- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Coaches and players alike can make a name for themselves on third down. Receivers earn reputations for their ability to move the chains, signal-callers separate themselves as clutch performers and coaches’ creative play calling rises to the forefront during those key moments.
A closer look at the production of Big 12 offenses and defenses on third down can provide a glimpse at how champions are made and reveal areas of improvement heading into the 2014 season.
The stats, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information, are from conference games only during the past two seasons in an effort to provide a fair baseline for every team. The teams are listed alphabetically with third-down conversion rate, opponent third-down conversion rate, yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more and yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more serving as the four key categories to show production on third down, or lack thereof.
Some thoughts and notes:
Kansas State leads the Big 12 in third-down conversion percentage in the past two seasons, and it’s no major surprise to see the Wildcats sitting atop the conference, as Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are efficient and productive. Playing three different quarterbacks -- Collin Klein, Jake Waters and Daniel Sams -- during this stretch, K-State has the Big 12’s top raw QBR on third down (85) in this span. However, Waters’ 57 raw QBR on third down was the lowest of the trio. He’s expected to be KSU’s starter this fall and will need to play better on third down if the Wildcats hope to make a Big 12 title run.
Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, the only other teams joining KSU with better than 40 percent conversions on third down, combined with the Wildcats to win 92 games during the past two seasons. Third-down success on offense and overall success seem to go hand in hand.
Iowa State, TCU and Kansas, the bottom three teams in third-down conversion percentage, will enter 2014 with new offensive coordinators, underscoring the importance of third-down success.
TCU’s defense was exceptional on third down, leading the conference with a 31.9 percent opponent third-down conversion percentage. If the Horned Frogs continue that production, and the offense improves its 31.3 third-down conversion rate, TCU could return to a bowl in 2014. New coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham are tasked with jump-starting the Horned Frogs offense.
Oklahoma State allowed just 34.7 percent opponent third-down conversion rate, joining TCU as the lone Big 12 schools under 35 percent in that category. An underrated defense is one reason Mike Gundy's squad won 18 games while playing musical chairs at the quarterback position during the past two seasons.
Baylor and Kansas State are in the bottom half of the Big 12 in opponent third-down conversion rate over the past two seasons, a sign that stellar defense on third down is not a requirement to win the Big 12 title. KSU was sixth at 40.5 percent, Baylor was ninth at 44.2 percent. The Wildcats won the conference title in 2012, Baylor won in 2013.
West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas are the teams in the bottom half of the conference in third-down conversion rate and opponent third-down conversion rate. Those three teams combined to win 12 conference games in the past two seasons.
Baylor led the Big 12 in yards per play on 3rd-and-6 or more with a 6.97 ypp average. The Bears' explosive offense was joined by Oklahoma (6.96), Texas (6.89) and West Virginia (6.43) as the lone teams to average at least six yards per play in that scenario.
Texas Tech, at 4.68 yards per play, is surprisingly low in this scenario, rating ninth in the conference . The Red Raiders’ offense is consistently among the Big 12’s best but this is a clear area of improvement for Kliff Kingsbury’s squad.
OSU sits atop the conference at 3.98 yards per play allowed on 3rd-and-6 or more, another sign of how underrated its defense has been over the past two seasons.
KSU is the only other team that allowed less than five yards (4.23) in that scenario and is the only team in the top half of the Big 12 in yards per play and yards per play allowed in that scenario. Third-down success, on both sides of the ball, was a big part of KSU’s ability to consistently win (and surprise) during the past two seasons.