Statistical Analysis/Rankings of Pac-12

OCT. 1 -- This week so much was made of the UCLA statistic of Total Defense, and Coach Jim Mora even said he didn't put much stock in it. So this week we have an added bonus: We break down and rank the entire Pac-12 in stats that matter...

Instead of tearing our hair out at yet another post decrying the Bruins’ performance in a weak non-tempo-adjusted stat like Total Defense (is this what it feels like for baseball stat guys when people talk about pitcher wins?), we spent the weekend putting together the statistical profiles for every team in the Pac-12.

We ignored all games against FCS competition (and in the process learned that Georgia State and UMass are somehow FBS schools) and threw out garbage time stats, defining garbage time as a team going up by 35 points in the first half, 28 points in the third quarter, or 21 points in the fourth quarter. We’re still in small sample size mode right now (shown most glaringly by five teams in the Pac-12 scoring inside the 40 at a top ten level) and we’ve only got one or two games of data per team of conference games, but we’re far enough into the season that we can start to look at the ways the teams’ statistical profiles are taking shape.

It’s been a few weeks since we introduced these stats, so let’s talk about them a little more. We measure tempo-adjusted stats like these because they do a better job of letting us know just how good an offense or a defense really is. A team with an up-tempo offense that runs a lot of plays will probably also face more plays on defense, while a team that milks the clock and doesn’t run too many plays on offense will probably face fewer plays on defense.

Let’s say Oregon faces 90 plays, giving up 5 yards per play, while Stanford faces 60 plays, giving up 6 yards per play. The total stats will show that the Oregon defense gave up 450 yards and the Stanford defense only gave up 360, giving the false sense that the Stanford defense performed better when in fact the tempo-adjusted Yards Per Play shows that the Oregon defense was stingier by a full Yard Per Play.

The stats we use are based on Bill Connelly’s Five Factors of Football. Connelly found that:

  • The more explosive team wins 86% of the time
  • The more efficient team wins 83% of the time
  • The team that finishes drives best wins 75% of the time
  • The team with the best field position wins 72% of the time
  • The team with the better turnover margin wins 73% of the time
To measure these factors, we are using:

  • Yards Per Stop to measure efficiency
  • Yards Per Play to measure explosiveness
  • Points Per Drive to measure scoring
  • Points Per Trip Inside the 40 to measure drive finishing
  • Field Position Margin to measure field position
  • Turnover Margin to measure turnovers
If you’re going through this article and can’t quite remember why we follow a certain stat, just push CTRL+F and enter “stats we use” into the search box.

Taking the averages over the past five years, we have separated the teams into tiers using the following color code:


Efficiency, measured by Yards Per Stop (That's yards gained before the defense gets a stop. For instance, a team that attains two successive 70-yard drives that lead to two touchdowns and then, with its next possession, throws an interception on its first play, gets 140 Yards Per Stop)

Get used to seeing Oregon’s offense on top with an incredible number; even throwing out the South Dakota game and garbage time of the Wyoming game, their offense is just blowing people out of the water right now. 95.80 Yards Per Stop is just ridiculous; despite having played the fearsome Michigan State defense and suffered key injuries on the offensive line, the Ducks are scoring touchdowns at an order of magnitude higher than everybody else.

The next tier sees a pair of big-name offensive coaches finally starting to get things going, with Rich Rodriguez and Sonny Dykes both guiding Top 25-level offenses in Yards Per Stop. The Bruins offense has rebounded from the truly awful Virginia game to hover just on the edge of Top 25 level.

It’s kind of interesting to see Mike Leach’s Air Raid trail the Bear Raid by nearly ten yards. Our hunch is that this is because Northwestern, Arizona, and Colorado are weaker defenses than Rutgers, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, and that we can probably expect Cal to fall back a bit.

Just like Oregon’s offense has been stunningly dominant, Utah’s offense has been stunningly bad. This won’t be their only stay in the basement of the offensive rankings.

Explosiveness, measured by Yards Per Play

Once again, Oregon laps the field. However, they are now joined in the Top-10 level by Arizona and Arizona State. Washington State isn’t an efficient offense, but they sure are explosive (just ask Utah what they can do to a 17 point halftime deficit). The Bruins once again are tops in the next tier, just outside the Top 25 cutoff of 6.2.
This is the only stat we follow where Stanford is a Top 50 team on offense, meaning that the Cardinal has had to rely on big plays to score enough points to win (as we will see, their defense has been so good that they haven’t needed too many points). Utah is again on the lowest tier, though they’re a heck of a lot better than Washington, which tried to beat Stanford without playing any offense whatsoever.

Scoring, measured by Points Per Drive

By now it should be clear that the UCLA defensive effort against Arizona State wasn’t as poor as the total defense stats indicated. After the inevitable Oregon, the Sun Devils pick up their second Top 10 level offensive rating. Cal, possibly the surprise of the Pac-12 season so far, is also scoring at a Top 10 level.

