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More On Reasonable Expectations: (Dorrell '03 v Neuheisel '08)

I want to follow up Menelaus’ post from yesterday with some more data points wrt to our expectations for next season (at this point of time).  And again, just like Menelaus did, I will start this by briefly recapping this expectations related discussion on BN.

So last weeek, we put up not one, but four posts (see here, here, here, and here) discussing and setting our expectations for the next season.  From my vantage point, I am expecting UCLA to win somewhere around 6 games in Rick Neuheisel’s first season at UCLA.  Following my first post, BruinsRule - someone who I have enormous respect for -questioned whether I was setting the expectations in a way to make it easy for RN to meet our expectations.  I responded to his concern with my reasons on how I calibrated my expectations.  From our subsequent exchange in the comment thread and BR’s clarification, it seems like we are all on the same page.

But that explanation (provided based on facts and statistics) and Achilles’s subsequent well thought out post, didn’t seem to stop some people (as noted in Menelaus’s post from yesterday) from charging that we are low balling the expectations game to give Neuehisel some kind of break compared to his fired predecessor.  To make that case, people are citing to the expectations we set for Karl Dorrell for his fourth and fifth seasons at UCLA, assuming somehow we had set the same expectations for Karl Dorrell in his first year at UCLA.

Again, these guys are missing a basic point:  expectations for a first year coach are different from expectations for a 3rd/4th/5th year coach.  They are comparing apples to oranges by comparing our expectations for RN’s first year with those for KD if he were to stay in UCLA for his sixth season.

If anyone wants to argue that we somehow Dorrell treated in a disparate manner compared to Rick Neuheisel in terms of the expectations game, they would have to establish that we had set higher expectations for Karl Dorrell in his first year compared to what we have done for RN this summer.

Well, let’s examine if that is the case.  I will speak for Odysseus, Ajax and yours truly (since the three of us started blogging on UCLA football together), saying our expectation for Karl Dorell in his first season were for him to win at least 8 games in his first season, followed with another 8 wins in his second season (one of them needed to be a victory against USC).

Now, let’s examine those expectations of 8 wins for Dorrell’s first season to see whether they were unreasonable compared to what we have set for RN this season.  I think we can analyze that question based on two factors:

  1. What kind of talent he inherited from Bob Toledo compared to what Neuheisel inherited from Bob Toledo, and

  2. The schedule strength from Dorrell’s first year compared to the one Neuheisel will go through this coming season and what expectations Dorrell was facing in his first year at UCLA.

Let’s start with the talent factor.  Again, here is the official 2003-04 season outlook from UCLA heading into Dorrell’s first season in 2003 (emphasis added):

There is a new excitement surrounding UCLA football. Former wide receiver Karl Dorrell (1982-86) has returned to Westwood as the Bruins' head coach and optimism is high.

UCLA returns 14 starters from last season's 8-5 team - seven on offense and seven on defense - to form the nucleus of Dorrell's first Bruin team.
On offense, the returnees include split end Craig Bragg, an All-America candidate who led the Bruins with 55 receptions a year ago; flanker Tab Perry, an honors candidate who averaged a Pac-10 best 19.9 yards per reception; tailback Tyler Ebell, who earned second-team Freshman All-America honors while rushing for 994 yards; fullback Manuel White, the team's second-leading rusher; guard Eyoseph Efseaff, a second-team All-Pacific-10 Conference performer; tackle Steven Vieira, a Pac-10 honorable mention selection at guard last season; and center Mike McCloskey, a second-team Freshman All-American. On defense, the returnees include tackle Rodney Leisle, a 2002 pre-season All-American before suffering a broken foot; end Dave Ball, who made 11 quarterback sacks en route to second-team All-Pac-10 honors; linebackers Brandon Chillar, an All-America candidate, and first-team Freshman All-American Spencer Havner; cornerback Matt Ware, a 2001 first-team Freshman All-American; and safeties Ben Emanuel, who tied for the team lead in interceptions, and first-team Freshman All-American Jarrad Page.

Other key returnees include sophomore quarterbacks Drew Olson, who started the final five games of the year, and Matt Moore, who helped rally the team to a victory in the SEGA Sports Las Vegas Bowl; wide receivers Junior Taylor and Ryan Smith; tailback Akil Harris; fullbacks J.D. Groves and Pat Norton; offensive linemen Ed Blanton, Paul Mociler and Shane Lehmann; defensive linemen Ryan Boschetti, who started five games a year ago, Mat Ball and Asi Faoa; linebackers Dennis Link and Justin London; and defensive backs Matt Clark, Marcus Cassel, Keith Short, Kevin Brant and Glenn Ohaeri.

