Baylor Football

Stats Preview: Big 12 Bowls at a Glance

December 11, 2018

Now that all the bowl matchups have been announced who do the Big 12 teams face and what can a quick glance at the stats tell us about each matchup?  This year has arguably the toughest top to bottom matchups for the entire league with the only team that opened as a favorite missing two key players who will sit out to prepare for the NFL Draft (West Virginia). Let’s take a quick look...

  • 12-1 Oklahoma and 9-4 Texas face the #1 seeded team in the playoff and a de-facto playoff team ranked #5.   
  • 8-4 Iowa State gets a team that should have been a New Years Six team and was in the playoff hunt until Thanksgiving weekend. 
  • 8-3 West Virginia has the second best team in the ACC and will do so without Grier and Cajuste
  • 6-6 Oklahoma State gets a top 25 Missouri team that beat Florida and Purdue while going 8-2 against teams not named Alabama or Georgia
  • 6-6 Baylor gets a solid Vanderbilt team that narrowly lost to three ranked teams and will do so without Jalen Hurd
  • 6-6 TCU takes on a very defensively oriented Cal team who beat #9 Washington and almost beat #13 Wazzu.

We’ll mostly be looking at yardage here.  My preferred metric for this is yards per drive which doesn’t bias style of play like yards per play would and doesn’t bias with play count like total yards.  Each chart shows what a given team averaged against Power 5 opponents compared to what other P5 teams averaged against them.  This gives a look at whether the actual YPD average was good, fair, or poor but also gives context for what is normal against a particular opponent.  I’ll also mention notable statistics that I observe.  For bowl opponents that played a common opponent that was also played by Big 12 schools I also try to include those numbers for context.

For the Big 12 games we’re going to go in reverse selection order here and save the biggest games for last.

Cheez-It Bowl: TCU vs Cal

This game is a defensive showdown as both of these teams have been very strong on defense and suspect on offense.  Both head coaches are known for their defenses and each has a couple of game breakers who could make one or two plays that decide it.

Cal Offense vs TCU Defense

The Cal offense has been held below 38 yards per drive in every game except Oregon State who is in a fierce competition with Louisville for worst P5 defense this year.  This offense has struggled to consistently move the ball and averages only 79% of the yards per drive that other P5’s give up to their opponents.  The story isn’t much better when they get into the red zone with 3.63 points per red zone trip against P5 teams or BYU.   5 is average and 3.63 is third worst among teams with 5 or more P5 games.

The Frog defense is outstanding and has held anyone not named OU, Ohio State, or West Virginia under wraps for the most part.  The Frogs do a good job allowing P5 teams only 4.77 points per trip inside the red zone as well.  They have been similar to last year in yards per drive despite facing teams that average more yards per drive.

TCU Offense vs Cal Defense

This matchup is just as lopsided as the one above. The Frog offense hasn’t been very good even before injuries struck and are now down to their third string QB.  They aren’t at all consistent but they have a couple of weapons that can hit a big play for them and Jalen Reagor will be key for them. 

The one thing TCU has done with replacement Grayson Muehlstein at QB is protect the ball which had been a huge issue for them.  Prior to his two games the Frogs averaged a turnover on 19% of their drives against P5 teams and they only have one on 24 drives in the past two games.  He may limit their upside a bit but he’s not squandering a stout defensive unit.

The Cal defense struggled against Oregon and Washington State in per-drive yards but otherwise held their schedule to low outputs holding teams to over 20% fewer yards per drive than other P5 teams do.  Even if you take away their domination of Oregon State they are still outstanding.

Quick Take:

Both defenses here are simply better than the offenses.  I’ll be surprised if this one gets high scoring and a score like 21-14 or 16-9 seems likely.  The first to 20 may win this thing if someone actually gets to 20.  Each team shut down some good offenses throughout the year and gets an easier defensive task here.  Slight edge to TCU as their recent trend protecting the ball could be key against a Cal team that gives it up as often as they take it.

