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Big 12 stats and trends: Red-zone defense

Gary Patterson and the TCU defense are at their best with their backs against the goal line. AP/Tony Gutierrez

The offseason is a good time to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

Which Big 12 teams are most efficient on offense and defense, excel on third down and consistently create turnovers? Those are just a few of the questions we’ll aim to answer during this weekly offseason series. In this series, we’re looking to highlight the programs that build themselves upon certain long-term traits as opposed to riding one or two elite players to short-term excellence.

Today, we continue the series by looking at which defenses buckle down in red zone by looking at red-zone defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of opponent red-zone trips that result in touchdowns. (All stats are in Big 12 games only since 2012, when TCU and West Virginia joined the conference, via ESPN Stats & Information.)

1. TCU, 47.1: Gary Patterson’s defense really toughens up in the red zone, leading the Big 12 with 2.79 yards per play allowed and 3.34 yards per pass attempt allowed on red-zone plays. The Horned Frogs are disruptive and aggressive near their own goal line with a Big 12-best 37 percent of opponent red-zone plays resulting in zero or negative yardage.

2. West Virginia, 56.9: The Mountaineers have been sneaky good on defense, particularly in the past two seasons. After Tony Gibson took over as defensive coordinator before the 2014 season, West Virginia’s 53 red-zone defensive efficiency percentage is narrowly second behind conference leader TCU’s 52.7 percentage.

3. Oklahoma State, 58: Run defense carries Oklahoma State into the top three. Opponents averaged a Big 12-low 2.19 yards per red-zone carry against Oklahoma State as the Cowboys' improving defensive front set the tone for their red-zone defense as a whole.

4. Kansas, 58.9: It’s a surprise to see the Jayhawks this high on the ranking, particularly because Kansas faced 506 red zone plays during this span, the highest number in the conference. The Jayhawks' 11 red-zone takeaways, which ranked second in the Big 12, and red-zone third down defense, which ranked third at 40.4, pushed Kansas into the top half of the conference.

5. Texas, 58.9: The Longhorns' red-zone defense hasn’t improved under Charlie Strong, jumping to 61.2 percent during the past two seasons from 57.1 percent during the two years before his arrival. However, Texas 58.1 goal-to-go percentage (the percentage of opponent touchdowns in goal-to-go attempts) was the best in the Big 12 in the past two seasons.

6. Kansas State, 60: The Wildcats do a good job limiting opponents’ opportunities in the red zone with 349 opponent red-zone plays, eighth in the conference. K-State also was one of the Big 12’s best on red-zone third down plays, allowing just 38.9 percent to be converted.

7. Oklahoma, 61.4: It’s a bit of a surprise to see Oklahoma in the bottom half of the Big 12, but the Sooners allowed just 115 red-zone drives, the fewest in the conference. When opponents ventured in the red zone, Oklahoma managed just two takeaways and allowed opponents to complete 59 percent of their red-zone passes, which ranks last in the Big 12.

8. Iowa State, 62.8: The Cyclones allowed nine yards per completion in the red zone and allowed 3.68 yards per red-zone play, ranking last in the conference in both categories. Iowa State has been working to improve its defensive line, which should help, but the Cyclones’ red-zone defense needs to get better if a return to bowl contention is in the cards.

9. Baylor, 72.7: The Bears' defense wasn’t particularly disruptive or opportunistic in the red zone as Baylor did not have a red-zone sack and managed just three takeaways in four seasons. Considering Baylor won a pair of Big 12 titles during this span, its red-zone defense wasn’t a major hurdle, but it is a area in which the Bears could improve nonetheless.

10. Texas Tech, 74.1: The Red Raiders' defense was last in several categories, including third-down defense (53.9 percent), fourth-down defense (71.4 percent) and passing yards per attempt (3.28). Red-zone defense is just another area in which second-year defensive coordinator David Gibbs will be looking to improve in 2016.