Pac-12 Football – We Know They Can Score, But Can They Make the Critical Plays?

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We’ve all seen the high-flying offenses of the PAC-12, teams like Washington State and USC that have no problem averaging 400+ yards and 30+ points per game.

But, how good are they really?  How much “grit” did they have when critical situations were on the line?  It’s one thing to gloat over an opulence of yardage, but if you can’t convert on critical downs or make it from the red zone into the end zone, then your opulence might be more conundrum than competence.

It reminds me of the man who looked to the heavens and asked, “God, what’s it like to live in time that never ends?”

God replied, “Well, it’s like a million years is no more than a second to me.”

The man then asked, “And, what’s it like to own everything in the universe?”

God replied, “Well, it’s like a million bucks is no more than a penny to me.”

The man thought for a moment, then asked, “In that case, can I have a million bucks?”

God said, “Sure.  Hold on a second.”

For this exercise, I experimented with various analytical methods and concluded that the best way to compare the “glitz” with the “grit” of each team was to rank each one in terms of its yards per game, then average that with their ability to convert critical downs—third down, fourth down and red zones.  Although it’s a simplistic approach, it should help us separate gloaters from the gladiators.

Without looking at our full chart below, can you guess which team had the best composite ranking for converting critical downs?   

I admit, I was surprised to find it is Arizona.  I suppose I should have considered Arizona since our preview of the PAC-12 pointed to a very good 2020 season for the Wildcats. Key metrics in our system are very high for UA despite losing records the past two seasons.

Oregon, Utah, Washington State and UCLA were the only teams to rank worse in converting critical downs than they were in producing yardage.  It will be interesting to see how Oregon and Washington State do in 2020 since the Ducks have a dynamic new offensive coordinator and the Cougars have overhauled their coaching staff.

It could be said that Oregon State had the  most offensive grit since the Beavers finished in the bottom half of the PAC-12 for producing yardage but second in converting critical downs which means the Beavers overcame their modest ability to move the ball by making the definitive plays when it mattered most.

California was the opposite.  The Bears not only couldn’t move the ball, but couldn’t make the definitive plays. The Bears finished dead last in both.


net rank yardage per game PAC-12 rankcritical conversions [3rd-4th–red zone] PAC12 rankaverage3rd down natl rank4th down natl rankred zone natl rank
1Washington St.142.5439199
2Arizona513.0281953
3USC433.5179457
4Oregon St.724.5393852
5Washington645.0213366
6Utah375.07212637
7Oregon295.59311553
8Arizona St.867.0426111
9Colorado1089.0102819
10UCLA9109.5483389
11Stanford111010.5447396
12California121212.0835516
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About Author

Bobby Albrant is a former journalism major at the University of Oregon, creator of Savvygameline.com for college football predictions and rankings, former analyst for Southern Mississippi football games, and twenty years coaching girls basketball for all ages through CIF high school. He has three grown children with his youngest daughter playing on the Ventura (Ca) High School basketball team that defeated Dom Lugo High School and was the last high school game ever played by Diana Taurasi. He can be reached at bobbywildcat@gmail.com.

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