Liberty Bowl: Oklahoma State vs Missouri

This one is an old Big 12 matchup for the Cowboys in Memphis and for the second game in a row the two teams are similar.  The Tigers are 8-4 with wins over four bowl teams and should be a solid challenge for the Gundy squad.

OSU Offense vs Mizzou Defense

The Cowboys had some very good production against Texas, Baylor, OU, and WVU but fell off a lot against Tech, ISU, KSU, and TCU.  This offense has been up and down and averages out right where most P5’s do against their opponents but their performance swings wildly.  They put up big numbers on two of the better defenses in the conference (UT, WVU) while struggling against Tech and KSU who are more to the other end of the league defensively.  They’ve got weapons everywhere but consistency is the key here.

The Tiger defense had struggles with Purdue’s wide open spread but also struggled with some more conventional offenses.  However they did a great job limiting South Carolina, Memphis,  and Florida’s potent offenses.  This unit is as inconsistent as the Cowboy offense.  They had two impressive outings to end the season against Tennessee and Arkansas who admittedly aren’t the best offenses a team will see.

Mizzou Offense vs OSU Defense

Missouri’s offense is very boom or bust and does a lot of similar things to what the Briles offense did.  It’s pretty up or down and has hammered a solid Florida defense and Purdue but also underperformed against Arkansas and South Carolina who aren’t that solid on defense.  Alabama and Kentucky slowing them to a crawl isn’t surprising but they did a better job against Georgia.

The Cowboy defense did a solid job of slowing down Boise, Texas, and WVU but otherwise hasn’t really done that well this year with a lot of youth at Safety as well as a new coordinator.  They are willing to single cover to deny the run which may make Mizzou’s offensive possessions a bit of a boom or bust proposition as the Tigers will take some deeper shots.

Quick Take:

This game should be a fun one.  Both offenses are explosive and the defenses are inconsistent but have stepped up at key times for wins over Texas, WVU, and Florida.  Oklahoma State has a dual threat QB in Cornelius who can create some rushing yards on his own but his inconsistency really hurt them against Tech and KSU.  I’ll give the edge to Mizzou but if Cornelius is on this could be a great matchup for viewers.

Texas Bowl: Baylor vs Vanderbilt

I covered my initial thoughts on the matchup in this article.  I will have a Texas Bowl specific stats article coming later but here is a basic rundown.

Baylor Offense vs Vanderbilt Defense

The Bears average 38 yards per drive which is around 6% more yards per drive their opponents typically allow to other P5 teams.  That’s a little inflated by the Iowa State game where BU marched up and down the field but struggled to convert in the red zone.  The Bears average 4.65 points per trip in the red zone which needs to improve as they do a good job moving the ball usually.   Texas, WVU, and TCU were rough outings for this offense but they had some strong outputs against KSU, OSU, and Tech.

The Commodore defense allows almost 17% more yards per drive to their power opponents than other P5’s do.  Their worst games were UGA, Mizzou, Arkansas, and Florida when we judge it compared to what those teams usually do.   Their best outings were Tennessee, Kentucky, and Notre Dame although they had yet to replace Wimbush with Ian Book.  All in all this defense isn’t a great unit but they present some matchups that can disrupt a team.   They do a good job forcing turnovers (14.5% of opposing P5 drives) and limit opponents to 4.67 points per red zone trip.

Vanderbilt Offense vs Baylor Defense

This offense averages around 95% of what other P5’s do against their P5 opponents and only score 4.49 points per red zone trip.  They score on around 36% of their drives and do a good job limiting turnovers and only give it away on roughly 9% of their drives against P5 teams.  Their best games in yards per drive were Notre Dame, Mizzou, and Tennessee.  They didn’t do as well as you’d expect against South Carolina and Ole Miss.  They run the ball for a decent 5.02 per non-sack carry and have an efficient passing game that completes 62% of its passes against P5 teams with a relatively low 11.7 per completion.

