then the stars are plucked from the ranks of losers in the great game of blue blood football.”

I don’t know that I always agree with everything Ian Boyd writes, but he’s good at being thought-provoking.  As an example, here’s a piece on how West Virginia’s reliance on transfers to flesh out its roster with higher-rated talent may soon become a model for much of the Big 12.

The spread offense in college creates a similar effect. If you’re a blue chip wideout in the SEC who’s tired of playing second/third string behind other guys while coach yells at you to block more on run plays in the hopes that as a senior you’ll be the single wideout that actually gets the ball…you should transfer to the Big 12. Your chances of playing shoot up, your role simplifies to running routes all the time on RPOs or deep shots, and the offense is set up to allow you to put up huge numbers running choice routes on isolated DBs or quick hitters on conflicted LBs.

If you’re a QB? The West Virginia Air Raid is installed in three days and then the rest of practice is about repping everything and learning to execute the base offense by muscle memory so that you can advance to learning defenses and calling the plays from the line of scrimmage. That’s arguably a better audition AND a better prep for running an NFL offense than even executing a more pro-style approach in terms of the throws but doing so in a more limited fashion and with less autonomy.

What happens, I wonder, to the transfer debate if an entire P5 conference embraces transfers as a means of roster enhancement?

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Filed under Big 12 Football