Innovative Statistics: Which Teams Posed As College Football’s Most Efficient Offenses And Defenses In 2016?

It’s been over a month and a half since college football last made its appearance onto my television screen. And if I may add, that’s probably one month and a half too long. Because if you don’t already know, I’m a college football junkie on this site, writing up recaps over what went down each Saturday, and breaking down the X’s and O’s of the sport’s top players and programs. Trust me, when I say I miss it. I truly miss it. I know first-hand that I can go a little bit overboard analyzing the sport I love.

But before I continue, I would like to congratulate the most recent National Champions, the Clemson Tigers and head coach Dabo Swinney for guiding the program to their first title in well over three decades. Beating Alabama is in no way shape or form feasible (heck, it’s currently a milestone in itself), but to do it with one second remaining and at the opponents goal-line takes major guts. Major. And with that, I’d also like to commemorate Deshaun Watson, and his legacy for being the most BADASS dude that’s ever competed on a football field. I mean, he didn’t just throw for 400+ yards on a Nick Saban defense once. He did it TWICE.

So now that all of my pleases and thank yous are out-of-the-way, I guess it’s time for me to tell you all why I wrote something on this site today? As you can see from the title, this post is all about team’s efficiency on both sides of the ball. In fact, it’s over which teams possessed the most efficient offenses and defenses in the sport this past season.

I must admit, determining how efficient teams were on offense and defense is an extremely difficult process to sort through. There’s a myriad of intangibles that go into it, such as points scored and allowed, and yards gained and allowed. For me, there was a lot of ways I could have went with this, but in order to make it more feasible I devised a way using Innovative Statistics and S&P+ metrics.

Obviously, the first question that comes to mind with this is what is S&P+? And what does it actually determine? S&P+ Ratings are a college football ratings system derived from the play-by-play data of all 800+ of a season’s FBS college football games (and 140,000+ plays). It is based around the core concepts of the Five Factors: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers. Overall offensive and defensive S&P+ ratings are labeled as adjusted scoring averages (points per game). Situational ‘plus’ ratings – Rushing S&P+, Passing S&P+, Standard Down+ and Passing Down+ – are still delivered on a scale in which 100 is the national average, above 100 is good (offense or defense) and below 100 is bad.

Also something to note: that in the split of rushing and passing S&P+, sacks are counted as passes, as in NFL data, and not runs as in official NCAA totals. In order to provide a better sense of what all of these metrics indicate, here is my quick overview of each of the five S&P+ offensive terms.

  • Rushing S&P+: This metric speaks for itself, it justifies how well an offense ran the football by using the national average scale of 100.
  • Passing S&P+: Just like in Rushing, this metric determines how effective an offense passed the ball using the base 100 scale.
  • Passing Down+: This is strictly defined as how effective an offense was when faced with second down with 8 or more yards to go, or third or fourth down with 5 or more yards to go.
  • Standard Down+: This is formulated over simply how effective an offense was when faced with all other downs (regular downs), for instance 1st & 10, 2nd & short, and 3rd & short.
  • Success Rate+: This tool is used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success rate in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. Success rate is based on percentage, the higher percentage hints a team moved the ball more efficiently than a team that had a lower success rate percentage.

To provide a clear-cut glimpse of the premiere offenses this season, I categorized each of the Top 5 finishers in the S&P+ categories last season at the very end of the offensive section. I also did the same for defenses. But in order to distinguish the most efficient defenses I pretty much kept the majority of the same S&P+ metrics used for labeling offense, only this time it’s how effective a defense was in trying to stop an offense amid these situations. Really, the only nuance I used for defensive efficiency was Havoc percentage, which takes account for how well a team’s defense rushed the passer with as whole – through either its front-seven or defensive backs.

So, with all of that being said, here is the overview of the five top teams I compiled that were the most efficient on their side of the ball.


Most Efficient Offenses 

Oklahoma Sooners: Points, yards, touchdowns….and even more points. That such pattern reigned true for Oklahoma’s dynamic offense in 2016, as they finished No. 1 overall in three of the S&P+ categories and in the Top 15 of everything else. Spearheaded by the recklessness of quarterback Baker Mayfield, the explosion of sleek wide-out Dede Westbrook and the power of tailback Samaje Perine, the Sooners engineered an offense that registered the seventh most points (571), third most yards (7,212) and the fourth most offensive TDs (73) in the entire FBS.

