Non-Conference Drive Stats

The four-team playoff augments the importance of how leagues compare with one another. It's probable that the elevated importance of non-conference success forced Jim Delany to make this political statement regarding the Big Ten's notable struggles against power leagues:

In the three primetime games, we didn't win any. That's disappointing. I would say this: I said they would be disproportionately impactful but I didn't say they would be dispositive. We're not feeling very good but the facts are the facts. I would just say with 50 percent of the nonconference games and 100 percent of conference games remaining, it's premature to make any judgments. - Jim Delany on September 8th (Rittenberg, 2014)

The Tableau Viz I'm sharing provides an interactive chart that measures eleven separate statistics. These statistics include the following measurements:

  • Starting Field Position
  • Rushing Yards per Play
  • Passing Yards per Play
  • Yards per Play
  • Rushing Yards Percentage (Rushing Yards ÷ Available Yards)
  • Passing Yards Percentage (Passing Yards ÷ Available Yards)
  • Yards Percentage {(Passing Yards + Rushing Yards) ÷ Available Yards}
  • Punt Percentage
  • Effective Turnover Percentage (Downs + Fumbles Lost + Interceptions + Safeties) / Drives
  • Touchdown Percentage
  • Efficiency (Points per Drive × 10)

These statistics only account for plays and drives that can be classified as statistically significant. This exclusively accounts for games against FBS foes. Please reference this glossary to better understand the definitions for these statistics and the criteria for statistical significance.

Please click on the interactive Tableau Viz below for further analysis:

Here are a few relevant observations:

  • The ACC continues to improve as a conference. They went 22-22 in 2010, 21-22 in 2011, 18-23 in 2012, 30-21 in 2013, and they have posted 15-5 record in 2014. This improvement has coincided with improvements in the these categories:
    • Rushing Yards Gained per Play
    • Rushing Yards Allowed per Play
    • Percentage of Rushing Yards Gained
    • Percentage of Rushing Yards Allowed
    • Defensive Punt Percentage
    • Offensive Effective Turnover Percentage
    • Offensive Touchdown Percentage
    • Offensive Efficiency
  • Big 12 teams largely play defense primarily out of sub-packages with the idea that the use of undersized personnel will be more capable of thwarting spread offenses. This may partially explain why the league's defenses have allowed the lowest passing yards per play and percentage of available yards passing. FYI, pass plays include sacks.
  • Big Ten programs have historically prided themselves on their defense, but their defensive performance as a conference has been largely indistinguishable from the Big 12 over the past five seasons. Despite Jim Delany's transparent politicking and considerable influence, the inability to win games against power five conferences will make it extremely difficult for the Big Ten to participate in the playoff. They've outscored opponents by 1.3 points per ten drives in non-conference games this season. If you read Bill's article on the five factors of football success last January, you know how imperative it is to finish drives. Unfortunately for the Big Ten, their net touchdown percentage is only 2.3%. The four other major leagues have posted the following net touchdown percentages thus far:
    • SEC (24.1%)
    • Pac-12 (13.8%)
    • Big 12* (12.4%)
    • ACC (9.0%)
      • * This asterisk denotes that Kansas plays in the Big 12. My alma mater does not score touchdowns. They also struggle to prevent opposing offenses from scoring touchdowns. The athletic department in Lawrence enjoys hiring football coaches who ensure their teams will have a decided mathematical disadvantage.
  • The Pac-12 may be overtaking the Big 12 as the most passing-oriented conference after posting three of the four highest percentages of available yards gained on passes since 2010. Their programs have averaged 7.6 yards per attempt this season. That mark is only behind the SEC's 7.7 yards per attempt last season.
  • SEC programs have averaged 30 points per ten drives while only allowing 13.1 points per ten drives. That partially explains why they have gone 22-2 in games against FBS opponents. The SEC's overwhelming dominance makes it's difficult to imagine a postseason scenario where the league will not have multiple playoff teams. The most dangerous game outside league play for any SEC team in the near future will be played this Thursday when Auburn travels to Kansas State. The most competitive non-conference games beyond that point will likely be played in late November.
  • The SEC continues to distinguish itself by playing exceptional defense. The SEC plays great offense too, but they remain in their own stratosphere defensively. Andy Staples had a great column on this exact topic a few seasons ago. NFL Draft trends clearly reflect this trend. I wrote a blog post following the 2013 draft that examined the topic of southern dominance.
  • The AAC has now won three of its nineteen out-of-league games this season against FBS opponents.
  • The kickoff rules changed in 2012. This change has benefited defensive starting field position.

For those interested, please click on the following links for more drive-based statistics:

These files can also be accessed at my site,

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