Southwest Round-Up Unit Rankings: Offensive Line

For centuries man has sought a way to measure offensive line play. Now we have a way, and we aren't real good at it. With that moment of transparency out of the way, let's look at the 12 FBS schools in Texas and rank them "scientifically."

Here's how we did it:

Football Outsiders has given us a number of advanced analytics relating to offensive line play. We'll focus on a few specific statistical areas. These are areas that are "complex" and "mathmatically" based. Two words we don't normally jump right into. So consider this the Cliff Notes version of any explaination. As a matter of fact let's just say this is Cliff's slower dumber cousin who's not good at typing. Here we go...

Adjusted Line Rate: Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages.

Line Yards Per Carry: A statistical analysis of what yardage per carry the line is responsible for.

Standard and Passing Downs: A down and distance determination of what is a "standard" or "passing down." Football Outsiders defines Passing downs as:

Second down with 8 or more yards to go
Third and Fourth Down with five or more yards to go

Opportunity Rate: This is the percentage of carries in which the offensive line "does its job" and produces at least five yards of rushing for the runner. (Generally speaking, the first five yards are considered the line's responsibility, the next five are split evenly between the runner and the line, and anything over 10 yards is all on the runner.)

Power Success Rate: The percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.

Stuff Rate: This is the percentage of runs where the runner is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Adjusted Sack Rate: An opponent-adjusted measure of sack rates.

Whew, my head hurts real good. Go here for more information on these and other headache inducing stats.

We didn't just look at stats, we also looked at schedule rankings from 2012, returning starters, game experience lost, game experience returning, and "Impact Returnees"/"Impact Players Lost." An Impact player is one that garnered either first or second team all conference status from the year before. As far as schedule rankings goes, we had to adjust based on how many FCS schools or, in UTSA's case, how may FCS schools they played.

Lastly we made a subjective assessment of talent from each group, can this group progress or regress based on things like offensive system, schedule strength, continuity, etc.

So...

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Baylor takes the top spot on our list. The Bears did everything pretty well last year. They were exeptional at running the ball in all downs and distance, ranking in the top twenty in both rushing and passing situations. They were in the top 30 in sack rate as well. They lose 84 combined starts from 2012, but return 55 starts including 29 from All-Big 12 second teamer Cyril Richardson. Baylor played the toughest schedule in 2012 of all Texas FBS schools so they were pretty good against real good competition.

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Everyone's back on the 40 acres. The Longhorns return a combined 121 starts from last season. Horns were a top 20 rushing team last year and they can get better. The Longhorns were very good on Power Downs - 3rd and 4th downs with less than 2 yards to make. Trey Hopkins is an impact returnee at tackle. This line should do nothing but improve if they can stay on the field together.  

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A&M weighs in at number three. Last year the unit was the second best in the country behind 'Bama. This year they replace 87 combined starts from just two players, number 2 pick Luke Joekel and four year starter Patrick Lewis. The Aggies return another potential top 5 pick in Jake Matthews and a future star in Cedric Ogbuehi who moves to tackle. The Aggies were helped immensely by the running of Johnny Manziel, but they also gave the quarterback loads of time. In the end the lost starts and lost lottery pick hurt, just not too much.

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Coming in 4th is Rice...wait...what? Yep the Owls have five starters back and two reserves who've each seen time in the starting line-up. Don't let the Owls fool you, they can smash you in short yardage, a top five team, and they're stuff rate is top 30 as well. The Owls took a lot of sacks last  year, McHargue was sacked 7% of the time he dropped back while back-up Driphus Jackson was caught almost 10% of the time. That's too high, especially on passing downs. 

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Texas State at number 5. Am I high you ask? Not to my knowledge. But looking at the number, even taking into account opponent ranking, this is about as low as I can go on the Bobcats. The Bobcats pushed people around. Their stuff rate is top 15, their line yards on average downs is as well and they were better than average in adjusted line rate. All that with a revolving door at a couple of positions due to injury. Now I don't know what any of that means, but I think the Bobcats were pretty good up front. Here's the bad news, while the Cats ran the ball well, they didn't protect that well. Actually they protected pretty awful. So while they were top of the charts on one end of the spectrum they were in the cellar on the other end.

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SMU's offensive line is the 6th best in the Round-Up rankings. While the Mustangs only return 2 starters the Mustangs were very good at blocking the run last year. Like Texas State, they had problems when it came to blocking the pass. The Mustangs were a top 50 unit in Adjusted Line Rate and a top 30 unit in Line Yards Per Carry, Stuff Rate, and Opportunity Rate. All this while playing a schedule that top to bottom wasn't all together that bad. If they can fill holes and protect better they'll be well on their way.

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TCU comes in at 7th. They return just two starters from a line that struggled last year. The Frogs should expect better than a 91st ranking in Line Rate. What they did well what push people around, at least on short yardage. What they didn't do well was everything else including pass protection.  

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Tech lines up at number 8. The Red Raiders lost a whopping 107 starts from last year and some valuable back-ups who left in the Spring as well. Tech was middle of the road statically, and I expect that the new faces will be helped by the tempo of Tech's offensive scheme. But the Raiders will have to contend inexperience.  

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The Cougars are the 9th ranked O-line in the Round-Ups run down. Here's what they did well, pass protection. Here's what they did poorly, run blocking. The Cougs return four starters and some quality depth. They could be a candidate to improve significantly if they can improve on short yardage. That's a mindset issue more than an issue of technique. They return an Honorable Mention All-CUSA performer Bryce Redman.  

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North Texas is our 10th ranked line. The Mean Green were the best FBS school in pass protection when the opposition should be expecting a pass. They weren't very good at much else.  Awful at run blocking, UNT returns 3 starters from a unit that had real difficulty getting the tough yards. The line returns three starters and 70 plus combined starts, but they're moving up in the world from the Sun Belt to the new look Conference USA. UNT was ranked in the triple digits in almost every run game category last year. One in four times the Mean Green ran the ball, they didn't get back to the line of scrimmage.

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UTEP checks in as our number 11 ranked offensive line. The Miners were below average in most statistical categories. With new Coach Sean Kugler wanting to make the Miners more physical, he'll have his work cut out for him with this unit. UTEP returns three starters and they'll have to get better across the board for the Miners to have any shot at improving their record. Their stuff rate was just just under 23% and on short yardage the Miners were more often than not, unsuccessful.

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The Roadrunners are the 12 ranked offensive line unit in our list. They are a difficult bunch to gauge. Like UNT, the Runners were very good at pass protection and like the Mean Green they were as soft as Cottonelle when running the ball. They return four starters and by the time this season ends, barring injury, this group will have played three seasons together. Statistically they weren't terrible in some areas, but UTSA also played two FCS schools and two Division II opponents, watering downthe final product.