The Fastest College Football Teams

OKC Dave —  October 10, 2012 — 19 Comments
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Photo Attribution: US Presswire

Slater had the story: Mike Gundy: “I think that in five years, you’re going to see the SEC playing offensive football like this league.”

That got me curious. I put on my loser cap and performed a swan dive into the numbers. If you have followed football at all over the past several years you have certainly noticed the up-tempo styles of certain teams and, more generally, conferences. I wondered which teams and conferences are the fastest and which are the slowest.

As always before we get started, a caveat: There have been some rule changes over the years that impact the length of games. To level the playing field, each team’s plays per game are expressed as a % of the NCAA average for that year. For example, OSU is running 83.5 plays per game so far this year. The NCAA average in 2012 is 71.7, so our figure for 2012 is 83.5 / 71.7 = 116%. Got it? Here we go…

2005 to current, all games included. Offensive plays/game.

Fastest teams, 2005 to current
Marshall 2012 – 128% (this is 92 plays/game)
Oklahoma 2010 – 127%
Arizona 2012 – 126%
Louisiana Monroe 2012 – 122%
Houston 2009 – 121%

We played three of those teams and didn’t beat a single one of them. Sorry to start off the list with a punch in the gut. By the way, this year’s OSU squad is 17th on this list at 116% — our fastest team in the Gundy era.

The team with the fastest average over this time period is Houston at 112%. OSU is 17th at 104%.

Slowest teams, 2005 to current
Eastern Michigan 2012 – 79% (this is 57 plays/game)
Temple 2012 – 84%
Wyoming 2010 – 84%
Kansas State 2012 – 84%
South Carolina 2005 – 85%

K-State is averaging 61 plays/game so far this year. This has to be the only school in the country where the head coach’s age is greater than the number of plays they run, right?

The team with the slowest average over this time period is Temple at 90%.

Fastest BCS conferences, 2005 to current
Big 12, 2011 – 109% (only one school was below the national average — yes, K-State).
Big 12, 2010 – 107%
Big 12, 2009 – 105%
Big 12, 2008 – 104%
Big 10, 2005 – 104% (believe it or not)

How about that. The Big 12 has been on a lightning quick record-setting pace for the last four seasons, getting faster each year. Only one other conference cracks the top 5. In case you are wondering where the 2012 Big 12 is, our teams are averaging “only” 103% of the national average this year. The national average is up (more on that in a minute) and some Big 12 schools are slowing down a bit this year, plus we have the anchor in Manhattan pulling the average down.

The Big 12 has the fastest average over this time period at 104%.

Slowest BCS conferences, 2005 to current
SEC, 2011 – 94%
SEC, 2005 – 94%
SEC, 2012 – 95%
Big East, 2009 – 95%
SEC, 2008 – 96%

The SEC has the slowest average over this time period at 96%.

National Trends

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As the chart shows, plays per game are generally on the rise across the country. The Big 12 has been above the national average in every year since 2005. The SEC has been the slowest or 2nd slowest BCS conference in every year since 2005. The two conferences play very different styles of football, and I think it’s fair to say that the national media looks down upon the Big 12 style.

But even though the SEC still plays “old man football”, things are starting to pick up down there. Last year, only one team was faster than the national average (Georgia). This year, three teams are playing faster than the national average so far. We’ll see if it holds up as they grind through conference play.

A few more tidbits if you’re interested…

Fastest Big 12 teams, 2005 to current:
Oklahoma 2010 – 127%
Texas A&M 2009 – 120%
Texas Tech 2010 – 119%
Texas Tech 2011 – 118%
Oklahoma 2008 – 117%
Oklahoma State 2012 – 116%

The Big 12 team with the fastest average speed from 2005 to current is Texas Tech at 110%.

Slowest Big 12 teams, 2005 to current:
Kansas State 2012 – 84%
Nebraska 2009 – 92%
Colorado 2006 – 93%
Kansas State 2006 – 95%
Baylor 2008 – 95%

The Big 12 team with the slowest average speed from 2005 to current is Kansas State at 97%

One more. Where is Oregon? They have been the 3rd fastest team over this time period at 110%.

  • @okc_dave

    This post was going to be too long if I added this, so I’ll throw it down here.

    Fastest programs, 2005 to current:

    1) Houston — 112%
    2) Texas Tech — 111%
    3) Oregon — 110%
    4) Oklahoma — 110%
    5) Northwestern — 109%
    6) Nevada — 109%
    7) Tulsa — 108%
    8) Texas A&M — 108%
    9) Missouri — 107%
    10) Troy — 107%
    11) TCU — 106%
    12) BYU — 106%
    13) Texas — 105%
    14) Rice — 105%
    15) Western Mich. — 105%
    16) Purdue — 105%
    17) Oklahoma St. — 104%
    18) Southern Miss. — 104%
    19) La.-Monroe — 104%
    20) Arizona — 104%

    Slowest programs:

    101) Rutgers — 96%
    102) Auburn — 96%
    103) Northern Ill. — 96%
    104) Florida St. — 96%
    105) Iowa — 96%
    106) Vanderbilt — 96%
    107) Ohio St. — 96%
    108) Colorado St. — 96%
    109) LSU — 95%
    110) Miami (FL) — 95%
    111) SMU — 95%
    112) Ole Miss — 95%
    113) San Jose St. — 95%
    114) South Carolina — 95%
    115) Ohio — 95%
    116) Florida — 94%
    117) Georgia — 94%
    118) North Carolina — 93%
    119) Syracuse — 93%
    120) Temple — 90%

    • rocks Wartes

      georgia tech with their wish bone and option

  • http://www.pistolsfiringblog.com Kyle Porter

    Again I say…NORTHWESTERN?!

