Pace was one of the hot button issues in the 2008 college football season. Oklahoma’s highly publicized switch to a fast paced offense in reaction to the new clock rules was the major reason for it. The Sooners ended up leading the country in plays at 1,106 (79 per game), and they set a record with 716 total points scored.
The Sooners weren’t the only team to crank it up. Tulsa, under no-huddle guru Gus Malzahn, was second in plays behind OU, and Houston, TCU, and Nevada also broke 1,000 plays for the season.
The average number of plays per team for the whole season was 858.52. The average number of games played was 12.68. Therefore, the average number of plays per game for any given team was 67.7.
To take a look at how well everyone was able to gain yards on equal footing, I have adjusted total yards by pace. Here is a table showing the top ten teams in yards per game if everyone played at the nation’s average pace in terms of plays per game.
|Team||Total Yds||Yds/Game||Yds/Play||Adj. Total Yds||Adj. Yds/Game|
As you can see, no one was able to rack up yards better than the guy who wrote the book on the hurry up offense. In Houston it was no Art Briles, no problem for the Cougars under first year head coach Kevin Sumlin. We can also see that Florida played under the national pace in 2008, which is likely a side effect of the more defense- and ball control-oriented SEC.
A run of four Big 12 teams with nearly identical marks come next before we get to another SEC team in Georgia. The Bulldogs were also below the national average pace, and Ball State was the only other squad on the list below that average. It shows that these teams had the capacity to rack up yardage comparable to the Big 12 and CUSA teams on the list, but either chose not to for philosophical reasons or were prevented from it by their opponents’ pace (or both).
USC surprised me at first not for being in the top ten, since Mark Sanchez was great and the Pac-10 was down, but for being above the national pace. The Trojans always field good offenses, but they don’t stick out to me as being in a hurry when they play.
That’s when it occurred to me. USC had a historically good defense this season, ranking second only to the 2001 Miami (FL) defense in terms of yards per point allowed in this decade. The fact that the Trojans’ defense caused a lot of three-and-outs probably pushed their plays per game above average. It goes to show that plays per game has to do with more than just offensive pace (though for these purposes, it’s close enough).
Of course, football is not won and lost on yards gained. I also adjusted points scored for pace as well. If everyone played at the national average pace, would Oklahoma still come out on top in total points scored?