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Colorado advanced stats profile - How do the Buffaloes stack up?

The Stat Saint himself, Bill Connelly, somehow put together a profile for all 128 FBS teams using his advanced statistical models. I'm going to try to make sense of them.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Whoo boy, Christmas came early for everyone at SB Nation. In-house stats genie, Bill Connelly, somehow compiled the advanced stat profiles for every team in the country and made it easy for dummies like me to read. I've always looked at things like the S&P+ and F+/- rankings with envy because they are the language of the cool club that I'm not a part of. They are the vocab list of the higher reading group in 3rd grade. But thanks to the magic that is the SB Nation mothership, they've broken the barrier for me and many others. Below, I try to make sense of the cool stuff in all of the data.

Warning - This is through three games, so take everything with a grain of salt.

Here we get to the brief overview of the state of the team. S&P+ measures the four out of five factors in college football that Connelly deems the most tied to winning games - efficiency, explosiveness, finishing drives, and field position. The points per game is adjusted for the opponent (I believe), and they show what we've seen this year about this Buff team. A very middle of the road team, 61st and 57th respectively on offense and defense. Many are surprised that the offense took a step back compared to last year, but the bigger shock is the defense taking such a step up. As we will see later, they have completely changed their identity. The S&P+ number is an adjusted scoring margin that is projected for the rest of the season. The offense is the story here again, and explosiveness really takes them down a notch here, as once again we will see later. Let's dig a little deeper.

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 27.0 81 29.2 68
Points Per Game 31.7 61 22.0 57

Five Factors

Here is the meat of the models, if I'm understanding any of this correctly. Here is the excerpt from the Football Study Hall post he had on the new rankings.

But over time, I've come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.
  • If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.
  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.
  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.
  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

This is from 2013 college football game data. It's very, very similar from year to year.

These are good odds. And they speak to the fundamentals of football itself. You want to be efficient when you've got the ball, because if you fall behind schedule and into passing downs, you're far less likely to make a good play. You want to eat up chunks of yardage with big plays, because big plays mean both points and fewer opportunities to make mistakes. When you get the opportunity to score, you want to score. And when you give the ball back to your opponent, you want to give them to have to go as far as possible.

Here is how CU stacks up in these categories

Offense Defense
Category Avg. Rk Avg. Rk Nat'l Avg.
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.07 121 1.23 61 1.26
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 46.1% 45 39.0% 65 40.4%
FIELD POSITION Avg. FP 29.9 70 31.0 102 29.6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.75 71 3.67 22 4.68

Notice the surprisingly "dumb" stat for turnover, it appears that you can't find a much better predictor than good 'ol turnover margin. And boy oh boy, what a change that a year brings. The Buffs already have two more interceptions than all of 2014, and as many turnovers. Jim Leavitt has changed the identity of this CU defense, as more of the stats will show. Going through the rest of the stats here, it appears the Buffs are not an explosive team, as evidenced by the well-below average number for PPP, or points per play. This stat is pretty straightforward, and even with the long gains on September 19th, they are still lagging behind the rest of the conference. Defensively, they are right around the national average, which is a big step up from last year. Moving on down the line, the efficiency on offense is actually a step up from last year, which makes me think that Coach Mac's message of finishing is finally catching on. A lot of that improvement could be put on maturity, both mentally and physically, and with the adjusted SOS for these stats, you can't really say it was the teams they were playing.

Defensive Footprint

Let's take a closer look at Coach Leavitt's new unit. A few numbers jump out at me- the LB and DB havoc rate. Havoc rate, as defined by Bill Connelly, is "the percentage of plays in which a defense either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defensed a pass (intercepted or broken up). If QB hurries were a reliable stat (at the college level, there is far too much inconsistency in how they are recorded), they would be included here, too."

As these numbers show, the defensive backs have done a predictably good job with havoc plays, especially interceptions. While they may be gashed with yards, they always seem to make plays at the right time. Their PD to INC ratio, or how often they are responsible for the incompletion, is also pretty high, further solidifying the theory that they are playmaking bunch. The linebackers, however, tell a different story. 112th overall is not a great number, and once again, it seems to back up what the film says. A thin unit has been made thinner by injuries, and at times it seems as if their efforts just aren't enough to make plays. The Kenneth Olugbode interception is obviously a huge exception. Overall, it seems like the unit is very average in the rest of these categories, which is a ridiculous step up from recent years.

Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 53.0% 99 59.4%
Pass. Downs Run Rate 33.8% 63 33.4%
Overall Havoc Rate 15.6% 75 16.4%
DL Havoc Rate 5.0% 59 16.4%
LB Havoc Rate 2.2% 112 4.5%
DB Havoc Rate 8.4% 27 6.5%
PD to INC 37.3% 35


Offensive Footprint

Team Rk Nat'l Average
Std. Downs Run Rate 67.8% 26 60.2%
Pass Downs Run Rate 32.3% 65 33.9%
Adj. Pace +7.6 22 +0.0
% of Solo Tackles 83.2% 19 73.4%

This chart paints a much prettier picture of the offense than some of the other stats. The standard down and passing down run rate shows a team that has imposed its will so far, and it shows control over the game. The pace also shows a team playing to its strengths and taking advantage of the rarified air that embodies Boulder, Colorado. As far as % of Solo Tackles go, I couldn't even tell you what the percentage means, but the ranking looks nice, so that's fun.


There's a lot to take in here. Let's just go down the list. I'm not going to focus on the individual numbers themselves, but the trends (or lack thereof). The offense seems to do very well through the first three quarters, peaking at the third quarter, though that might be largely influenced by the UMass performance. Then, they jump over a cliff in the fourth and they can't seem to finish. Once again, the defense seems to close strong, a far cry from last year. The 4th quarter is by far their best, and Leavitt seems to be getting maximum effort from the boys. This corroborates with what we've seen from this team. That fourth quarter against CSU was a thing of beauty, and the hold against Hawaii wasn't bad either. It's just the start that you have to work on. 3rd down is still a trouble spot fro both of the units. Besides that, not much more I can say. The numbers speak for themselves.

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk
Q1 S&P+ 134.2 27 99.8 78
Q2 S&P+ 129.6 35 99.8 77
Q3 S&P+ 133.3 19 102.0 67
Q4 S&P+ 91.0 98 124.9 26
1st Down S&P+ 109.4 61 108.8 51
2nd Down S&P+ 120.4 32 112.7 39
3rd Down S&P+ 109.1 73 108.0 63