It was easy to forget, but Mayfield threw for 40 touchdowns and nine interceptions this past season, while also sporting the best completion percentage amongst all D-1 quarterbacks at 70.5 percent. It was this efficiency from Mayfield, plus two 1,000+ rushers in the backfield (Perine and Joe Mixon), and a 1,500 yard receiving effort from Westbrook that allowed the Sooners to execute the top highest Success Rt+ in the nation at 127.5. As a whole, Oklahoma displayed the most balanced offensive attack in College Football in 2016, averaging the most yards per play through the air (10.8) and on the ground (5.6) in the nation.

Florida State Seminoles: The season began with Florida State starting a true freshman quarterback and combatting with an inexperienced offensive line. It ended with the Seminoles finishing 2016 in the Top 10 of the offensive S&P+ metrics five times, with their lowest ranking coming in total passing (12th in the FBS).

Within the passing attack, quarterback Deondre Francois stood tall in the pocket even amidst receiving the 11th highest QB sack percentage amongst Power 5 quarterbacks. Francois delivered when FSU’s offense needed him, throwing for 3,350 yards and 20 TDs. Despite completing less than 60 percent of his passes (finishing 75th out of all D-1 QBs), Francois helped execute the second best passing down efficiency in the country. As much of a pleasant surprise Francois was, however, he in fact wasn’t the sole reason why the Seminoles emerged into a top-tier offense. It was more so from its superhuman in the backfield.

The truth of the matter is, while Francois served as the skeleton of Florida State’s human body; junior running back Dalvin Cook empowered to be the heart and brain to the rest of the team’s unity. No other tailback in America, much less in the Power 5, produced more on the football field than Cook did this season. During 321 of his offensive snaps, Dalvin accounted for 2,253 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns – fourth highest total in the FBS. It was this versatility both on the ground and catching passes that enabled FSU to be the No. 1 red zone offense in college football this past season.

Clemson Tigers: The recent national champions constructed an offense that very teams could replicate in 2016. Built primarily on timing, speed and precision, Clemson finished in the Top 10 in four of the six Off. S&P+ metrics. No other team in college football was blessed with more offensive weapons than Dabo Swinney’s Tigers. Of course much of the attention started with quarterback Deshaun Watson, and why wouldn’t it, the junior orchestrated an offense that manufactured the most first downs (403) and third most offensive touchdowns (78) in the county. In addition, Watson’s 4,593 passing yards and 41 TDs – which were both the third most among Power 5 QBs – helped string together the country’s No. 6 Passing S&P+.

It helped that Watson had big-time, play-making receivers in Mike Williams, Deon Cain, Hunter Renfrow and an all-purpose tight end Jordan Leggett to throw to. Williams in all likelihood will be the first WR to hear his name called in this upcoming NFL Draft, as he proved to be the major possession receiver that Clemson needed this season by catching 98 passes for 1,361 receiving yards and 11 TDs. In terms of S&P+ alone, Clemson’s rushing attack was steady but not explosive, finishing 30th in the FBS. However, Tigers’ Wayne Gallman demonstrated a workmanlike style in the backfield by rushing for 1,000+ yards in back-to-back seasons while also posting a career-high in touchdowns with 17.

Louisville Cardinals: One of College Football’s most thrilling and electrifying offenses resided in Louisville, KY this season. The Cardinals quickly established themselves as an offensive juggernaut, finishing in the Off. S&P+ Top 10 four out of six times and in the Top 5 three times (being No. 1 in rushing and SD S&P+). The main reason for Louisville’s subtle ascension to the top of the offensive metrics was the emergence of dynamic quarterback and recent Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. During his sophomore season, Jackson threw for 3,543 passing yards, 30 TDs and held a total QBR of 84.1 (6th best in NCAA). As a whole, Jackson captivated the nation with not only his enormous strides as a passer, but his elusiveness and elegance on the ground, rushing for 1,561 yards and 21 scores – which are now the most for a college quarterback ever in a single-season.

