Jimmies and Joes v. X’s and O’s

From guest columnist Rob O. 

Jimmies and Joes vs X’s and O’s

As many of you who have read some of my hopelessly optimistic comments will know, I have been a near non-stop supporter of the X’s and O’s (and the coaches that call them) over the Jimmies and Joes. Not that Jimmies and Joe’s were unimportant, but I always felt that predicting the eventual production and capability of athletes based on what they did when they were 17 years old was largely a guessing game, except for those very early developers or truly gifted athletes. I felt a coach who could recruit 20 solid kids a year would find 10 of them that will develop into an elite athlete and contribute with the right coaching. This would leave a program using red shirts with a solid 50 kids after 5 years to build a 2 deep from. Now I believe that the transfer portal is going to fundamentally change this as programs will no longer be able to develop talent over years and lower programs that develop talent will be constantly raided, but that is not the purpose of this article.

Up until this point, I had never really taken the time to do any true analysis of my original opinion though. Frankly, I knew that CU would be consistently lower in the rankings and I would likely just be a little depressed in how bad our recruiting was. It would also be very difficult to measure great coaching and talent development over time to balance out the analysis. But Coach Prime and the recent recruits have given me the strength(?) to actually do some analysis.

I took the 247 recruit football team rankings for the PAC-12 from 2016-2022 and did some simplified analytics. I took the weighted average of the team’s recruit rating over three years as well as the average 247 team recruiting points over three years and correlated it to wins within the PAC-12 each year for all of the PAC12 teams. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a corresponding correlation coefficient of 0.319 and 0.313, meaning over this time period in the PAC-12 recruiting better players results in a slightly higher expectation of wins. This value would need to be nearly double with a value nearer to .7 or higher to indicate better players WILL definitely deliver more wins. This is in line with all we have seen where extremely talented USC teams post 3 and 4 win seasons, below average recruited teams like the 2016 Buffs rise to defeat much more talented teams, and lower talented (according to rankings) Utah teams regularly defeat more talented teams (and strangely enough often lose one to less talented teams) on a regular basis.

So does this mean that the Coach Prime recruiting effect is not going to matter? On the contrary, where this slight correlation was working against us for the past decade it may now begin to actively work in our favor and potentially as soon as next year. Over the past 10 years CU has averaged classes in the bottom 4 of the Pac12 using 247 points as well as average player ratings within the class. CU’s 2023 class (including both recruits and transfers) is in the top half of the PAC12 Trailing 3 year weighted average of the player rating averages and is actually in the top 3rd of the 3 year average of points if you adjust for CU’s massive roster upheaval.

So how bad was the lean before and how good is the lean now? Prior to this year, CU average class average over the previous 9 years was 84.11. In pure averages, this puts CU second from last with only Oregon State below and only slightly behind Washington State.

TeamAvg ScoreAvg points
Arizona State86.75213.85
Oregon State84.08172.66
Washington State84.11182.95

The points calculation used by 247 sports produces the exact same ranking with CU having an average of 181 points. Now for those of you familiar with recruit ranking these numbers will likely mean a lot but for those that do not follow the rankings this closely let me give some context.

Five Stars (98-110 rating): The top 32 players in the country built to mirror the 32 first round draft picks in the NFL draft. Rankings over 100 are to be considered a franchise player and one does not come around each class.

Four Stars (90-97): These are the players believed to have careers in college that will get them drafted. Its generally around 350 prospects or roughly 10 percent of the prospects in this class.

High Three Stars (87-89): These players are considered players with significant NFL upside and are expected to be an impact college player.

Mid Three Stars (84-86): These players are considered to be players that are capable college starters.

Low Two Stars (80-83): These players are potential college contributors.

The Points calculation is a little harder to explain. Each recruit is weighted in their contribution using a Gaussian distribution formula (bell curve), where a teams best recruit is worth the most points, and each subsequent recruit’s impact is reduced. To understand the scale here it best to just look at other teams: USC has averaged 269.13 points and Oregon has averaged 252.21 points over the same time period. Alabama’s 2022 recruiting class was 322 beaten out by A&M’s highly documented NIL class of 333. Basically, this score can be used to compare the top half of a team in a metric that really expands the impact those players tend to have on the success of that team while devaluing larger classes and the lowest recruits on the team.

