It is currently a little before 2 AM Los Angeles time somewhere 35,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, but the people clamor for statistical analysis, so here we are. On Saturday evening in Santa Clara, the 2015 edition of the UCLA football team ends its season against a Nebraska team whose fans may just be rethinking their animosity towards the “mediocre” 9 win seasons of Bo Pelini just a little. The Cornhuskers are the best 5-7 team in the country, but make no mistake—they are still a 5-7 team, with all the imperfections and mediocrity that entails. Here are their stats:
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
The Nebraska offense is generally solid. They are in our Top-50 tier in explosiveness and both scoring metrics, though they are not very efficient at keeping drives alive. Interestingly, they had probably their best efficiency performance in a win against Michigan State (just looking strictly at the numbers it’s third best to games against something called South Alabama and a Minnesota team that lost its coach). The UCLA defense is of course not particularly adept or interested this season at preventing efficiency, so whether the movable object can deal with the resistable force may actually turn out to be a big part of the game. The Bruins probably cannot allow Nebraska to have more than 55 yards per stop and expect to win the game. With all that said, this is not nearly one of the better offenses the Bruins have faced this year, so if the defense brings the right effort it should be able to stymie the Cornhuskers.
When last we saw the Blackshirts, they were busy giving up 38 unanswered points in perhaps the greatest half of football a Jim Mora team has ever played. Things don’t seem to have improved a whole lot. Nebraska is in the mediocre Top-100 tier across all of the defensive stats we track. The only games in which the defense has really played well were against South Alabama, Rutgers, and Iowa, and the Huskers went 1-2 over those games. They have never been completely gashed, but they allowed over 6 and a half yards per play in a third of their games in the weak division of a not-particularly-offensive-minded conference. They gave up an honest-to-God hail mary to start the season! This isn’t a horrible crew, but it isn’t particularly good at anything either. Even despite the defections of Fred Ulu-Perry and Alex Redmond, it would be a big disappointment if the Bruin offense somehow laid a second (really, third) consecutive egg. A good showing would have the Bruins finishing the season in our Top-25 tier across the board on offense.
Both teams have nearly identical average starting field position, which is remarkable considering the horrible turnover margin the Cornhuskers suffered this year. Should the Bruins manage to turn Nebraska over, it would go a long way towards a victory in what the advanced stats are actually pegging to be a relatively close matchup.
The Massey College Football Ranking Composite, taking 120 different rating systems into account, has UCLA as the #32 team in college football, while Nebraska is #53. The Bruins’ rankings range from #13 to #53 with a standard deviation of 6.51. This standard deviation is a little lower than most teams near the Bruins’ ranking level, meaning that rating systems are generally in more agreement than average that the Bruins are ranked correctly. Nebraska’s rankings range from #26 to #82, with a standard deviation of 11.10. This standard deviation is pretty similar to similarly rated teams.
Using a Simple Ratings System (solid descriptive article here), we see the following: Using Sports-Reference.com’s numbers, UCLA has an SRS of 9.44 while Nebraska has an SRS of 6.54, meaning that Sports Reference predicts a 2 point UCLA win.
Though this has been a bit of a trying season, it has been an absolute joy to write these articles again. We always appreciate the great comments we get, and we look forward to writing more in the future. Due to our aforementioned jaunt across the ocean, the game review might be later than usual, but it’s coming. Sadly, we have a whole 8 months to wait until the next one. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Go Bruins.
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