With all of that being said, Jackson meant the world to the Cards’ offense. However, Louisville was still littered with several other playmakers in 2016. Senior Brandon Radcliff rushed for a career-high 903 yards and maintained the 10th best YPC average amongst all D-1 running backs at 6.6. Moreover, speedy receivers such as James Quick (no pun intended with last name), Cole Hikutuni and Jamari Staples each registered at least 650 receiving yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage this past fall.

USC Trojans: No other Power 5 team suffered more adversity with premiere talent on its roster early in the season than USC did. Through the season’s first four weeks, the Trojans went 1-3 and saw its offense average 23 points, 352 yards and two offensive touchdowns per game. To make matters worse, USC was faced with no identity at quarterback, shuffling between career-backup junior Max Browne and true freshman Sam Darnold each half. It wasn’t until USC’s Week 5 matchup at home versus Arizona State where their quarterback controversy was put to rest. In that game, Darnold completed 68 percent of his passes, tossed three touchdowns for 366 yards, and galvanized the Trojans to a much-needed victory. In the process, it also kick-started their offense to being as efficient to the days of Matt Leinart.

Okay, it wasn’t that drastic but it sure seems like it after the fact. Darnold (246/366, 3,064 yards and 31 TDs) literally resurrected USC’s season from being merely a “bowl eligible” one to winning 10 games and capturing the programs’ first Rose Bowl win in seven long seasons. Not only that, but Darnold proved to be USC’s quarterback of the future and in the season’s second half he helped push the Trojans to being in the Off. S&P+ Top 10 four times, and in the Top 5 three times.

Top 5 teams in Off. S&P+

  • Oklahoma (46.9)
  • Florida State (40.8)
  • Pitt (40.5)
  • Texas Tech (40.3)
  • California (40.1)

Top 5 teams in Rushing S&P+

  • Louisville (152.3)
  • Alabama (134)
  • Ohio State (133.4)
  • Florida State (131.7)
  • Navy (131.6)

Top 5 teams in Passing S&P+

  • Oklahoma (155.9)
  • Penn State (141.2)
  • USC (136.1)
  • Western Kentucky (134.7)
  • Washington (134.2)

Top 5 teams in SD+ (Standard Downs)

  • Louisville (135.0)
  • Washington (129.4)
  • Oklahoma (129.0)
  • Tennessee (126.4)
  • Clemson (126.0)

Top 5 teams in PD+ (Passing Downs)

  • Oklahoma (153.6)
  • Florida State (147.7)
  • USC (144.2)
  • Navy (141.9)
  • Western Kentucky (140.6)

Top 5 teams in Success Rt (based on percentage)

  • Oklahoma (52.7%)
  • Western Kentucky (52.4%)
  • Louisiana Tech (52.3%)
  • Western Michigan (51.6%)
  • Washington (51.2%)


Most Efficient Defenses

Alabama Crimson Tide: Despite allowing a season-ending touchdown pass to Clemson in the waning seconds of the National Championship Game, Alabama still rolled out a defense that proved to be the most formidable out of anyone in America. The Tide finished 2016 No. 1 in four of the six main statistical categories defensively. Bama’s weekly Saturday dominance defensively this past season was one for the history books. Through 15 games, the Tide surrendered a minuscule 13 points per game (first in FBS), 14 first downs per game (seventh in FBS) and 261 offensive yards per game (second in FBS).

To put it simply, nearly every offense in the country failed to move the football efficiently against the Tide defense – well unless your offense was quarterbacked by Deshaun Watson. First-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pluitt pioneered a defense which already contained an embarrassment of riches to work with, and made it better. Starting with veteran linebackers Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Reuben Foster and interior defensive lineman Johnathan Allen, the “Big 4” combined to tally 63.5 tackles for loss and 32 sacks – generating a front-seven havoc of 14 percent (third best in country). In addition, Pruitt guided the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey, Ronnie Harrison and Anthony Averett to form the No. 1 passing down defense in the country – a unit which all garnered at least five passes defended and one interception in 2016.

LSU Tigers: Although the Tide’s overpowering defense received a bulk of the attention from the media nationally (and rightfully so), LSU’s defense displayed shades of brilliance throughout the season also. For the most part, the Tigers kept pace with Alabama, posting a Top 3 finish in five of the six defensive S&P+ categories, including being No. 2 in the nation in passing down defense.

