An Increase in Passing Hasn't Led to an Increase in Points for Big Ten Teams

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor ISeptember 24, 2013

Sep 7, 2013; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson leads his team onto the field before the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Power offenses and run-first strategies are so last century—spreading the ball all over the field and throwing the ball 70 times a game is all the rage in college football these days. 

It has even crept into Big Ten country over the past 13 years, landing in the conference for the first time officially in 1999 with Joe Tiller and the Purdue Boilermakers, and has now infected the likes of Ohio State, Indiana, Northwestern and even Michigan for a period of time.

The point of the spread offense? To use more receivers and more space to score more points and do it with an increase in the volume of plays. 

Some of the spread offenses out there are meant to exploit the run game in space, but the vast majority are all about chucking the ball all over the field with the goal of putting up ridiculous point totals. 

Even schools like Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa have incorporated some concepts or the full spread offense over the past 13 years. 

January 1,2013; Tampa, FL, USA;  Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson (16) runs with the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the second half of the 2013 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the M
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The problem is, the theory of more passing equaling better scoring hasn't exactly been borne out by the practice of doing so—at least in the Big Ten—and, last time I checked, that's why we're all here, right?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the numbers, let us go back to the year 2000, one in which Drew Brees led the conference with 3,668 yards passing.

That season, the top 10 quarterbacks in the Big Ten combined for a whopping 18,001 yards. So they shouldn't have scored many points, right? 

Wrong. Big Ten teams actually scored the fourth-most points on average in the past 13 years.

So, if passing numbers don't equal more points and defenses are giving up more points when passing is down...something isn't computing, right?

Well, let's take a look at the reality of the situation, shall we? 

So, what gives? 

There's supposed to be more passing and more points as the years go on.

Not exactly what has gone on in reality though—instead, the passing averages for Big Ten teams have seen a decline since the pinnacle of the 2007 season despite an increase in spread teams and concepts coming to the league.

The reality is that the bottom four years in passing-yardage average produced the second-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-highest points-scored averages in the league over our study period.

That can't be right. After all, we've had the "more-passing-equals-more-points" mantra shoved down our throats for the past six months.

In fact, while on the coaches teleconference today, many questions were directed to Big Ten coaches about the challenges of stopping passing attacks that allow teams to score more points.

The reality is that just one of the last three years, when offenses have allegedly been more "pass-happy" in the Big Ten, has produced a top-five scoring output—that year being 2010, where the Big Ten's top 10 quarterbacks produced 2,566 yards and 28.1 points per game on average.

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes controls the ball against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Defensively, things are even more skewed towards showing that passing stats aren't a predictor of more points scored in the Big Ten.

The year 2000, the same year that produced the lowest passing average in the league in our study, produced the most points against on average by Big Ten defenses.

So, what does this exercise tell us? 

It tells us that in the Big Ten, defense is still king and still the way to win football games and championships.  

So the next time someone tells you that passing and going to the "spread offense" is the key to scoring points and winning games these days, just remember that the reality is one doesn't have much of anything to do with the other in the Big Ten.


*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. Follow him on Twitter for more Big Ten discussion.


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