  • Lane

    Bravo. Excellent post. Extremely interesting read. You said that 3 teams in the SEC are faster than the national average this year compared to 1 last year. Those 2 new faster teams dont happen to be A&M and Mizzou do they?

    • @okc_dave

      Tennessee – 110%
      Texas A&M – 104%
      Ole Miss – 101%

      Mizzou is at 98%, not far off.

  • Nate

    Loser cap indeed.

  • KS1010

    So maybe this is an obvious answer that I am just missing..but why did you start with stats in 2005? Was there a rule change that year that lengthened games or just because it’s the Gundy Regime?

    Also why was there an overwhelming downtick in 2006 on the national avg. plays/game? Some rule that year that changed things that quickly went away the following year?

    And lastly, do you have any stats on where OSU falls on % of plays above the average since 2010 (when we installed the air raid)?

    Thanks and these posts are awesome, keep it up!

    • @okc_dave

      I could go back further than 2005 if you’re interested but I decided to stick with the Gundy era for this post.

      The NCAA implemented rule changes for the 2006 season to shorten games. They modified them in 2007 after coaches complained (details here: http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/columns/story?id=2731820).

      Since 2010 we are running at an average of 112% of the national average, good for 9th over this time period and 4th in the Big 12 behind TT, OU, and the now-departed A&M. Baylor is right behind us.

  • KS1010

    Thank you for the follow up! No need to go back further, just curious as the the reasoning behind picking that year as the start date. And it’s suprising that we are still 4th in the Big 12 even after we changed to the up-tempo style. Great insight though!

  • http://gravatar.com/rwhetsell62 @mfc_crff

    GREAT GREAT GREAT POST.

    I love stats…and yes, I am a loser.

  • G-Block

    Sports blog nirvana, right here!

  • Colin

    Shouldn’t the Big 12 average go up now that conference play has begun? Our offenses love to be in a hurry. Or will they go down because the difficulty is greater?

  • Austin

    So we know that k-state is slow, even by national standards. But I think they might actually be slower than this analysis shows. Their plays per game are biased upwards by the way the big 12 plays.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ryan.loudon Ryan Loudon

    This doesn’t take into consideration to scoring plays of great distance which limits the number of total plays. That being said, this isn’t a true comparison to actual play speed…but it would be impossible to go play to play to see how much time is on the play clock when the ball is snapped

  • http://twitter.com/Clifhangeriam Clifton Hall (@Clifhangeriam)

    This is a sweet post! Don’t you think it would be better to normalize on possession time and not games? If a team had terrible possession time, plays per game wouldn’t necessarily reflect their time per play as much as their bad ball management.

  • Kenneth

    Umm… wouldn’t the best way to do this be by taking the time of posession divided by the number of plays? That would show the average time the offense takes to complete a play. Another definition of a fast offense would be number of plays it takes to score. So maybe total points divided by total plays. Somehow, the number of total plays in a season just doesn’t seem that relevant to speed.

    • @okc_dave

      Clifton & Kenneth, I think that would be a better way to look at it. I didn’t have TOP in my spreadsheet for all of those years but I’ll go back and add it. I’ll post the results here later.

      • @okc_dave

        On a plays per minute of possession basis normalized by year, here are the fastest and slowest programs in the Gundy era:

        1) Oregon — 120% (2.75 plays/minute)
        2) Houston — 120%
        3) Texas Tech — 116%
        4) Missouri — 113%
        5) Troy — 112%
        6) Oklahoma — 109%
        7) Baylor — 109%
        8) Northwestern — 108%
        9) Tulsa — 108%
        10) Purdue — 108%
        11) Oklahoma St. — 108% (2.47 plays/minute)

        111) Florida — 93%
        112) Georgia — 93%
        113) Rutgers — 92%
        114) Virginia Tech — 92%
        115) Army — 92%
        116) Wisconsin — 92%
        117) Ohio St. — 91%
        118) Alabama — 91%
        119) Temple — 91%
        120) Western Ky. — 89% (2.03 plays/minute)

        The fastest team in the entire period is Houston 2012 at 3.5 plays/min. This year’s OSU team is the 10th fastest at 3.0 plays/minute.

        • Darrell Combs

          This website and your posts are really professional and interesting. K-State Fan Thanks