Pac-12 Statistical Review

Dec. 11 -- How did UCLA stack up statistically against the rest of the Pac-12 conference this season?

The anticlimactic conference championship games/coronations (maybe this offseason we will analyze the proportion of conference championship games that end up as blowouts versus regular games, because it seems like competitive conference championships are rare) have ended, and a year that looked pretty darn promising for chaos leaves us with a playoff of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Oh well. Before we get into the basketball season and the Alamo Bowl, we’re going to take a couple thousand words to give one final look at the stats for both the Bruins and the Pac-12 as a whole.

As always, we use:

  • 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

After a nearly-successful stretch run with one superlative performance against Southern Cal, two very good efforts against Arizona and Washington, and an awful loss to Stanford, the Bruins finished the regular season as a pretty good team that had several brilliant games (the defense against Virginia and Arizona, the offense against Washington, the whole team against Arizona State and Southern Cal), but was never able to ascend to the consistently high level of play that marks great teams.

The stats reflect that, with good-not-great offensive numbers and lukewarm defensive stats, although as we’ll see below, the Pac-12 overall tilted towards offense this year, with Stanford the only team even Top-25 level in any of our defensive stats, so the degree of difficulty was probably higher for the UCLA defense. The highest rank for the Bruins was Yards Allowed Per Play (#2 in the Pac-12), and the lowest was Average Field Position Margin (#9 in the Pac-12).

Pac-12 Offense Statistical Rankings

Yards Per Stop (Efficiency)

Oregon finishes the regular season with a ridiculous 97.55 Yards Per Stop (remember, this doesn’t mean that literally every time Oregon gets the ball they go 97 yards, it is the total yards divided by the total drives that did not end in touchdowns), nearly three standard deviations better than the mean in the league. That is over 15 yards better than the Ducks’ numbers last season, which were still good enough for second in the nation. We haven’t done too much actual prognostication in this space this year, but it doesn’t look good for the defending national champs in their return to Pasadena.

Southern Cal finished the year with yet another blowout of a cupcake, rising to second in the league and Top 25-level. In the next tier, Cal, UCLA, and Arizona were solidly efficient, followed by a slew of teams that were pretty mediocre at avoiding stops. Utah was the least efficient offense in the league, and the only team over one standard deviation worse than the mean in this stat.

Yards Per Play (Explosiveness)

Oregon was nearly as explosive as it was efficient, finishing 2.8 standard deviations above the conference mean and well into Top 10 level. Somewhat surprisingly, no other Pac-12 schools even attained the Top 25 level explosiveness tier, though seven teams were in the pretty solid 26-50 ranking level. Utah was even less explosive than it was efficient, averaging an awful 4.9 Yards Per Play, 1.5 standard deviations beneath the mean. That is a pretty ridiculously low number for a team that had Kaelin Clay, Dres Anderson (for the majority of the year) and Devontae Booker, but Brian Swinney can deal with that on his site.

Points Per Drive (Scoring)

Our readers will surely be shocked to see that the most efficient and explosive offense was also the best scoring offense by far. Southern Cal and Cal were Top 25 level at scoring, and the Arizona schools joined the Bruins in the 26-50 tier. This is the lowest ranking for the UCLA offense, sixth in the conference and 0.11 standard deviations beneath the mean. One possible explanation for this low ranking is the Bruins’ average starting field position deficit of nearly 2 yards, ninth in the league.

Stanford rode a strong final two games (ugh) to the top of the mediocre tier, and Utah again finished last, over one standard deviation worse than the mean, though not in the triple digit ranking tier.

Points Per Trip Inside the 40 (Taking Advantage of Scoring Opportunities)

The league as a whole performed the best in this statistic, with four teams at least Top 25 level and eight at least Top 50. Southern Cal actually joined Oregon in the elite level, and both Cal and UCLA were very good at taking advantage of scoring opportunities, which lends more credence to our hypothesis that UCLA’s Points Per Drive numbers suffered mainly due to poor field position. This is the best ranking for Colorado in any of the stats we track, but the usual suspects round out the bottom of the list, with Stanford jumping Utah thanks to UCLA’s largesse.