Much like Vandy’s defense the Bears haven’t been overly strong this season.  They allow 4% more yards per drive than other P5’s typically get against their opponents and allow a mediocre 5.07 points per red zone trip in P5 games.   Forcing turnovers has been an issue and the Bears only did so on 6% of opposing P5 drives.

Quick Take:

The Bears and Commodores are two 6-6 squads that won “win or go home” matchups with Texas Tech and Tennessee to get here.  It should be a good matchup but the Bears, playing without Jalen Hurd, need to keep the chains moving as he was incredibly reliable at doing so.   Baylor has moved it all year against defenses like Vandy so I expect yards for the Bears.  Can they convert in the red zone?   Vandy hasn’t done quite as well offensively but has a much better turnover ratio and does better in field position which can be two very big equalizers. I give a slight edge to Baylor at the initial glance but will follow up with more in my film room & scheme previews.

Camping World Bowl: West Virginia vs Syracuse

This bowl reunites two old Big East teams with wide open offensive schemes with former Briles assistant Dino Babers at Syracuse and Air Raid guru Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia.

WVU Offense vs Syracuse Defense

The West Virginia offense isn’t quite where Oklahoma’s twist on the Air Raid is but they are very difficult to stop.  Outside of one game where ISU had them dramatically outschemed they really haven’t been slowed down by much of anyone.  However there is a huge wrench in the plan- WVU won’t have star Quarterback Will Grier or starting Left Tackle Yodney Cadjuste.  Last year the Mountaineers struggled a lot without him but they will have a new QB stepping in this year in redshirt Sophomore Jack Allison who should be better than the options available last year.

Facing them is a Syracuse defense that holds their P5 opponents to around 3 yards per drive less than other P5 teams do.  This defense won’t remind anyone of the 1985 Chicago Bears but it’s solid enough to get some stops and has been consistently performing around that level all year.  They force turnovers on roughly 17% of their P5 opponent’s drives.

Syracuse Offense vs WVU Defense

Based on how Babers was a Briles assistant and how many yards he tallied up at Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green running this offense I expected a much better offensive yardage profile for them.  They were either really good (FSU, NC State, BC, UL) or they disappeared for the most part against the other P5’s like ND, Wake, Pitt, Clemson, and UNC.

West Virginia isn’t a shutdown defense but I do think Tony Gibson’s unit is one that can create some significant schematic issues for an offense with how multiple they are.  They do better than other P5 teams do against their opponents on average but much like Syracuse’s offense the results varied wildly.  Four teams gave them serious issues but they hammered most of the rest of who they played.  They also forced around 17% of P5 opponent drives to end in turnovers.

Quick Take:

West Virginia hasn’t been perfect this year but I think they have a significant edge here if everyone was playing.  Their offense is far more consistent and the two defenses are both capable but haven’t always stepped up against their best opposition.  However WVU’s offense will be without two very key players and the new QB has only thrown 10 passes this year after sitting out as a Miami transfer last year.  Syracuse probably wins now unless Allison steps in and surprises us.

Alamo Bowl: Iowa State vs Washington State

The Cyclones get a tough draw here against a Wazzu team that should probably be in a New Years Six bowl but fell to the Alamo Bowl.  Mike Leach’s Cougars will be out to make a statement in this game but this is also a huge opportunity for Matt Campbell’s squad to make their own nationwide statement.

Iowa State Offense vs Wazzu Defense

The Cyclone offense took a massive step forward when Brock Purdy took over as QB.  They average nearly ten more yards per drive, slightly more red zone points, and score on 15% more of their drives.  With him at the helm they average just under 38 yards per drive, which is roughly what Wazzu has given up to other P5 schools on average.  Their worst non-weather related game with him was against Texas where the Longhorn defense simply stomped them.  Aside from that they gave KSU a pounding and did well in every game since he took over vs OSU.