Right off the bat, you can see Dorrell took over a team which itself was coming off an 8 win season (a feat Dorrell met only once in his 5 year career), featuring a bowl victory in the Las Vegas Bowl.  Here are some other key differences: while RN is inheriting a team that will have about 9 starters from last year’s 6 game winner, KD had a chance to work with 14 returning starters.  He had experience on the OL.  He also had a talented blue chip QBs such as Drew Olson and Matt Moore, who already got valuable game experiences their first seasons (due to injuries to Cory Paus). And, on top of that, KD inherited an experience defense that was loaded with NFL caliber talent, which is a marked contrast with the current defense under Walker, which features some decent athletes, but does not have experience in the secondary and at LBer position. So, on talent factor alone, it seemed fair to add a little weight to expectations imposed on Dorrell his first season.

Now let’s compare the strength of schedules faced by Dorrell and Neuheisel based on their opponents’ record going into those seasons:

Coach/First year

Opp’s  W-L (prev  yr)

Opp’s winning pct (prev.  yr)

Opp’s Bowl Record (prev yr)            

Opp’s Bowl win. Pct. (prev yr)

Dorrell (2003)





Neuheisel (2008)





 (Data taken from College Football Data Warehouse)

Some more numbers to consider.  Dorrells’ first year opponents' record was inflated by the 10/10+ winning seasons of Oklahoma, Washington State, and Southern Cal. That scheduled featured only two teams that had won more 8 more games:  Arizona State (8-6) and Colorado (9-5).

In comparison, this coming season, Neuheisel is taking on a schedule that also features 4 teams with 10/10+ winning season: Tennessee, BYU, Arizona State and Southern California.  In addition, it features three teams with 9 win seasons coming off impressive bowl wins setting them up for expected great seasons: Fresno State (9-4), Oregon State (9-4) and  Oregon (9-4). 

Not to mention the quality of the pool of head coaches Dorrell took on his first season, shall we say, was a little different (to put it charitably) compared to the one Neuheisel is getting ready for in '08.  The '03 schedule of opponents featured matchups with retreads/failures such as Keith Gilbertson, Ron Turner, John Mackovic, Eugene “Buddy” Tevens, Tom Craft, and Bill Doba.  While RN’s schedule, in addition to the established coaches in the Pac-10 featuring Pat Hill, Bronco Mendenhall, and Jim Harbaugh, whose names will regularly appear in next season’s hot coaching search.  Even Willingham at UDub arguably is a better coach than Gilbertson (certainly has a better track record).

And, if you are wondering what the actual W-L record turned out to be for Karl Dorrell’s first year opponent, it was even worse.  His opponents ended up having a record of 79-71 (featuring 10 win seasons of Oklahoma, Washington State, and Southern Cal) and a bowl record of 3-1.

So, based on the data points re. strength of schedule, does anyone want to still argue we are being unreasonable by calibrating the expectations for RN’s first season (compared to the one we had in place for KD) by 2 games?  Does anyone in their right mind want to argue that we are giving RN a break?  I mean I understand, if a columnist from the traditional media such as Plashcke or Streeter, who might not have the skillset or column space to do some basic research, lashed out with conspiracy theories wrt to UCLA fans, but it’s kind of amusing when see charges from certain corners of the internets, accusing us of advancing some kind of agenda without actually looking at the big picture.

Before people want to make assumptions about whether or not we treated Dorrell unreasonably during the last five years compared to a few months of data points from RN’s tenure at UCLA, perhaps they should wait and see what kind of expectations we set for RN in his 3rd, 4th and 5th season at UCLA?

I think we can all have reasonable disagreements wrt to specific projections in our initial post. I am sure our takes on pre-season will evolve as we go through camp and get more information on our roster, and go through each game weeks. However, at this point of time it seems like we - the entire Bruin Nation here and beyond - are in general agreement that while we are all excited about upcoming season, we need to calibrate our expectations based on the big picture realities we have outlined in last few days. So, it's little bit of stretch (as established by Menelaus offering facts instead of links to personal opinions) to dismiss these discussions as some kind ploy to advance a pro establishment agenda on behalf of the same UCLA athletic administration we have no problem taking to task time after time when necessary on Bruin Nation.