An ongoing run of futility. A legend's last year? Bad defense.
One statistic can sum up a lot about a college football team. In the Big 12 this year, a successful season for each program could hinge on one key number, be it a quarterback's efficiency or how many fumbles a team recovers.
Here's a vital stat or number for every team in the Big 12 in 2017.
16: Difference in offensive plays per game between Baylor and Temple in 2016
Baylor ran an average of 85 offensive plays per game last season, 23 percent more than Temple’s average of 69. That’s pertinent, of course, because ex-Owls head coach Matt Rhule is now in charge of the Bears. Baylor played at a super-fast tempo for so long that the entire program has to get acclimated to Rhule’s preference for physical, grinding ball. In the short, that can be a tough adjustment.
4: Games lost by a touchdown or less by Iowa State last year
Almost doesn’t count, but you still won’t find a more telling stat about Iowa State’s 2016 season than the fact that the Cyclones were within a score in four of nine losses. Head coach Matt Campbell got the team to play hard in his debut season despite a number of near misses. ISU probably won’t miss as often this fall.
2.5: Vegas’ over/under for Kansas' total number of wins in 2017
The Jayhawks hit the over last year, surpassing their total of 1.5 in late November with a win over Texas. This year, the guys in the desert are upping KU’s total by a full win. The “optimism” is warranted this season, as the Jayhawks have seven home games, including one against FCS foe Southeast Missouri.
0: Possible years left for Bill Snyder at Kansas State
Fueled by a throat cancer diagnosis earlier this year, speculation is running rampant that this will be the last season for the Purple Wizard on the sidelines in Manhattan. If so, it would seem fitting for the Wildcats to make one more unlikely run at a Big 12 title.
4,603: Combined rushing and receiving yards of Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine for Oklahoma in 2016
The Sooners have a deserved reputation for just plugging and playing when they lose productive skill players. Twelve months ago, for example, people wondered how OU would replace Sterling Shepard at receiver. Dede Westbrook answered them.
Now, Westbrook and the fearsome backfield tandem of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon have departed, leaving even bigger holes in OU’s offense. Between a rock-solid offensive line and a star quarterback in Baker Mayfield, their designated replacements will have every opportunity to succeed this year.
11.6: Yards allowed per pass attempt by Oklahoma State in three losses last year
When the Cowboys’ pass defense failed last season, it failed spectacularly. In their three defeats to Central Michigan, Baylor and Oklahoma, the Pokes were essentially giving up a first down on average every time opponents threw the ball. They also allowed 11 touchdown passes to just two interceptions.
Adrian Baker, a graduate transfer from Clemson, might help shore up OSU’s aerial defense. If defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer can’t fix it, the Cowboys’ College Football Playoff aspirations are a pipe dream.
16: Turnovers generated by TCU in 2016
From 2012 to ‘14, TCU snatched 32, 28 and 40 turnovers from opponents, respectively. That number fell to 19 in 2015 and 16 last season.
It’s possible that head coach Gary Patterson made a fundamental change to his defensive philosophy that precipitated the drop-off. If so, he might want to switch back. If not, he needs to figure out how to get his players back to generating more takeaways.
6.2: Yards per pass attempt by Shane Buechele in Texas’ final four games
Buechele looked like the quarterback of the future in Austin in his first eight games as a freshman. He turned dreadfully unproductive in the final third of the season, though, a stretch that saw the Longhorns lose three of four games and fall out of bowl contention. Even more concerning is the fact that Texas played Kansas and Texas Tech during that period.
In his defense, Buechele did fight through injuries a year ago. That may explain his decline in part, but it also stands to reason that opposing defensive coordinators got a better read on him as the season wore on.
6: Equivalent number of touchdowns allowed per game by Texas Tech in last three seasons
Points allowed per game by the Red Raiders in 2014, ‘15 and ‘16: 41.3, 43.6, 43.5. In other words, chances were that Tech needed to score the equivalent of more than six touchdowns every time it took the field in the last three years to have a chance of winning. Yes, the D is that bad.
59%: Share of tackles lost from last year’s West Virginia team
All things considered, coordinator Tony Gibson did fantastic work in 2016 to keep his defense from falling off a cliff after losing a host of key contributors. He’ll need to pull off a similar feat this fall, as three of every five tackles made by the team last year walked out the door at the end of the season.
Given the likelihood that the defense takes a step back this year, the Mountaineers need to hope new QB Will Grier lives up to his billing.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.