The Wazzu defense has been pretty good in recent years.  This year has been a bit more of a struggle than prior years.  They struggled against the USC team that Texas shut down, somehow gave up big yards to the Oregon State Beavers, and weren’t able to slow Washington down in a snowstorm.  Their best games came against Utah, Cal, and Colorado who aren’t exactly lighting it up this season on offense.  Overall they give up 4.4 yards per drive more than the other P5 teams that play their P5 opponents.

Wazzu Offense vs Iowa State Defense

The Washington State offense is predictably very good and averages around 35% more yards per drive than other P5’s do against their P5 opponents.  That number is right where Leach tended to be at Texas Tech.  For context OU is +46% and WVU is +15% outside of the ISU game.

Their most dominant stat is the Oregon State game but the Beavers are one of the two worst defenses in the P5.  Their domination of Cal and Utah stood out to me as they averaged a lot per-drive against otherwise outstanding defenses. Their worst outing was Washington in the snow and it was the only one where they didn’t match par. This offense is a big challenge for anyone to stop.

Iowa State has been solid most of the year and especially good against the wide open Air Raids they see six times a year in the Big 12.  Their worst yards per drive figure came against Baylor who they held out of the end zone many times despite giving up quite a few redzone trips. Their worst overall game was probably their struggles against KSU given that Texas and OU basically matched what those teams did to other P5’s.  They also stepped up big against a physical Iowa offense.

Quick Take:

This matchup has Wazzu as the favorite but this may be a surprisingly tough one for the Cougars.  Leach isn’t known for changing his schemes as much as other Air Raid guys as the UW defensive coordinator not so subtly mentioned recently. That probably won’t be a good matchup when ISU has been effective doing things like this to other Air Raid aficionados...


Wazzu is favored but I can’t shake the feeling Iowa State takes the win both on the scoreboard and in the “who can drink more Busch Light” challenge as both fanbases have humorously gotten revved up over it.

Sugar Bowl: Texas vs Georgia

Texas has a huge opportunity to earn respect for themselves and for the league in a Sugar Bowl matchup against a Georgia team that feels they were disrespected by the committee after being left out of the playoff.

Texas Offense vs Georgia Defense

Texas has been mostly good on offense all year long.  They had an uncharacteristic game with multiple turnovers against Maryland to start the year but then rattled off some very good performances against the best defenses they faced in TCU, USC, WVU, and ISU.  They had a couple underwhelming outputs against KU and OSU.

The Georgia defense is very good but not quite on par with last year.  They give up around 90% of what other P5’s give to their opponents compared to 75% at this time last year. They are still a handful and will give Texas a big challenge. Their worst games compared to expectations were Kentucky and LSU but they absolutely did a great job limiting a solid Florida offense and grinding Georgia Tech’s flexbone to a halt.

Texas Defense vs Georgia Offense

UGA will bring the second best offense that Texas has seen to New Orleans.  This team has put up solid to great numbers on anyone not named LSU.  Some very capable defenses from Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, and to a lesser extent Missouri are included in that slate. They average 30% more yards per drive than opponents typically give up to other P5 teams.

The Texas defense has been solid but like UGA has seen a drop off from last year’s standout group.  They’ve struggled with Oklahoma, WVU, Texas Tech, and OSU.  Aside from that they’ve been better though. Overall they allow 95% of what other P5’s give up to their opponents here.  Against Air Raids it jumped to 107% but fell to 78% outside of those P5 games.

Quick Take:

UGA should hold the advantage here but motivation will be key.  They focused entirely on the playoff for a year and now it’s gone.  Texas on the other hand sees the chance they’ve been wanting to make a national statement.  I think UGA wins but Texas has enough talent to pull it off if UGA isn’t up for the game.

Orange Bowl: Oklahoma vs Alabama

This is the matchup people will all be paying attention to.  Contrasting styles, big-name players, and a national spotlight with a spot in the title game on the line.

