Given all of the talk lately about offensive and defensive performance and passing vs. running, I thought I'd look at some statistics from the past seven years to see if there are any trends among the elite teams.
Methodology: I looked at offensive, defensive, rushing, passing, and "big-chunk" plays for the teams ranked 1-4 (before the bowls) over the past seven seasons. While it's not perfect, these 29 (i looked at 5 teams from 2008) teams represent the likely playoff caliber teams over the past 7 years. I'll provide the list of teams at the end.
In all cases, I looked at where the teams were ranked in college football, as opposed to looking at specific yardage or TD numbers.
Scoring Offense: The average playoff team had a scoring offense ranked 10th in the country. The worst scoring offenses over that time were ranked 80th and 78th. The corresponding defense for those two teams were ranked 1st and 5th. Those teams were both from 2012: ND and UF.
Scoring Defense: The average playoff team had a scoring defense ranked 5th in the country. The worst scoring defenses over that time were ranked 61st and 58th. The corresponding offenses for those two teams were ranked 2nd and 1st: Ok St. in 2011 and OU in 2008.
The average playoff team is pretty balanced, with a delta between offensive and defensive performance of 13.
Analysis: The average playoff team has either an elite offense or elite defense, but more teams with elite defenses have made the playoffs than teams with elite offenses.
Rushing: The average playoff team has had a rushing offense ranked 20th in the country. The worst rushing offense of playoff caliber teams is FSU performance this year (107th). The next worst team was ranked 61st. Those were the only teams below average (60th or worse).
Passing: The average playoff team has had a passing offense ranked 48th in the country. The worst passing performance of playoff caliber teams was UF in 2012 (118th). There were four other passing offenses ranked 90th or worse, and 12 teams below average (60th or worse).
Big Chunk Plays
Rushing (runs greater than 10 yds): Since 2010, the average playoff team has ranked 20th in this area.
Passing (passes greater than 20 yds): Since 2010, the average playoff team has ranked 30th in this area.
Analysis: The average playoff team gets its fair share of big chunk plays, but a team does not need to be elite in this area in order to be a playoff contender.
Our offense has yet to score to the caliber of the average playoff team. Our defense has done this once, in 2012.
I think that offensive scheme is important. Teams that are elite at rushing the ball make the playoffs more frequently than teams that are elite in passing the ball. It is easier to overcome a poor passing attack than it is to overcome an inadequate rushing game, as evidenced by the number of putrid passing teams that have made the playoffs in the past seven years.
Kelly has placed an emphasis on big chunk passing plays, but I am not sure that correlates as strongly with "success" as some other metrics such as big chunk runs, total rushing, or scoring defense. We've been very successful this year at big-chunk passes (6th) and average at big-chunk runs (53rd). My theory is that while big chunk passes can be devastating, they probably come with a certain amount of risk (higher turnover rate and higher sack rate) that lessens their overall impact. Unfortunately those data are not easily divined from CFBstats.com
Here are the teams:
2014: Bama, Oregon, FSU, and MISS St
2013: FSU, Auburn, Bama, MSU
2012: Bama, ND, Oregon, UF
2011: Bama, LSU, OK. St., Stanford
2010: Auburn, Oregon, TCU, Stanford
2009: Bama, Texas,UF, TCU
2008: UF, OU, USC, Texas, Bama (I don't recall enough of that season to remember who would have made it among USC, Texas, and Bama).