History says Huskers should be favorites to win Big 12 North


When I hear people talking about their pick to win the Big 12 North in football this season, the debate almost always becomes philosophical.

What wins championships? Is it a dominating offense, or a dominating defense?

Obviously, Kansas and Nebraska look like the two front-runners. Both look to win games in completely different ways.

For KU, it will be about outscoring opponents. With Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Jake Sharp and Kerry Meier returning, the Jayhawks are as loaded with returning players at the skill positions as anyone in the conference.

For NU, it will be all about shutting other teams down. Defense is coach Bo Pelini’s specialty, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh — a sufefire top-10 pick in next year’s draft — should lead a strong defensive unit.

So what has won the Big 12 North in the past? Has it been teams that have a better offense than defense, or teams that have a better defense than offense?

The history might surprise you.

I went back and looked up the Big 12 scoring offense and scoring defense* ranks for each North team that has advanced to the Big 12 championship game since the league was formed in 1996.

*— Scoring offense is points scored per game. Scoring defense, then, is points allowed per game.

Here are the numbers:

2008 Missouri — 4th in offense, 3rd in defense
2007 Missouri — 4th in offense, 3rd in defense
2006 Nebraska — 4th in offense, 2nd in defense
2005 Colorado — 9th in offense, 7th in defense
2004 Colorado — 9th in offense, 8th in defense
2003 Kansas State — 4th in offense, 3rd in defense
2002 Colorado — 9th in offense, 4th in defense
2001 Colorado — 4th in offense, 7th in defense
2000 Kansas State — 2nd in offense, 2nd in defense
1999 Nebraska — 3rd in offense, 1st in defense
1998 Kansas State — 1st in offense, 1st in defense
1997 Nebraska — 1st in offense, 2nd in defense
1996 Nebraska — 1st in offense, 1st in defense
Average ranking of North champion team — 4.2nd in offense, 3.4th in defense

History doesn’t look good if you’re a Kansas fan.

In the 13 years of the Big 12, only twice has a North team advanced to the Big 12 championship with a higher-ranked offense than defense. The last time it happened was eight years ago (Colorado in 2001). Nebraska also accomplished the feat in 1997, but its defense was no slouch either, as the Huskers ranked first in offense and second in defense.

On the flip side, eight times in the last 13 years the North representative in the Big 12 has had a better defense than offense. Not only that, the last seven North teams to reach the Big 12 championship have had a better defense than offense.

I’m sure the first response from many KU fans will be to bring up 2007. The Jayhawks tied for the Big 12 North title that year with Missouri, and KU’s success that season should prove that teams can win the Big 12 North with a great offense, right?

Well, that’s partially true. But what we can’t forget is that the Jayhawks had an excellent defense that year, too.

KU actually ranked first in both scoring offense and scoring defense that season. So while KU was successful with a good offense, the victories were made just as possible with a Jayhawks’ defensive unit that allowed just 16.4 points per game.

Conference history would seem to favor the Cornhuskers to win the North this season.

For the KU football team to advance to its first Big 12 championship game, it will either need a significant improvement from its defense or it will need to buck a Big 12 North history that would indicate that defense — and not offense — still wins championships.


sevenyearhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Excellent analysis as always, Jesse ...

goes to make popcorn while waiting for the comments to roll in

Kevin Long 8 years, 11 months ago

David Lawrence said that he thought the Kansas D line could be the best since the 92 season. I trust Davids opinion a lot. If he is right that could paint a little different picuture. Defense does win championships though...just ask the 03 Chiefs!

patton6 8 years, 11 months ago

I won't dispute any of this, because really, how could I? What I will do is say that some of this is relative...Missouri might have technically had a higher ranked defense than offense the past two years, but there's no question that the offense was the catalyst behind most of their success. And while Kansas had a high ranked defense in '07 and a low ranked unit in '08, a lot of that came from the schedule. The offense was far better each year - but based on who they played, their rankings differed quite a bit.

With all of that said, I'd definitely agree that no matter how great their offense is this year, they'd be VERY well served to work in a few more defensive stops.

Alex Berger 8 years, 11 months ago

Yeah, defense wins championships, but unless Nebraska has a decent offense (which it seems like they won't) I don't think they'll do anything. The winner of the Nebraska-Kansas game will win the Big XII North. I think it's as easy as that.

Alex Berger 8 years, 11 months ago

But when I say they won't do anything, I mean they won't win the North. They'll still be top 25 good if their defense is as good as advertised.

Ryan Wood 8 years, 11 months ago

It's not as easy as that, AlBerg, because the two teams don't face the same conference schedule.

There's one difference: Nebraska plays Baylor, while Kansas plays Texas. Edge: Huskers.

Rivethead 8 years, 11 months ago


You think that trip to Waco will be fun for the Bugeaters?

They get to face the best QB in the Big XII (Robert Griffin Jr.) and a team returning the most experience of any Big XII team. Yeah, I know, it's still Baylor, but you only need to look at the A&M game last season to see what they're capable of. And they'll be even better this year.......

