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Advanced Stats Preview: GT vs. UCF

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GT’s first 2020 game tells a completely different story than 2019. Which one is true?

NCAA Football: Under Armour All-America Game Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This advanced stats preview will contain more uncertainty than any other week throughout the season. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. It’s 2020. But this preview has a lot of uncertainty.

Why? GT has played one game, which was statistically better than any performance from last year, while featuring a true freshman quarterback. UCF hasn’t played yet and had ten players opt out of the season, including a few All-AAC caliber players. Bill Connelly’s SP+ numbers have UCF as a 6 point favorite, while the Vegas consensus spread has UCF favored by 7.5. These numbers give UCF about a 60% chance of winning.

Below, we’ll dig deeper into the numbers, which will demonstrate how vastly different GT’s performance was in Week 1 from 2019. Every good power ranking system includes inputs from the previous season because the sample size in college football is so small, but there are reasons to believe that GT can be a vastly different team this year, with the amount of returning experience combined with potentially massive improvement from the quarterback position in Jeff Sims. In Bill Connelly’s SP+ system, GT’s team rating jumped from 2.9 in the preseason to 7.2 after the FSU game, which is a massive improvement, even with the preseason priors still carrying a lot of weight. So let’s take a comparative look at GT’s Week 1 performance, alongside full season 2019 numbers from both UCF and GT.

GT vs. UCF Advanced Stats Comparison

Metric GT Game 1 2020* GT 2019 UCF 2019
Metric GT Game 1 2020* GT 2019 UCF 2019
Offensive Success Rate 53% 35% 44%
Offensive YPP 5.5 4.8 6.9
Offensive EPA/Play 0 0.06 0.28
Offensive YPA (including sacks and scrambles) 7.8 4.8 8.3
Offensive 3rd Down Success 50% 30% 40%
Offensive Stuff Rate Allowed 28% 22% 22%
Defensive Success Rate 0.38 0.43 0.35
Defensive YPP 3.7 5.8 4.5
Defensive EPA/Play -0.11 0.19 0.04
Defensive YPA 4.2 6.9 4.9
Defensive 3rd Down Success 38% 45% 27%
Defensive Stuff Rate 18% 16% 26%
Defensive Havoc Rate 23% 19% 28%
*The numbers from Game 1 reflect a combination of my charting data with supplemental data from @CFB_Data; 2019 team numbers come from @CFB_Data and @SportsSourceAnalytics.

As you can see, if 2019 GT was playing 2019 UCF, we would expect a blowout. But comparing one game of 2020 GT to 2019 UCF shows a dead even matchup. The answer is likely somewhere in between, as evidence by UCF being about a one touchdown favorite. But none of that factors in UCF’s opt outs, which leave them thin at defensive tackle, missing their best defensive back, and perilously thin at quarterback even if Dillon Gabriel had to miss a series or two. My guess: 2020 GT is closer to the truth for the Yellow Jackets, and the depleted roster means 2020 UCF takes a small step back.

Prediction

The numbers say UCF by a touchdown. I would take the points and wouldn’t be surprised to see GT win a nail biter on Saturday afternoon.