Looking at this chart we see that according to most analysts Colorado’s team for the previous decade was comprised of recruits that were considered to be capable college starters or those that might develop into capable college starters. Adding into the analysis we see the points value discrepancy showing Colorado had significantly fewer elite athletes on their team. Compared to the elite recruiting teams such as USC and Oregon who’s classes are filled with potential NFL players and elite athletes. Before discounting the X’s and O’s completely though I want to point out Utah, who over this same decade is solidly in the middle of the PAC (pun intended) and has become one of the elite Football schools because of coaching and developing its players.

So what does this mean for the upcoming year. I think the transfer portal fundamentally alters programs now and so while I continue to use the trailing 3 years average (including transfer portal) I think it is difficult to measure the impact of a great transfer classes. I have included the transfer portal rankings in the numbers but the numbers published by 247 appear to be the rating of the athlete out of high school and not adjusted for what they have or have not shown in college. The biggest challenge was altering the scores for CU as the trailing 3 year average would be completely meaningless. To this end, I threw out the scores for CU for both. The average athlete was easy to recalculate as I just used the scores for each athlete provided and then took the weighted average. The 247 points is much more difficult as it allows for multiple classes of elite athletes to provide a higher score than one big influx of talent like we had.

For this one I just used the points score for this year alone. This may slightly devalue some of the elite transfers we are bringing in but as I indicated earlier the values for these athletes may be slightly higher than they should be as we are still using their high school scores.

Teamtr3 AvgTr3 Points
Arizona State86.41203.79
Oregon State86.39178.95
Washington State84.94187.80

Interestingly, we see the entire bottom of the PAC shift upward but CU’s shift was bigger (which we would expect based upon the massive roster overhaul and influx of talent of the Prime led Buffs). CU’s average star would lead us to believe we are right on the line between NFL caliber players and impactful college athletes and solidly within the middle of the PAC. The jump in points for CU is even more pronounced, vaulting CU into the top 3 (obviously a reflection of multiple 5* athletes and numerous 4* in the incoming class and transfer portal additions).

So now down to a Jimmie’s and Joe’s analysis for the upcoming games this year. Interestingly, enough because CU has such a disparate value between average athlete score and the 247 points we have very different potential records.

Teamtr3 AvgTr3 Points
Arizona State86.41203.79
Washington State84.94187.80
Oregon State86.39178.95

Average athlete score would lead you to believe CU should be favored in 5 contests, slight dogs in 2 contests and underdogs in 5 contests. The 247 score would show a much more favorable Buff report with 10 favorable contests and 2 unfavorable ones……. This could be as much by how I chose to use this years overall class score as our trailing 3 year score or it could provide interesting insight into which number is better. The correlation coefficient would NOT indicate which measurement is better as statistically they are near identical. The more I stare at these numbers the more I feel there is something to the Prime Effect. There is just something about the man that defies the odds, that changes the nature of the calculation. The discrepancy is too big to be understood easily. Perhaps it is the transfer portal, perhaps it is the fact that both Hunter and McClain are predicted to be certain high first round draft picks and both are coming in within the same class for CU? I would be interested in the comments to see what anyone else can come up with.

After the debacle of my predictions last year (I am not sure I will ever live down my unabashed certainty that Dorrell’s Buffs led by Shrout would Vault CU back to respectability after watching a horrendous offense beat a horrendous defense in a Fall scrimmage) I am going to hold to my principal to not make a prediction until I watch at least 1 full real game. This said, I think it is unequivocal that CU has added a significant amount of talent that should put it on even footing with many of the teams it will be competing against and this added firepower should allow CU to potentially take advantage of the mild correlation
between talent and wins.

I still need to figure out some way of measuring coaching……. Adjust for talent and the looks for wins? Points scored on O, points against on D for coordinators? If I figure out some way I will send another article to Stuart.

Hope this added something to ponder while we all wait for the season to start.

Go Buffs!


9 Replies to “Jimmies and Joes v. X’s and O’s”

  1. Just now reading this, and lots of good stuff!

    Not only am I going to wait for the first game, I’m going to wait for 3 games to make any predictions.