Southern Cal might be the most impressive team on this list, overcoming a game against Stanford to still be a Top 25 scoring offense. UCLA is once again tops in the next tier, joined by Colorado. No Pac-12 offenses are truly awful at scoring, but plenty are mediocre, with Utah the worst in the league.

Drive Finishing, measured by Points Per Trip Inside the 40

There is not much of a middle ground here; most Pac-12 teams are either fantastic or terrible at taking advantage of scoring opportunities. There are four teams that join Oregon in the Top 10 tier, while Colorado and UCLA are both Top 25 level. Meanwhile, wasteful Washington State, Utah, and Stanford (scoring 10 points despite every single drive reaching at least the Southern Cal 32 eclipses UCLA’s offense against Virginia for most mind-bogglingly awful performance) are all triple digit ranking level teams. Only Arizona and Washington are just ok.


Efficiency Prevention, measured by Yards Allowed Per Stop

Just as Oregon is far and away the dominant offensive team in the league, Stanford is the dominant defense, leading the league in every defensive stat that we track and holding teams to just 22.35 Yards Per Stop. Utah, perhaps aided by getting to play a Michigan offense that doesn’t look FBS-level, joins Stanford in the top tier.

Washington is good, Oregon State and Southern Cal are ok (hmm…two of the top four non-Stanford teams have played Stanford), then there is a huge clump of seven teams in the mediocre 51-100 ranking tier. The Bruins lead that tier, and having seen the numbers for the Utah offense, have a good chance of moving up a level by this time next week. Arizona State is the worst defense in the league right now at preventing efficiency.
Explosiveness Prevention, measured by Yards Allowed Per Play

Stanford and Utah are once again the elite teams in preventing explosive plays. Oregon State is also good, while Washington and UCLA are just ok, in the 26-50 rankings tier. Half of the league is in the mediocre 51-100 tier, while Arizona State continues to feel the wrath of 62-27, coming in dead last, deep into the triple digit ranking zone.

Preventing Scoring, measured by Points Allowed Per Drive

Oregon’s Yards Per Stop is the most impressive offensive statistic, but Stanford’s Points Allowed Per Drive may be even more impressive, and it doesn’t even count the shutout of UC Davis. 0.68 Points Allowed Per Drive is just stunning—Utah is almost half a point per drive worse yet still easily in the Top 10 tier. Make fun of David Shaw’s playcalling all you like; the Stanford defense is so good the team would have a chance to win even with Condi Rice at quarterback.

Washington and Southern Cal are very good, while UCLA is once again tops in the next tier, well ahead of Oregon State. Half of the league is mired down in the mediocre 51-100 level ranking tier, with Colorado and Cal, who not-at-all-coincidentally just played a game that ended 59-56, save Arizona State from the basement.

Thwarting Drive Finishing, measured by Points Allowed Inside the 40

We unfortunately don’t have the data for this stat to be able to accurately group the teams into tiers based on historical national rankings, but the in-conference rankings still tell us plenty. Stanford and Utah complete their sweep of the top two, with the Utes actually tying the Cardinal for first (in twice the opportunities of Stanford). Southern Cal, almost solely thanks to allowing Stanford 10 points from 9 trips inside the 40, is close behind the top two.

The Bruins are in the middle of the pack, closer to Washington State and Cal than Oregon, whose defense makes its best showing in this stat. Arizona State makes it three out of four defensive stats as the worst team in the league.


These particular stats are not garbage time adjusted and they do include the FCS opponents, but that’s just the data we were able to find.

Field Position Margin, measured by Average Starting Field Position Minus Opponent’s Average Starting Field Position

As a note, only Stanford and Utah are in the Top 10 so far this year, but all four of Stanford, Utah, Washington, and Oregon State have margins that, extrapolated over a full year, would have been Top 10 level over the past 5 years. Southern Cal is feeling the effects of two grueling games against run-heavy opponents, while the Bear Raid and the Air Raid are very close to one another—don’t expect either team to get a big boost from field position in their matchup this week.

One of the problems with Field Position Margin is that defensive touchdowns and special teams touchdowns aren’t taken into account, so we wouldn’t be too worried by UCLA’s mediocre number given the five non-offensive touchdowns the team has scored this year (the number would be very different if Ish Adams has taken a knee at the 1 yard line instead of scoring any of his touchdowns).

We aren’t looking at average ranking data for Turnover Margin, but the first thing that jumps out is how bad Stanford has been so far. For a team that wins by dominating on defense and not making mistakes, that is a pretty shocking Turnover Margin. The least shocking margin goes to Washington State and Gunslingin’ Connor Halliday. Chris Petersen’s most visible stamp on the Washington program so far is that they are feasting on turnovers; the Huskies are tops in the entire country so far this year after being fourth in the conference in 2013.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this early season look at how teams across the campus stack up. We’ll do something like this again for the bye week between the Washington and Southern Cal games, when we will have a much clearer view of each team’s profile.
Questions? Comments? College GameDay sign ideas? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

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