ESPN’s SP+ Projections Very High on OSU’s Defense in 2021

OSU’s defense finished last season ranked inside the top 20 nationally of ESPN’s SP+ metrics. And if preseason modeling is even remotely accurate in predicting the future, the unit should be even stronger for the Cowboys in 2021.

Connelly’s predictive model, which factors in returning production, recent recruiting and recent history, has OSU’s defense as the strongest unit of the team — by a healthy margin! — at No. 13 in SP+’s most recent update. That ranks ahead of every team in the Big 12 and, most notably, two spots ahead of OU’s defense, which comes in at No. 15.

Team Defense
Oklahoma St. 17.4 (13)
Oklahoma 17.9 (15)
Baylor 18.0 (16)
Iowa St. 19.0 (22)
TCU 19.0 (23)
W. Virginia 20.8 (34)
Texas 21.5 (38)
Kansas St. 27.5 (76)
Texas Tech 28.1 (80)
Kansas 34.4 (115)

Somewhat surprisingly, though, OSU is outside the top 25 of the SP+ overall and fourth among all Big 12 teams — at No. 27 — ahead of the start of the season. That’s in large part because the same metric that is very high on OSU’s defense is surprisingly low on its offense, which comes in tied for the fourth-best in the league with … Kansas State. Kansas State!

Here’s what the ESPN model says of the offense and the overall SP+ ratings for every Big 12 team in the 2021 preseason.

Team SP+ Team Rating Offense
Oklahoma 28.6 46.5 (2)
Iowa St. 22 41.0 (7)
Texas 16.7 38.2 (17)
Oklahoma St. 14.1 31.5 (53)
Kansas St. 4 31.5 (52)
Texas Tech 2.3 30.4 (58)
TCU 11.2 30.2 (59)
W. Virginia 8.2 29.0 (68)
Baylor 7 25.0 (91)
Kansas -13.2 21.2 (112)

OSU’s defense ranked 18th in SP+ last season. The offense rated 41st and special teams rated 19th, as the team finished 23rd on the season with an 8-3 campaign. So that’s the good news. You can definitely win with a good defense and a just-OK offense.

The bad news is that OSU’s offense projects on paper to be one of the weakest of the last decade. So in that recipe, OSU’s defense is going to have to be better than last season (which is projected), but perhaps, like, way better than projected. Here’s what I wrote about that very topic last month.

If OSU can have a top-15 defense and get just a tiny bit better at forcing takeaways (OSU was 61st and 60th the last two seasons), then indeed the defense might have enough juice to carry the team to contention. That part will be key: OSU’s offense isn’t good enough to win games without extra possessions.

I’m not ready to rule out a resurgent year for the offense just yet either. Sure, Chuba and Tylan are gone. But Spencer Sanders could be in for a breakout year, Tay Martin and Brennan Presley are forces and the stable of running backs might just be good enough to carry a committee approach into conference title contention.

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