There’s never been more of a premium placed on scoring in college football than there is heading into the 2015 season. Scoring is up in virtually every conference from five years ago; the figures from a decade ago may as well be sepia-toned relics.
And while the antiquated refrain that “defense wins championships” might hold validity, scoring most certainly breeds success, too. The top three teams last season in the Associated Press’ top 25 rankings—Ohio State, Oregon, TCU — ranked in the top five in points per play. Every team save for Western Kentucky and Georgia Southern (non-power conference teams) that finished in the top 10 in scoring also ended the season ranked.
With the influx of quick-strike offenses and teams shattering all-time single-season records in scoring, it’s worth noting and tacitly understood that no single conference has pushed the offensive envelope and decimated opposing defenses like the Pacific 12. It’s no surprise that it had the top bowl-season record among Power conferences (6-3) last season, with Stanford and Utah winning by a combined 59 points.
So what is it about the conference that breeds scoring, and why should we expect it to continue moving forward?
For starters, the conference can thank the Oregon Ducks. It was the Ducks, whose fans booed officials for not moving the chains fast enough in a 2010 game, that caused those around them to raise the scoring bar. At that point, the Ducks had fine-tuned the nation’s quickest and most potent offense, striking in less than a minute. Over the past seven years, the Ducks have simultaneously finished higher than 100th in time of possession once (99th, in 2012) and have yet to drop lower than seventh in scoring. Other teams in the conference also began playing more no-huddle offense, quickening the tempo to stay afloat.
The Pac-12 has had at least three teams finish in the top 20 in scoring each of the past three seasons after it hadn’t achieved that since 2005. The same conference that finished fifth among power conferences in scoring in 2009 has led the nation in scoring the past two seasons. Since 2000, the Pac-12 has consistently scored at a higher rate than the national average, while calling more combined offensive plays. Last season, it led the country with 446.24 total offensive yards per game, a figure 40 yards higher than the national average.
Moreover, with the conference seeing a spike in teams embracing up-tempo, spread offensive schemes, passing has taken precedence. Since 2011, the conference has consistently ranked above the national average in pass yards per game as well as completion percentage. Meanwhile, the conference has had fewer rush attempts when compared to the national average each of the past four seasons.
Although Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and UCLA QB Brett Hundley have departed for the NFL and Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday continues to try out for teams, the conference returns plenty of talent in 2015. California quarterback Jared Goff (fifth in the nation in total passing yards), USC’s Cody Kessler (11th), and Arizona’s Anu Solomon (12th) all return, as does five of the conference’s top 10 receivers from 2014.
With the conference having improved its scoring rate to well above the national standard—33.3 points per compared to 29.5—there’s little reason to suggest scoring figures will taper off in 2015. In fact, there’s more reason to believe this season could be a banner year for the conference’s offenses.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.