Much of the reason for LSU’s dominating defense through the air was supported by the tremendous play of defensive backs Donte Jackson and Tre’Davious White – whom combined achieved 22 passes defended this season – plus stellar performance from soon to be drafted safety Jamal Adams. While the Tigers’ pass rush wasn’t as ferocious, finishing 44th in the FBS in front-seven havoc, first-year defensive coordinator made up for it by producing the seventh best DB havoc in the nation (8.8 percent), which was better than the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Washington and even Clemson.

Michigan Wolverines: It didn’t take long for Jim Harbaugh to craft a defense that fit his personality: rough, gritty and full of passion. A style such as this proved to be Michigan’s calling card in 2016, as its ferocious D saw opponents fail to eclipse 200 total yards of offense five times this season. Top-to-bottom, Michigan’s defense was as complete and productive as it gets, finishing in the Top 5 of every S&P+ metric, including No. 1 in passing down defense.

In total, Michigan yielded only five first downs per game through the air in 2016, while holding opposing QBs to a 43.8 completion percentage. To go along with that, the Wolverines saw a major resurrection in its pass rush, accumulating the fourth most team sacks in America with 46. A majority of their success up-front was bolstered alongside an outstanding front-seven, consisting of linebackers Jabrill Peppers (he played so many position in 2016, so labeling him as a LB was difficult) and Ben Gedeon. Combined, they generated a havoc percentage of 23.9, best in the college football.

Florida Gators: Lost within the uproar of LSU and Alabama, Florida quietly featured an air-tight defense that proved to last amidst the battles in a top-heavy SEC. Jim McElwain’s bunch might not have offered the glamour as the Tide or Tigers, as their highest ranking in any of the S&P+ metrics was fourth twice (total defense and standard down defense). However, the Gators hinted very few weaknesses overall, finishing in the Top 10 in the country in first down defense (total of 206 first downs allowed), red zone defense (28 RZ scores allowed) and scoring defense (16.8 PPG allowed). A lions share of the credit involving Florida’s stingy defense should go towards its stellar secondary, which flourished under tackling-phenom Marcell Harris (43 solo tackles) and ball-hawking defensive back Quincy Wilson (seven passed defended).

Washington Huskies: Washington was able to achieve a breakout season in 2016, such as winning 10+ games and taking home the program’s first Pac 12 title in 15 years. It was through the efforts of standouts corners Sidney Jones and Kevin King (whom combined totaled 18 passes defended) as well as versatile safety Buddha Baker (finished season 70 total tackles) to mold the Huskies’ D into a fearsome unit. Although Washington failed to finish in the Top 5 of any of the defensive S&P+ metrics, collectively they managed to stay in Top 10 of every statistical category mentioned all season – a claim that only three schools attested to this season – the other two being No. 1 and No. 2 on this list.

Top 5 teams in Def. S&P+

  • Alabama (5.9)
  • Michigan (7.7)
  • LSU (12.6)
  • Florida (13.3)
  • Ohio State (13.6)

Top 5 teams in Def. Rushing S&P+

  • Alabama (190.4)
  • Western Kentucky (138.9)
  • LSU (134.8)
  • Michigan (133.3)
  • Houston (108.5)

Top 5 teams in Def. Passing S&P+

  • Michigan (165.9)
  • Alabama (163.8)
  • LSU (151.3)
  • Clemson (133.5)
  • Washington (131.5)

Top 5 teams in Def. SD+ (Defense on Standard Downs)

  • Alabama (164.0)
  • Michigan (141.7)
  • LSU (134.7)
  • Florida (132.6)
  • Ohio State (128.0)

Top 5 finishers in PD+ (Defense on Passing Downs)

  • Alabama (184.7)
  • LSU (162.4)
  • Clemson (153.5)
  • Boston College (151.9)
  • Michigan (150.3)

Top 5 finishers in Havoc (based on percentage)

  • Michigan (23.9%) – Front 7: 15.9%, DB: 7.9%
  • Boston College (22.8%) – Front 7: 16.1%, DB: 6.6%
  • Alabama (22.4%) – Front 7: 14%, DB: 8.3%
  • Clemson (22.1%) – Front 7: 13.9%, DB: 8.1%
  • Utah (21.2%) – Front 7: 12.5%, DB: 8.4%

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