This and the defensive follow-up present what might be the least fancy "adjusted" stats you have ever seen. There are plenty of places where you can find advanced statistics and computer rankings that attempt to measure a team's offensive quality. They will factor out garbage time, adjusted for schedule strength, try to suss out the relative importance of efficiency and explosiveness. . . the whole nine yards.
Here, we are doing something much simpler. We are taking a look at Tennessee's scoring offense and comparing it to other Vols' teams over the last seven years (why seven years? because it represents a clear break in Tennessee football history, and too much farther back and it gets much harder to find the requisite stats). Of course, you can visit the Tennessee page on cfbstats and find a point-per-game total. But points-per-game, while it gives a good rough impression of scoring offense, is a little bit too rough. This year's Vols, for instance, scored six special teams touchdowns. That represents 3.5 points per game for which the offense has no responsibility at all.
The other tricky thing about simply checking point-per-game totals is that it does not take into account the pace of the game. After losing Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter to injury, the 2011 Tennessee team tried to slow every game to a crawl. Playing a slow game didn't make the defense any better, but it did shorten the game, so the raw defensive stats looked better.
So here, we'll take a look at scoring offense with both of those rough edges smoothed out. By going through box scores and removing all non-offensive touchdowns, we can find a number for scoring offense that actually depends on the offense. And by adjusting for the total number of plays run (total, not just on offense--we're trying to adjust for teams that played shorter games, not measure how quickly an offense can strike), we can better compare this year's offense to the past few years.
Of course, there are still plenty of factors we'd love to consider. This takes out defensive and special teams touchdowns, but it doesn't adjust for field position, so the 2015 team--playing with an excellent special teams unit--may have an advantage over some of its less fortunate counterparts. It also doesn't account for strength of schedule, so again, some units (cough 2015 defense cough) might have an easier time than others. But it does give us a rough measure of offensive quality that's quite a bit smoother than the rough measure we had before.
So how does the 2015 offense compare to Tennessee's past offensive units? Here's your post-2008 top five, adjusted to 2015 pace of play:
1. 2012 (32.9 PPG).
2. 2015 (30.7 PPG).
3. 2009 (30.6 PPG).
4. 2014 (28.0 PPG).
5. 2010 (26.8 PPG).
In what may come as a surprise, the 2015 offense is closer to the 2012 record-setting offense than it is to what we saw a year ago, even with special teams touchdowns factored out. The 2012 offense put up a raw PPG total of 36.2, but playing with the worst defense in school history, they played significantly longer games than any other Tennessee team in recent memory. And, while they didn't have anywhere near 2015's six special teams touchdowns, Byron Moore and Cordarrelle Patterson did give them a healthy three non-offensive scores. If Tennessee's offense could duplicate this season's improvement next year, they would compete with the best units in school history.
But despite being just over 2 PPG from the lead, the 2015 offensive unit has competition for second place. In fact, if we were to look only at the regular season, the 2015 offense would finish third behind 2012 and 2009. The 2009 team had a few stinkers, notably against UCLA, Ole Miss, and Virginia Tech, but they were the second-slowest Tennessee team since 2008, and they padded their total with just two non-offensive touchdowns--albeit one quite memorable one. And, like in 2015, a big home win over Georgia showed just how dangerous they could be at their best.
The numbers show 2009 as the closest comparable for this year's team, and that comparison gives a good picture of where Tennessee was on offense this year. They could be scary when clicking on all cylinders, but things didn't click often enough to make them an elite unit. The 2015 Tennessee offense was among the best we've seen since David Cutcliffe left the second time, but the Vols still have a ways to go to become the unit they want to be.