Four weeks into the 2015 season, the oft-maligned Big 12 Conference leads the country with an average of 509.21 yards of total offense per game, nearly 75 yards more than any other power conference’s average and a 15 percent uptick in production from a season ago.
Of the 10 highest offensive showings this season, in terms of total yards, the Big 12 claims six — including three of the top four. As college football enters its second month of the season, half the conference is ranked in the Associated Press’ top 25, including two teams in the top 10.
Sure, the conference has watched a land-sliding Kansas Jayhawks club open the season with its second loss to an FCS team in the past five years, and the rest of the country can’t remove the Texas Longhorns’ recurrent and ever-creative implosions from their periphery.
But the conference’s two warts—three, if you count Iowa State—hardly seem to hold anyone’s attention when Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech are thumping teams into oblivion. Each has produced better than 26 touchdowns and 191 points in the first four weeks; Baylor did it in three games, tying the second-most points of any team through the first three games in the past 15 years.
Oklahoma implemented an Air Raid attack this season after bringing offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley into the fold, but it isn’t just the proliferation of pass-heavy outfits doing the damage: Baylor, which hasn’t ranked lower than sixth in passing offense the past four seasons, leads the country in rushing offense (379.7 per game) and yards per attempt (7.8), despite ranking outside the top 70 in total attempts. TCU and West Virginia rank in the top 32 in rushing offense, too.
With 70-point drubbings and 600-yard offensive showings becoming increasingly commonplace, the question needs to be raised: Is the Big 12 Conference usurping the Pacific 12 as the top offensive conference in the country? And if so, what does that mean about the future of the college football landscape?
Through Week 4, the answer to the former question is a resounding yes.
While the Pac-12 led the nation in total offense a season ago and has consistently innovated the sport over the past half-decade, regressions have been noticeable in 2015. Seventy percent of the Big 12 ranks in the top 60 in total offense this year, and 60 percent ranks in the top 26 in scoring, including three in the top five. The Pac-12 is formidable, but offers lesser figures in comparison: 66 percent of teams in the top 60 in total offense, 42 percent in the top 26 in scoring. In terms of per-game scoring, more than half of the Big 12 averages better than 38 points per contest, while less than half of the Pac-12 can say the same.
There’s never been more of a premium placed on scoring in college football than there is currently. In the past five years, the reality is this: Teams qualify for the national title game by scoring and being efficient on the offensive end.
Last season’s national championship game pitted two teams — Oregon and Ohio State — that finished in the top five in scoring and offensive efficiency. Every team, save for Notre Dame’s 2012 outfit, that played in the national championship game the past five years ranked in the top 20 in scoring and the top 25 in efficiency.
Defensively, the correlation is pointedly more granular: Auburn won a national title with the 45th-most efficient defense and a scoring defense ranked outside the top 50. Last season, Ohio State and Oregon both ranked outside the top 20 in defensive scoring, and Oregon ranked outside the top 25 in efficiency.
What this ultimately shows us, in the context of this season, is this: In an era that prizes the blowout win, the foot-on-the-throat showcase—there’s no conference more uniquely suited to fulfill that criterion and appease the humans voting on who makes the cut than the Big 12, which hasn’t had a team in the national title game since 2009, the longest streak of any Power 5 conference.
Looking forward, offensive firepower, among other factors puts Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia—all of whom are undefeated—in the driver’s seat. The Red Raiders were a last-minute catch-of-the-year away from dethroning the Horned Frogs, and could be in the hunt if their schedule breaks right. Not all of these teams will be ranked when the season comes to a close, but each is in the running for a spot in the conference championship game, and could subsequently find themselves in the College Football Playoff. An interesting nugget to note: Aside from Kansas State, each team ranks in the top 27 in total offense.
The Pac-12 looks as though it’ll continue its streak of having three teams finish in the top 20 in scoring. But the bottom-end of the conference is showing decay, and even though the Pac-12 should hardly be worried about a 2.7 percent reduction in total offense per game compared to a season ago, there’s no argument over who the most dominant offensive conference in the country is.
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.