    Which — as a side note — I would like to see the national media be required to do as well. I’m so tired of the national pundits stuffing 10 of the 14 SEC teams into the top 25 from day 1, and then breathlessly remarking all season about how many “ranked teams” Bama or Georgia beat this season. Yawn.

    Thanks for the good analysis, RobO! Go Buffs!!!

  2. Thanks Rob. I’ve been wondering what a comparison of who we actually have on the team vs who is on other teams would look. Any analysis that assigns any value to last year’s results is inherently irrelevant in my view. This is a 100% new team. The remaining players from last year had to earn their spot on this team all over again.

    Based only on Star/recruit rating , we’re looking at between 6 and 8 wins I’d say.
    Account for the high level and experienced coaches along with the new competitive culture, training, nutrition, and facilities, and this analysis starts tipping toward 8+ wins.

    Yes a 4-5 game improvement between seasons is huge, and a 7+ win differential is unprecedented… But last year’s and this years teams are unrelated, so such a comparison is invalid. Apples and oranges. The only semi tangible basis for prediction we have is to compare the ratings of our talent to that of the competition, and then adjust up or down based on our opinions regarding coaching, team chemistry, luck, etc.

    So my prediction is 8 wins, +\- 2 wins. So between 6 and 10.
    Bowling is my expectation, and anything above is gravy.

    Food for thought…. What happens if CU comes out and thwacks TCU by 21+? And if TCU wins by 21? Close game, within 3 pts? What would the expectations be for the rest of the season in each case? 6 wins is the floor in my opinion.

    1. The stats indicate that TCU has slightly better average talent than we do (just a smidge 87.94 to 87.02) but CU appears to have an edge in top end talent (259 to 219). As I indicated above all of my stats adjust for our current team. So talent wise it should be a close game. Coaching wise I am not sure what to expect. I would have bet a lot of money against Dykes building and executing on the team he did last year. Will Kent States offense work in the power 5? Are all of the coaches that have coached at lower levels prepared to step up? Will Kelly be ready to step up again into a DC again? So many questions on our side? I will say if the TCU game is close or CU wins outright it is going to be a really cool season.

  3. Great work RobO! That last number 259.0 along with the “Prime Effect”, is why I so much want to believe that CU should win a lot of their games. Without doing the math, just the simple number of Blue Chip players, both current and past, are reasons for me to get excited. Some players needed a new opportunity, or are coming back from injury, or NEEDS that next level of coaching to get their NFL tape or…

    Watching a couple of player interviews and just as I thought, these players know each other better than the big pundits are giving them credit for and the whole team chemistry thing is not a thing. I also heard the word DOGS mentioned, these guys believe they are all Big Dogs, at CU to compete for an experienced and more important a trusted coaching staff that will make the Buffs into champions. These guys trust the coaches, in that the best players will play and the staff will lead them there.

    There’s something to be said about that!

  4. That was a really good read. I’m not so good with stats (got a mercy C), but I can appreciate the work.

    Three things that I think keep the pundits from recognizing what is happening:

    1. They have a natural tendency to not take risks when it comes to predictions.

    2. Not recognizing what Coach Prime calls bringing in “dogs.” The compete level within the program combined with improved size, raw talent and athletic ability is significantly improved and will have a big effect on the field if….

    3. The coaching talent is good enough. And is this coaching talent good enough? I think this staff is crazy good and will have a massive effect on bringing this team together.

    1. Thanks Andrew,
      I agree it is real tough for the pundits to come out and say this team will be good. To be frank, I was really surprised how much of a jump in talent we had. Some of that was driven by how low we were, but some of it is driven by the depth. I think that Coach Prime has brought in a couple of super stars and that is all the pundits see, and y themselves they don’t change the story. But I think for the first time in a long time, I feel like we could lose starters across every unit but QB and be just fine. I think this does 2 things. 1. Injuries happen and you also need to rest guys, having good backups that can play real minutes matter. 2. Breeds competition. I can’t tell you how often I saw good players come in and look the same as a Senior as they did as a Sophmore. Way too many guys just had their spot. I don’t think that is true. There is real competition for spots on this team.

  5. Yur so good at this. Like you I dreamed of last year being the year.

    So this year I am not going to predict any record till the end of the season.

    Go Buffs
    Go Prime Get well.
    And an NFL Hall of Famer God worshiping man lead them.

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