KGphoto 8 years, 11 months ago

Oops. I meant Hey Rivethead.

I can't believe you just called Robert Griffin Jr. the best QB in the Big 12. And Baylor returning the most experience? Experience at what? Losing? You sound like a Branch Davidian.

Jim Williamson 8 years, 11 months ago

Robert Griffin is a terrific QB, but he can't make chicken dumplings out of chicken droppings. Baylor sucks.

Don't forget that Corn has to go to Columbia, Boulder (they always struggle there) and Lawrence. They also have to play OU in Lincoln.

Meanwhile, KU has to go to Austin (loss), Boulder (win) and Lubbock (push) while getting OU in Lawrence.

I give KU a whoooole lot better chance to beat OU this year than the Bugeaters. I think KU is the narrowest of favorites.

sevenyearhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Baylor almost beat Mizzou last year with Chase Daniel ... any quarterback the Huskers muster won't be nearly as good as he was.

That game's in Waco?

I say edge Bears ...

Kansas should beat Tech, even in Lubbock ... they almost did four years ago even with Brian Luke (I know, I saw it with my own two eyes)

Kansas / Oklahoma is going to be absolutely freaking nuts!

100 8 years, 11 months ago

Good Analysis.

Now break it down with the "type" of offensive domination KU should have.

A team like next year's doesn't come along very often -- past average stats using above average offenses does nothing to sway a team that is legitimately determined and uniquely dominant on the offensive side of the ball.

It is a great offense, great tools, led by Reesing & it's just a 25% educated guess a defensive coordinator makes to stop a given play.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk

rasta_meta 8 years, 11 months ago

In my opinion, this is an excellent example of misusing statistics. You really need to make sure the statistics you use are statistically relevant before you can claim relevance. If I were to apply the durbin-watson statistic I think you would find that these are not statistically relevant.

First, the ppg game is dictated by who you play as much as it is about how good you are. For example, if we play a really bad team and score 50 points it will make the offense averages go up. At the same time, Mangino may decide to give second and third strings some reps on defense because of all of the points on offense. They may allow 28 points. This would bring he defensive average down. These are no way reflective of the quality of offense or defense we that we may have. Also, the North offenses of the past were primarily run offenses. This had a huge impact on the ppg for their respective defenses.

IMHO, this is a very bad statistic to be using because there are too many factors that form the basis of whether ppg rankings are actually relevant.

rasta_meta 8 years, 11 months ago

BTW, I should have said statistically significant instead of statistically relevant.

Kevin Holt 8 years, 11 months ago

Agree with rasta. Additionally, I don't think there is much statistical significance between 4.2 and 3.4. even if they were valid measures.

Still a fun article...thinking about football is always good.

"Defense wins championships" was probably first uttered by some off. coordinator who was trying to save his job by blaming the 'D'. It's too simplistic to say that D wins...everyone knows it, but still it gets quoted. It obviously takes the triangle built with good talent by good coaching.

Annette Lee 8 years, 11 months ago

Has anyone heard about Justin Thornton? He was Hcmm's dog house.

suttonku 8 years, 11 months ago

Doesnt matter what history says the Huskers will be miserable on offense next in game experience at the QB position spells problems and the fact that zac lee played well in the spring game doesnt mean to me that hes good it means that the husker defense is bad...and look at their wide receiver one really is very good I mean come on niles paul? give me a break...and I think the KU defense will surprise some people next season...I know the Jayhawks will beat NU in Lawrence next season

Dyrk Dugan 8 years, 11 months ago

KU has a veteran returning QB....and we play the corn in Lawrence....big advantage Kansas. It doesn't really matter where you rank compared to your own offense and's all relative to the year you're talking about. if there are bad offenses, then your defense willl look better and vice versa.

Every year is different. and the fact is, we scored 35 points on them in Lincoln, and gave up 45. This year, if they score 45 on might take them 3 games....i mean, they don't HAVE an offense, so to speak. no receivers back, no returning QB and no Marlon Lucky. We have EVERYBODY back. so if Mr. Suh can shut us down, then bless his heart....but it's going to be tough.

Eric Sorrentino 8 years, 11 months ago

Nebraska may not have Marlon Lucky, but the Huskers are probably better off without him. Roy Helu Jr. took time away from Lucky last year and Quentin Castille played great in the Gator Bowl. They're both back. Make no mistake, Nebraska will be able to run the football in the fall.

suttonku 8 years, 11 months ago

Castille has a warrant out for his arrest and I think the pressure was off Helu last year...this year they have to fill some holes on the line and you wont be bale to run the ball every play and when they pass look out because Zac Lee is terrible

cornhawk 8 years, 11 months ago

Castille HAD a warrant out for missing a court appearance relating to a traffic violation. It was taken care of one day later and there is no longer a warrant.

Also interesting to hear you say Lee is terrible considering that he has absolutely no game experience to base that opinion on

cornhuskerfan1988 8 years, 11 months ago

Wow. Not too much love for the big red down there is there? There is a disguistingly large amount of Jay Hawk stuff on campus here during the basketball season (no offense to you guys, I root for you when you aren't playing Nebraska, I just wish there was more support, especially on campus for our basketball team).

