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Big 12 Football: Tales of the Third Down

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Warning: We are about to take a journey into the realm of misleading statistics (no, this is not advanced metrics such as "Future Probability of Conversion" but rather something more concrete)...tread lightly!


There is no doubt that third down conversions play a crucial role in the success of a drive. With immense leverage on the line, teams surge ahead or take two steps back based on their ability to convert on this make-or-break down. A shot of confidence is up for grabs on either side of the ball!

However, the stat alone becomes misleading as fans and coaches alike push for the fabled "manageable third down." Of course, any team would like to remain as successful as possible on third down conversions. The problem with this mentality manifests itself as teams attempt to attaining a third and short type situation. In doing so, coaches and teams essentially defeat themselves as a tide of momentum washes back out to sea. Why? The most common approach to converting on a third and short situation...hold your breath and close your eyes as this may come as a big surprise...has been and will be to run the ball. Yet, the vice versa is true as well in the fact that on third and long, the expectation is to throw the ball. This leaves defensive coordinators with two different options depending on the situation. With a bit of timing, some execution, and a pinch of luck the defense wins out more often than not due to predictability.

The one thing this stat may reveal is the ability of a team to pass the ball and/or run the ball along with the ability of the defense to stop them. How successful is each Big 12 team in converting third down attempts...

Big 12 Third Down Conversion Rates

Rank Team 3rd Down Attempts 3rd Down Conversions Conversion Rate (%)
1 Baylor Bears 35 20 57.14
2 Texas Tech Red Raiders 68 35 51.47
3 Kansas St. Wildcats 51 26 50.98
4 Oklahoma St. Cowboys 56 26 46.43
5 Oklahoma Sooners 64 29 45.31
6 Iowa St. Cyclones 49 20 40.82
7 Texas Longhorns 61 24 39.34
8 Kansas Jayhawks 45 17 37.78
9 TCU Horned Frogs 54 17 31.43
10 West Virginia Mountaineers 74 23 31.08

By no means is this a measuring stick of how good a team is or can be. With that said, shouldn't the point be to avoid third down all together? Instead moving toward the mindset and approach that each down is an isolated opportunity for a 10-yard gain? Some of the best teams in the nation, past and present, prove able to convert on first and second down consistently without relying heavily on the ability to convert third downs. Case in point, the 2013 Baylor Bears with a mere 35 attempts through three games.

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