By the Numbers: How Mora Fits in the History of UCLA Football

Follow me boys! That's where we're headed! - Scott Halleran

A historical look at the trends of UCLA football and how new coach Jim L. Mora fits in.

As many of you know by now, here on BN we like to deal in facts. For myself, I’m a little obsessed with trying to find trends. I am no statistician but I often find comfort in numbers. Last year, I put together this post to try and figure out the most important factor that helps a UCLA team win. It’s not all that scientific, because so many factors are involved, so I just limited it to Points For and Points Allowed. One day I would like to also analyze the effects of QB rating (which seems to be significant, as LVBruin demonstrated) and turnover margin.

After looking at the data from the last 47 years (see full spreadsheet here), going back to Tommy Prothro’s 1965 team, a definite trend emerged. More than offense or defense, it is the difference between the two that drives the winning percentage. I updated the numbers to reflect the 2011 and 2012 season, and here are the updated correlations (for those of you unfamiliar with this, the correlation coefficient is a number between +1 and -1 representing the strength of the relationship between two sets of data. Both +1 and -1 imply a direct relationship between the two variables. The closer you get to 0, the weaker the correlation)


Points For to Wins: +0.74
Points For to Losses: -0.68
Points Allowed to Wins: -0.44
Points Allowed to Losses: +0.64
Point Differential to Winning %: +0.89

In summary, scoring a lot of points leads to more wins and fewer losses than not allowing points. But as noted in that original post, more than offense or defense, it is the difference between the two that drives the winning percentage.

You would think that, with all the different coaches UCLA has had over that span, the data would be all over the place, but in fact the trend appears all throughout as shown in the graph below (click for larger version).

Ucla_football_graph_medium

The colored points are based on the career data of the coaches in that span, which is shown below.

Coach

Average Point Differential per Game

W %

Prothro/Rodgers/Vermeil

9.1

0.672

Donahue

7.7

0.665

Toledo

4.1

0.610

Dorrell

1.5

0.556

Neuheisel

-6.1



Obviously, Coach Mora has only one year of data, but you can see that it falls right on the trend line, as do all the other coaches’ data points. Essentially, any point below the line is essentially an underachieving team, while a point above the line is an overachieving team. Notice also how UCLA had gotten progressively worse until Coach Mora came on board. We can only hope that he takes us back to our winning ways, though it is looking good so far. We will see if the bowl game helps us move up the trend line.

In summary, the main point here is that while defense is obviously important, the old adage that "defense wins championships" is not necessarily true, at least not for UCLA. Per the historical trend line, the point differential per game for an undefeated season needs to be 26, and even that of course is not a guarantee. UCLA’s highest point differential per game during a season was 24.6, Pepper Rodgers’ 1973 team, which finished 9-2.

A lot of this seems self-evident so I hope you take this as much for entertainment purposes as a cool nugget of information. I will leave you with this last nugget: in the last 20 years, UCLA finished ranked in the AP Top 25 5 times. In the 20 years before that, UCLA achieved it 13 times...

Let’s get back to where we once belonged.

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