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Hot Reads: An Aggressive Medley of Tunes
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Hot Reads: A High-Powered Offense in a Defense-First Conference

May 01, 2018

It has been almost exactly five months since Scott Frost said the words, "I'm hoping the Big Ten has to modify their system to us," at his introductory press conference. It has become the moment from that talk that everyone still cites, because it serves as a shorthand for the Frost experience. He wasn't kidding when he said it. He wasn't playing to the room, though the room erupted in applause after he said it. 

As people clapped Frost didn't crack a smile. That's really the play, that the Big Ten will have to adapt to Nebraska's new brand of offense.

As I was taking a big picture look at 2017 stats across college football for the 2018 Hail Varsity Football Yearbook, it struck me just what a curveball the Huskers' new brand of football has a chance to be. Or maybe it's a "challenge to be." We'll see.

Here's what I mean. Below are the Big Ten and national averages in four categories I look at often: rush and pass yards per play (adjusted to count sacks as passing plays and yardage accordingly), yards per point (a lower number is better for the offense, vice versa for defense) and explosive-plays percentage.


That shows a conference that is defense-first as a whole. The rushing averages in the Big Ten in 2017, both offense and defense, were lower than the national averages. The drop in the passing numbers was even more noticeable. Whether through average offenses, good defenses or, most likely, the combination of both, the Big Ten was a tough conference to move the ball in, and that's the case most years.

As you'd expect with that quick profile, Big Ten defenses asked opposing offenses to gain more yards for every point scored than the national average. But the conference offenses were actually better than the national average in the same category. When you consider that those same offense were less explosive than the average, it leaves you with two probable explanations.

One, Big Ten offenses are just better at sustaining drives than most. Given the strength of the defenses in this conference that seems unlikely.

Two, the exchange of field position matters a lot in the Big Ten. Go ahead and insert your favorite joke about Iowa and punting here, but the Hawkeyes needed just 11.67 yards per point, second in the Big Ten and seventh nationally. Iowa ranked 109th in rushing, 81st in passing and 113th in explosive-plays percentage.

That's some classic Big Ten stuff right there. And it's going to be interesting to see how Frost's brand of football fits in. It's not like nobody is doing this in the conference. Penn State's outranked Iowa in yards per point, and did it while putting up very good rush, pass and explosive play numbers. (UCF led the country in yards per point, if you're curious.)

But I would still call that type of football a contrarian strategy in the Big Ten. Last year UCF's offense was the second-most explosive passing offense in the country behind Oklahoma. And it's headed to a conference that traditionally tamps down big passing plays.

It's going to be fun to watch. It should eventually be a "good-on-good" scenario. When Frost's offense blooms at Nebraska it should be a unit capable of racking up yards in chunk and at a high-pace.

And if it is that at some point in the future, it will be doing it against a group of defenses that traditionally outpace the national averages in most categories.

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