Pac-12 Defense Statistical Rankings

Yards Allowed Per Stop (Efficiency Prevention)

Perhaps you’ve heard, but Stanford plays defense very well. Even in a league with a bunch of powerful offenses, the Cardinal were able to finish in the Top 25 tier, over one standard deviation better than the mean. Washington and Utah had been flirting with the upper tiers, but had trouble over the last few weeks of their seasons. Colorado, Washington State, and Cal were each over one standard deviation worse than the mean, and just could not get the stops they needed to be successful. The craziest part? Cal’s numbers actually improved from last year.

Yards Allowed Per Play (Explosiveness prevention)

This was the Stanford defense’s best showing, two standard deviations better than the mean and deep into the Top 10 tier. This was also UCLA’s best statistical ranking, tied for second in the league. Utah had been neck and neck with the Bruins, but they plummeted thanks to bad defensive games against Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado. Oregon rocketed up the board after having an even more impressive game against Arizona than UCLA. Wazzu, Colorado, and Cal were again by far the three worst defenses.

Points Allowed Per Drive (Scoring Prevention)

The bookends are the same as ever, with Stanford leading the league by a fair margin and Colorado, Washington State, and Cal bringing up the rear. UCLA fell pretty far after allowing nearly four points per drive to Stanford, though thanks to the pure awfulness of the bottom three (really four when we add Oregon State to the mix) the Bruins were actually better than the mean. In its last three games, Oregon allowed six total points before garbage time, and was rewarded with third place in the league.

Points Allowed Per Trip Inside the 40 (Prevention of Scoring from Scoring Position)

We are becoming increasingly convinced that a large part of Oregon’s voodoo is the fact that they force opponents to make uncomfortable decisions. The pressure to score is so great that teams must abandon their usual plays or get jittery or something once they get into scoring position; we cannot think of many better reasons that a solidly middle-of-the-pack defense like Oregon is suddenly nearly 1.5 standard deviations better than the mean in this statistic. And yet even with that Duck magic, the Stanford defense is number one. This is the only defensive statistic where UCLA was worse than the mean, an issue we brought up earlier in the season when it seemed like damn near every Bruin turnover led to an opponent touchdown.

Pac-12 General Statistical Rankings

Turnover Margin

It’s a little more complicated than this (ok maybe more than a little), but the current statistical thinking is that turnovers on a whole are random, and that over a large enough sample size teams regress to the mean, with better teams ending up slightly above and worse teams slightly below. We saw that borne out in UCLA’s play this year, as the Bruins began the year with a turnover-fueled win over Virginia yet quickly saw their turnover margin fall well into the red before trending back up and finishing at -1 (thanks to the meaningless interception of the Jerry Neuheisel fake field goal prayer). Oregon, Arizona State, Washington, and Southern Cal probably got a little lucky being at least one standard deviation above the mean, while Stanford, Colorado, and Washington State probably were a little unlucky.

Average Starting Field Position Margin

This year Oregon took a page from their erstwhile North Division stumbling block, dominating field position like the best Stanford teams used to. Arizona State also won field position at an elite level and Utah, home to a punter so good that Chris Sailer has some goddamn explaining to do, was Top 25 level, over one standard deviation better than the mean. There was a pretty large dropoff from the top three, with six teams bunched from +1.4 to -1.9 yards. UCLA was pretty inconsistent over the year, with blowout starting field position wins of +15 against Arizona State and +9 against Arizona and blowout field position losses of -9 against Utah, -17 against Oregon, and -15 against Cal. Annoyingly, the Bruins were a very healthy +5 against Stanford.

There you have it: the final regular season statistical profile for the Pac-12 conference. Oregon was great on offense and ok on defense (except when the opposition reached the 40 yard line), Stanford was ok on offense and great on defense, Cal was awful on defense yet still better than last year, and UCLA wasn’t particularly bad at anything but also not elite.

Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

Bruin Report Online Top Stories