Game Week: Virginia Statistical Analysis

Sep. 4 -- What does last season tell us about the Cavaliers going into this game?

We drive by the Rose Bowl on our commute every day, and with football season upon us it has taken all of our mental fortitude to not just veer off at the exit and wait in Lot K until Saturday morning. Somehow we made it through the offseason, so here is our first statistical game preview of the year. If you missed them, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our statistical season preview. On Saturday afternoon, the Bruins face Virginia, a team that started well then fell off a cliff last season. Obviously we don’t have data yet from this year, so we’ll take a look at how Virginia did last year.

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
Here is how Virginia stacked up last season:

Ranking Buckets

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The Cavaliers defense looking good to start the year against the Bruins was not a fluke—they were a solidly Top-50 defense for the entire season despite an offense that often gave them little help, especially when Grayson Lambert retook the starting quarterback job. As David and Tracy have noted, the Cavaliers lost their top three linebackers and top defensive lineman. However, the Virginia secondary returns mostly intact, and Cavalier defensive backs were got their hands on over 46% of incomplete passes, nearly 14% above the national average (thanks to Bill Connelly for that stat). The Virginia defensive backfield should thus provide a good test in Josh Rosen’s first start.

The Virginia offense was pretty bad, posting mediocre scores across the board in the statistics that we track. They played at a slower pace than average, possibly a symptom of a team that was switching between two quarterbacks all year. With Matt Johns firmly entrenched this year, it will be interesting to see whether the personality (and ability) of the Cavalier offense changes. In 2014 they were better at passing than rushing, though that’s not to say they were particularly good at passing. The Bruin defense started last year’s game looking incredibly dominant, only to almost lose after Johns came in. UCLA’s defense must play with more consistency if they hope to start the season with a big win. Virginia has an average recruiting ranking over the past four years of 43—meaning this team has some talent, though not in UCLA’s league. The Cavaliers had a better average starting field position margin than the Bruins last year (though not by a huge amount), and were +5 in turnover margin despite UCLA defenders scoring more than the UCLA offense.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 42 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #10 team in college football, while Virginia is #66. The Bruins’ rankings range from #2 to #24 with a standard deviation of 4.81. This is a much lower standard deviation than the Bruins had last year at a similar mean ranking level. Virginia’s rankings range from #44 to #92, with a standard deviation of 13.09. This standard deviation is about the same as most teams near their ranking level.

While we usually use a Simple Ratings System here, there is no data yet from this season to build our ratings. Therefore, using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 36-12 Bruin win.

Your Saturday Schedule

Every week we are going to give you the optimal college football Saturday viewing schedule, recommending the games with the highest mean Massey Composite ratings. Here is our recommendation this week:

6 AM Time Slot: Coffee, tears of joy, and the still-undefeated College Gameday.

Morning Slot: While making omelets, eating Lucky Boy breakfast burritos, or heading to the Rose Bowl, glance at Stanford at Northwestern, best in that time slot with an average rating of 41.5.

Noon Slot: Bruins! While bored at halftime, you might glance at the Louisville vs Auburn game, with an average rating of 21.5.

Early Evening Slot: While hopefully celebrating a Bruin victory, start with Arizona State vs. Texas A&M, with an average rating of 20.5, and then switch to Wisconsin vs. Alabama, with an average rating of 10.5.

#Pac12AfterDark Slot: Not too many choices this week, so if you can stomach Arkansas State at Southern Cal (average rating of 45.5) you might take a look at that, otherwise check to see if any late (Central Time) kickoff voodoo comes through during Mississippi State at Southern Miss (average rating of 68.5). Enjoy the weekend everybody!

Questions? Comments? Sunblock recommendations for the sunny side of the Rose Bowl? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

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