Oklahoma Offense vs Alabama Defense

The Sooners are arguably the best offense in the nation with a roster that is loaded on offense and one of the best schemes around. They took the best defenses they played in Texas, TCU, Iowa State, and West Virginia and buzzsawed all of them. They haven’t even come close to a poor performance yet.  Their average against P5 teams would be in the 93rd percentile of all FBS games this season in yards per drive.   They don’t slouch in the red zone either with 5.46 points per red zone trip against P5 teams.  The Sooners score on almost 66% of their offensive drives (not limited to just starter drives) and have allowed less than 4% sacks and complete almost 70% of their passes.   Their running game averages 6.87 per non-sack carry and 6.75 when the QB’s are taken out.  This offense can do it all.

Facing them is the vaunted Alabama defense that ranks 3rd in yards per drive allowed in P5 games (minumum of 5) with 24.06 and if you isolated just their starters it likely moves to a higher rank.  The starters (or my rough estimate of them) allows 68% of what other P5’s do to their power opponents, allow 4.38 points per red zone trip, and only allow scores on 19.7% of drives.  They force turnovers on 14%.  This defense is absolutely impressive and will be a massive challenge for even Oklahoma.  Their worst outing relative to expectations was Arkansas where spread & uptempo coach Chad Morris is running things.  However they absolutely stuffed solid spread attacks at Mizzou, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss.

Alabama Offense vs Oklahoma Defense

Bama isn’t the offense OU is statistically (51 YPD vs 46) but is outstanding in it’s own right.  The Tide is averaging almost 33% more yards per drive than their opponents give up to other P5 squads and gets a solid 5.47 points per red zone trip.  This offense only coughs up a turnover on 8.3% of their drives vs P5 teams.

Facing them is an OU defense that has really struggled giving up 38 yards per drive to P5 schools.  The Sooner defensive starters give up 10% more yards per drive than their opponents and have only forced turnovers on 6.3% of their P5 drives.   The worst statistic?  They allow a staggering 6.12 points per red zone trip.

WVU, OSU, UT, Army, and ISU all gave them fits while they did much better against UCLA, FAU, TCU, and KSU.  They switched coordinators mid-season but did even worse afterwards.  OU has a lot of issues to fix on this side of the ball to say the least.

Can the Sooner offense do this to a good defense like Alabama?

The Sooners have buzzsawed the best defenses in the Big 12 and in their non-conference matchups over the last three seasons.   Here’s a look at how OU did in those games in 2016 and 2017 which shows that even very good defenses like Georgia and Ohio State struggled to stop these guys from chewing up yards.  Alabama will likely be the best defense they’ve faced in Lincoln Riley’s tenure at OU. 

I also included one other game on this chart.  The last time we saw Alabama against an Air Raid scheme this talented was in 2013 where Manziel hung 42 on them with nearly 55 yards per drive.  That Alabama defense held every other P5 to essentially what this team did and had to be saved by it’s offense going against an equally bad 2013 Aggie defense.  If we get a game like that in Miami it will be must-see television.

Quick Take:

This should be an entertaining matchup and arguably the most anticipated one of the bowl season.  The Oklahoma defense is not going to match up against Bama and even die hard Sooners will concede that.  OU’s play is ironically the same play that many 2008-2016 Big 12 upsets have been, a less talented and explosive team breaking a superior defense in a track meet.  Bama’s play is to turn that shootout into a blowout by getting semi-frequent stops.

If you played it ten times Bama wins at least seven.  So Bama probably wins but it won’t be easy.  OU is a nightmare matchup to stop and probably more so than anyone Bama has defended the last couple of seasons.  We’ve seen NFL teams with strong defenses get picked apart by elite offenses before so there’s a chance but the Sooners desperately need their defense to step up.

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Stats Preview: Big 12 Bowls at a Glance

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