I was referred here by Griffin's Big XII blog on ESPN (I would suggest it to any of you, he does a pretty good job representing all Big XII schools), and I noticed some good discussion points. What makes you guys think our O-line and Lee are going to be so bad? I was at our spring game, and I have to say, it made me feel good about the upcoming season.

peacecole 8 years, 11 months ago

Zach Lee was a 4* comming out of JC in California. Now I realize it's not the Big 12 but those are pretty good stats no matter where you are.

             Rushing              Passing

Statistics G TD Lg PA PC Pct Yds TD Int 2006 (JC) 11 6 25 360 231 64.2 3,471 31 5

JJHAWK 8 years, 11 months ago

Opinion is hot air - sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Something fans do when the games are not on and the professional teams are gasping hot air.

If people (some) think Nebraska will be top 25 material, I'd say that's a lot of respect - given the unknowns.

I think Doc Sadler is doing a bang up job for Nebraska BB. He will get the job done for you guys. I see NCAA's in your future not to far out.

Myself, I like KU's football chances but fear our line play (& injuries) may be the determining factor to our football fortunes. Bottom line, lets strap it on and let the games began. I'm ready! I'll be there watching and rooting.

suttonku 8 years, 11 months ago

actually I go to the University of Nebraska and I went to that spring game...yes he put up some numbers but its a little different with a good defense in front of you...Zac Lee is a bum and he wont do anything next year...and that defense is atrocious I mean to let a converted LB to QB throw TDs on you is pretty sad...NU fans are ridiculous like this every year so this is nothing new...look NU doesnt play a tough schedule next year so they have a shot at the north but they play KU is lawrence next year and what happened the last time they came to Lawrence? didnt we put up like 76 points or something like that?

suttonku 8 years, 11 months ago

I also like Sadler but I dont think he will be able to get them to the NCAA tourny...tough to recruit players to come to lincoln...I think he will get them as good as he can and then he will prolly leave for a better job...prolly bakc to the south

Kman_blue 8 years, 11 months ago

I said it on the comments section on the last "story" this place published on KU football and I'll say it here.

To heII with "History"! KU football is NOW! Get used to it!

JJHAWK 8 years, 11 months ago


Danny Nee did it and I think Sadler is a step or two up from Nee. However, the landscape (BB & football) is certainly changing in the Big 12. Who would have thought that two of the top three BB teams in the big twelve would have been from the North last year. K-State and Missouri will be interesting this year - & maybe Nebraska. If Doc has a really good year, will be interesting to see if Nebraska makes the effort to keep him.

Interested in your comments on Nebraska's football defense. We didn't compete well with them upfront last year. Will be interesting to see if our new Co-defensive coach makes a difference. Heard KU is toying with going to a new defense geared to stop the spread. Hope it works.

djgratt59 8 years, 11 months ago

Jeez guys, I could place six bowls of cat food in front of my cat and she could pick the percentages (over the long haul) as well as any sports writer. Speaks to the randomness of life.

As for any particular season, that's a different question, but no easier.

suttonku 8 years, 11 months ago


NU will be tough on the defensive front i mean Suh is a man-child but having said that, the NU secondary is a joke and you can take that to the bank...very questionable at the LB spot as overall the defense will be average but not good enough to stop Big 12 offenses consistently...and with the offense...really their best WR is niles paul and well that truly is sad some second string WR are better than him at other big 12 schools (like KU for instance)...offensive line I honestly have no idea and I dont think any of the NU staff does either...haha and the QB situation makes me laugh every time because the NU fans think that Zac Lee is gonna be amazing and I KNOW that he wont be half as good as everyone thinks he will be...hes a runner first type guy so that means NU will be running a ton next year because they do have a talented running back crew...thats my take on NU football for next season (highly overrated)...and when you look at what KU returns next season your jaw just drops...I think people are overlooking this KU team and I love it...This team will beat NU, MU, CU, ISU, KSU, TTU, and I think they can beat either UT or OU...they have the talent to surprise UT or OU, I know that seems ridiculous but trust me its gonna happen next year...KU prolly another trip to the Orange Bowl

Christopher Hauser 8 years, 11 months ago

suttonku-I am not trying to be a jerk or call you out on this board and if you could just see my post yourself I would feel better about saying this but "Prolly" come on. Its like saying drawling instead of drawing. If I post with words like that I will expect you to do the same to me please.

Christopher Hauser 8 years, 11 months ago

suttonku-I am still feeling bad about calling you out, the content of your post was great.

suttonku 8 years, 10 months ago

its all good it was early in the morning for me lol honestly what you said was correct I hate when people talk like that as well and it will not happen again

Jeff Johnson 8 years, 10 months ago

KU loses in Lubbock. Tech's offense is more prolific...even with a new starting QB...and KU's defense won't be much better than last season if at all having to replace all three LB's and at least one other starter..

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