For the fourth year in a row, UCLA arrives at the Stanford game with a chance to stake its claim among the elite teams in the country. This year’s Cardinal started off with just an awful performance at Northwestern, but they have righted the ship and have been playing incredibly well offensively, albeit against just-ok competition. In Larry Scott’s infinite wisdom, the game is on a Thursday, which would make sense to monopolize eyeballs if the NFL and the baseball playoffs didn’t exist. Larry Scott is bad at his job. In front of 40,000 people in the stands and at least another 40,000 watching at home, do the Bruins have a shot at upsetting the Cardinal? 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
Offense Finally the Stanford offense torments some other teams. That these numbers include that awful Northwestern game make them all the more impressive. Kevin Hogan, Christian McCaffrey, and the lumbering horde of 230 pound receivers and 320 pound linemen have been fantastic this year, easily elite in efficiency, explosiveness, and scoring. To go along with their fantastic Yards Per Stop number, they have a success rate of 49.7%, good for ninth in the country. This means that the Cardinal have been doing a great job of staying on schedule. The only area where the Cardinal haven’t been elite on offense has been in taking advantage of scoring opportunities, but even their Top 50 level ranking is miles better than previous Cardinal teams. Stanford is going to move the ball and it is probably going to score. If the UCLA defense is to give the offense a chance to win the game, it must force the Cardinal into field goals (or better yet punts). Defense This Stanford defense, while still pretty darn good, isn’t the dominant force that it has been in years past. Even that 4.8 Yards Per Play number has come against only one really good offense, Southern Cal. The Cardinal have allowed opponents to be fairly efficient, landing in the mediocre Top 100 tier in Yards Allowed per Stop. This leads pretty directly to the Cardinal being only 87th in 3rd Down defensive S&P+ (an opponent adjusted stat from Football Study Hall) and an astounding 104th in the nation in Opponent 3rd Down Conversion Percentage. For the UCLA offense to succeed where it has failed for 4 of the 5 games in the Mora era, winning on third down against a Stanford defense that has struggled to get off the field will be hugely important. General As usual, Stanford is absolutely elite in Average Field Position Margin, at +7.7 Yards. Digging a little deeper, much of this margin comes from the absolutely terrible field position they have been leaving opponents—the opponent average starting field position of the 23.9 yard line is #2 in the entire country. There will probably be times on Thursday night that the UCLA offense is backed up, so it would be nice to get some explosive plays and not have any of those crushing drops that doomed the Bruins against Arizona State. Stanford’s turnover margin has been pretty steady at -1, though they’ve actually been a little unlucky, as given the amount of fumbles they have forced and passes they have tipped we would expect the Cardinal to be +3.66 in turnover margin. The Bruins have been even less fortunate despite their turnover margin of +1, as their expected turnover margin is +5.26. If some of those fumbles or tipped passes start falling into Bruin hands, there might just be a chance for an upset on the Farm. The Computers
The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 82 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #19 team in college football Stanford is #13. The Bruins’ rankings range from #7 to #62 with a standard deviation of 6.94. This is the a fairly low standard deviation among the teams with similar ranking levels, meaning that there is pretty good consensus among the different rating systems that the Bruins belong in this slot. Stanford’s rankings range from #3 to #31, with a standard deviation of 6.46. This standard deviation is similar to teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is a pretty good consensus that the Cardinal belong near this slot.
Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 16.08 while Stanford has an SRS of 16.45, meaning that when we take +3 for home field advantage into account, Sports Reference predicts a 3 point Stanford win.
Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 31-23 Cardinal win.
Questions? Comments? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.