Bruins Football Trajectory Over the Last Few Years

I headed over to BN’s SBN sister site, Coug Center, for a quick break to see if the locals had any lodging/dining recommendations for a road trip to Pullman. As is wont to happen with a procrastinator at work, I became side-tracked with a pretty cool post. I thought the analysis was interesting and relevant and wanted to see what similar stats looked like for UCLA. I used the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) and S&P+ ratings for this analysis; both are a measure of a team’s quality and are adjusted for strength of schedule (SOS). Some key differences:


A more robust explanation of the FEI and S&P+ can be found on the Football Outsiders site. Data was pulled from Football Outsiders, and unfortunately only goes back to 2007 and 2005 for FEI and S&P+, respectively (unless somebody has a premium account, then we can look back further).

Caveat: We’re not even half way through the season, so please take what follows with a grain of salt.

Starting with the big picture, here are the overall ratings for UCLA (Powder Keg Blue) as compared to the Pac-12 (navy blue; includes stats for pre-Pac-12 Utah and Colorado) and the BCS Top 25 (green; I used the AP Coaches Poll for 2012). The grey line is the mean for all FBS programs year-over-year. The average FEI fits a straight line, but I had to force the average S&P+ to a straight line using the mean FBS ranking for all years available (2005-2012), adjusting the other (UCLA, BCS Top 25, Pac-12) data points accordingly.



At this point in the season, 5 games in, our overall FEI and S&P+ is slightly lower than in 2007 when we finished 6-7, losing in the Las Vegas bowl to BYU. In both cases we’re now better than the average FBS team, but not nationally elite material. Despite being ranked in the AP Top 25, these metrics rank us noticeably lower (34th in the FEI, 33rd in the S&P+). So have we turned the corner? Magic 8-ball says: Ask again later. Or rather, it’s still too early to tell. However, the upward movement in 2012 is encouraging, and is in line with UCLA’s improved grades via the eye test thus far.

We’ve improved over last year, but so has the rest of the conference. Still, the Pac-12 is relatively flat compared to 2007. Before I adjusted the mean S&P+ score to a straight line, the Pac-12 was actually weaker in 2012 than in 2007, which is in line with what the frontpagers laid out during their pre-season expectations. One thing is certain: regardless of the method of measurement, the uninspiring performance of the past few years is painfully clear, with CRN’s tenure ('08-'11) looking particularly miserable.

For reference, here is the overall Pac-12 ranking utilizing the FEI…


…and the S&P+


FEI – Things get a little crowded in the middle of the Pac(k) and UCLA is sandwiched in between UA/OSU (tied at 5th) and UDub (8th). Good news – we’re much closer to 5th than we are to 8th. Bad news – we’re still a ways off from head of the pack. I think the concentration of Pac-12 teams in 2012 is interesting and may explain many of the close games and upsets we’ve seen in conference play thus far.

S&P+ – Again, things are crowded in the middle, with Oregon the clear winner and poor Ralphie the clear loser. This shows a much tighter spread between u$c and Utah, which we witnessed during last night’s pedestrian trogan performance, and again I think the concentration of Pac-12 teams show that based on our performance to date, we can’t take any opponent for granted. Check out Oregon’s trajectory. Who’s ready to see that sort of performance from UCLA?

In both cases, UCLA has clearly not separated itself from its conference mates. Talent-wise we should have risen above the fray; we have not, but with an improvement in quality of play (penalties, concentration mistakes, etc.) our trajectory should continue upward.

Are Colorado and Utah suffering from joining their new conference? Looks that way, although each team has other personnel/coaching issues they’re dealing with. Have sanctions hurt southern cal? Somewhat, and hopefully we’re just beginning to see the effects.

Despite leading the nation in offense, it appears we’re not quite an elite team offensively. (Note that offensive and defensive FEI have NOT been opponent-adjusted; this will be remedied by the folks at Football Outsiders in week 7 when there is more substantial data).



To some extent these two metrics seem conflicting. In both cases we’re better than the average FBS team but weaker than last year. We had a nice upward trend in 2011 (the Pistol offense did work! /sarcasm), but our offense is not rated as being as efficient this year. Tough to imagine we’d be rated better at anything in 2011 compared to 2012. Perhaps this can be contributed to our poor performance in the red zone. Our success inside the 20 has not matched a team’s expected success inside the 20; i.e., the end result of many of our drives has not necessarily been successful given our field position (field goal, loss of possession). Thoughts?

Defensively, however, the improvement over last year is "tremendous"…



…but not as tremendous as our defense in 2007. Clearly, this is a case of the "ATV factor", further exacerbated by the "Toast Twins". I do think this is a good illustration of the inconsistency of Walker’s bend-don’t-break philosophy ('06-'08), Bullough’s futile attempt at the same ('09-'10) and Tresey’s, well, Tresey's absolute failure.

In summary, I had fun making these graphs but don’t think there is anything too surprising in here - CTS’s unpredictable team, CRN’s frustratingly inadequate team, and Mora’s the-talent-is-there-and-I’m-cautiously-optimistic-the-results-will-be-too team – it’s all there in the graphs above. There are a lot of games left for the 2012 season, and it will be interesting to see how this week’s results move the data points. I imagine $c has to take another hit after their performance in Utah; conversely, after we break the Curse of Strawberry Canyon, our trajectory should continue to rise nicely.

Am interested to hear the thoughts/insights of others. And of course, feedback, criticism, and suggestions are welcome.

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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