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Game Week: UCLA vs. USC Statistical Analysis

Nov. 27 -- What do the stats tell us about UCLA's upcoming game against USC?

Thanks to the inevitable collapse of still-thin Utah and the general mediocrity of the best Arizona State team Todd Graham has ever coached, the UCLA-USC game will decide the South division title for the first time since 2012. Both teams have had recent disappointing losses, with the Bruins losing to good-not-great Washington State and Southern Cal getting wiped out at Autzen, but with Stanford suddenly looking human and coming off what should be a tough game against Notre Dame, the Rose Bowl is tantalizingly close.

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
Ranking Buckets

Southern Cal Preview

Offense

Southern Cal’s offense has been good this year, pretty solidly in the Top 25 ranking level in all the stats we track. Their stats are actually really close to what they looked like last year, with YPS and YPP slightly better but in the same tier. Their overall success rate of 45.2% is 29th in the country, and it seems that despite the general thinking that they don’t run the ball enough, the stats are balanced enough (Rushing Success Rate: 45.2%; Passing Success Rate: 45.1%)that it doesn’t seem like play selection is that big a deal.

We are lucky to again have bruwinning contribute with a success rate analysis this week:

Game by Game

These numbers are a little weird. After a great performance against the tough Utah defense, the Southern Cal offense went pretty dormant against two of the worst defenses in the league, Cal and Arizona. They have bounced back the last two weeks against Oregon and Colorado, but those defenses aren’t much better.

Here are their down-by-down success rates:

Down by Down

On third and fourth down, Southern Cal has been doing a solid job of getting first downs via the run but when they must pass things have gotten much harder. Keeping the Trojans behind the sticks isn’t quite the inevitable punt that forcing the Utes into 3rd and 4th and long was, but forcing passing situations should still be a goal for the Bruin defense.

By Distance to Go

Like the last two weeks, we considered 0-3 yards to go as short distance, 4-7 as medium distance, 8-10 as long distance, and anything over 10 yards to go as very long distance. Southern Cal’s number on short- and medium-to-go are nearly identical to Washington State’s numbers and worse than Utah’s numbers. On long-to-go, the Trojans are not quite as good as the Cougars but significantly better than the Utes, though on Very Long to go, Southern Cal actually has a very healthy 33% success rate. Therefore, it is important that the UCLA pass rush get home on 3rd and long or very long.

Defense

Southern Cal’s defense is the reason they have 4 losses going into the final game of the regular season. Stanford thundered out 118.5 Yards Per Stop, Notre Dame ripped off 7.9 Yards Per Play, and Oregon warped to an Oregon 2014-esque 9.2 Yards Per Play. USC is stuck in the mediocre Top 100 ranking tier across the board, and they are allowing a 42.8% success rate (80th in the country). The Trojans are better against the run than against the pass, ranking 100th in the country in success rate allowed via pass and 60th in success rate allowed by run.

General

Like Utah, the Southern Cal defense is very opportunistic, forcing 20 turnovers on the season for a +10 overall differential. They have been a little lucky compared to their expected turnover rate, but this is still something to keep an eye on. Southern Cal has scored a defensive touchdown in two of the three games in the Mora era, and given their defense’s general struggles they will certainly be gunning to force turnovers. Their average starting field position is exactly the same as their opponents’ starting field position.

The Computers

The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 116 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #24 team in college football, while Southern Cal is #27. The Bruins’ rankings range from #9 to #41 with a standard deviation of 5.33. This is the lowest standard deviation among teams within 7 ranking slots of the Bruins, meaning that there is a strong consensus among the different rating systems that the Bruins belong in this slot. The Trojans’ rankings range from #10 to #49, with a standard deviation of 7.57. This standard deviation is about the same as teams with similar ranking levels, meaning there is a fair amount of agreement on where Southern Cal belongs.

Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 11.11 while USC has an SRS of 11.59, meaning that when we take +3 for home field advantage into account, Sports Reference predicts a 3 point Southern Cal win.

Using Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, FEI predicts a 32-24 USC 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 for Rivalry Week:

Morning Slot: For some reason a few years ago Stanford and Southern Cal decided that they would rather finish every other season hosting Notre Dame rather than playing their more traditional rivals, and the Pac-12 agreed. Therefore, we had The Big Game last week (the smaller game this week: Cal-Arizona State) and of course whatever the Stanford-UCLA game was last year. It has also disrupted the natural historic order of things—rivalry Saturday begins with Michigan-Ohio State, then moves to UCLA-Southern Cal, then moves to other random less-important rivalries. This year at least, things are right again. Michigan-Ohio State (average rating: 7.5) is the game to watch in the morning

Noon Slot: The Pac 12 South Championship Game. It appears that the rain forecast earlier in the week is not going to materialize, which is a bit of a shame given how fun it was in 2012, but this should still be a ton of fun.

Early Evening Slot: Rivalry week is the best. To unwind, check out Ole Miss-Mississippi State (average rating: 17.5), Florida State-Florida (average rating: 14.5), Notre Dame-Stanford (average rating:7.5), or Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (average rating: 6).

#Pac12AfterDark Slot: The only late night Pac-12 game of the week is Arizona State-Cal, so feel free to go out and see your friends instead.

Questions? Comments? Mike Leach to Philadelphia Eagles rumors? Meet us on the Premium Football Forum or tweet us @Bruinalytics.

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