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Missouri Football and overcoming the recruiting gulf

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If the Tigers’ opponent recruits 30 spots higher than the Tigers, how often do we expect said Tigers to win?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Vanderbilt
Missouri doesn’t normally pull in recruits the caliber of Jake Fromm. Georgia does. That’s an issue.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

So this story idea comes to me through a reader comment via its earthly vessel, Oscar Gambler.

The query, summarized succinctly, is this: “When we play a team that has recruited better players, and by better I mean they have recruited better players according to Rivals, then how often do we expect them to win those games?”

Good question. Allow me to attempt an answer.

To do so, I went back through Missouri’s SEC era — five full seasons plus the first five games this year — and got an average Rivals.com national recruiting ranking for the Tigers and every opponent they’ve played.

I got the average by averaging the national rankings from the five classes that make up each team. So, for example, this year’s Missouri squad would be the classes from 2013-17, or an average ranking of 39.6.

(Yes, there are better ways to do this, perhaps by weighting each class for each team by how much they contributed/are contributing to that team. But ain’t nobody got time for that.)

For FCS teams, I just gave them a blanket 131, since there are 130 FBS teams. For teams that didn’t earn a Rivals ranking for a year, I gave them a 101 for that year, since Rivals generally ranks the top 100 teams.

(Again, probably not the most scientific way. Here’s a counterpoint: Shut up. You get what you get.)

So, over those past four-plus years, Missouri has had “superior” talent 32 times and has a 24-8 record, a win percentage of .750. The Tigers have had “inferior” talent 37 times and a 14-23 record in those games, or a win percentage of .378.

Let’s break it down even further:

Missouri’s Average Recruiting Ranking vs. Its Opponents’ (2012-17)
20 or more points better: 18-5 (.783)
0-19.9 points better: 6-3 (.667)
0.1 to 19.9 points worse: 9-8 (.529)
20 or more points worse: 5-15 (.250)

So that’s pretty good news, right? Even if Missouri goes up against a team that’s 19.9 points better than it in average recruiting — say, routinely around 17th-20th in the nation -- it’s still got a fighter’s chance at winning.

Now here’s the bad news. Let’s look at those same splits during The Troubles:

Missouri’s Average Recruiting Ranking vs. Its Opponents’ (2015-17)
20 or more points better: 7-2 (.778)
0-19.9 points better: 1-3 (.250)
0.1 to 19.9 points worse: 2-5 (.286)
20 or more points worse: 0-9 (.000)

.....yeah..........

So what does this mean for the rest of the season? While it means good things for games against Idaho (99.8 average recruiting ranking) and Connecticut (90.8), it means bad things for games against Florida (11.6) and Tennessee (12.2).

Oh, and Georgia (7.4). Missouri hasn’t beaten a team with such a big average recruiting ranking gulf on it (31.2) in the past six seasons.

Taking the expected win percentage for all five categories we’ve shown up there from 2012-17 and applying them to the Tigers’ final seven opponents, we’d expect 3.512 more wins.

Idaho. Connecticut. Maybe Vanderbilt. Maybe Arkansas? 4-8 or 5-7.

Taking the expected win percentage for those categories during The Troubles, though, we only get 2.092 wins.

Idaho and Connecticut. 3-9. How are we feeling about that?

Anyway, hope that at least halfway answers the original question.

How often does Missouri beat “more talented” teams when it comes to average recruiting rankings? A fair amount.

How often does Missouri beat “much more talented” teams in the same metric? About a quarter of the time.

And not since 2014.


Most Unexpected Wins
1. 2013 — Missouri (36.2) vs. Florida (6.4): -29.8, 36-17
2. 2014 — Missouri (35) at Florida (5.8): -29.2, 42-13
3. 2013 — Missouri (36.2) at Georgia (10): -26.2, 41-26
4. 2013 — Missouri (36.2) vs. Tennessee (14): -22.2, 31-3
5. 2014 — Missouri (35) at Tennessee (13): -22.2, 29-21
6. 2014 — Missouri (35) at Texas A&M (15.2): -19.8, 34-27
7. 2015 — Missouri (36.2) vs. South Carolina (17.6): -18.6, 24-10
8. 2013 — Missouri (36.2) vs. Texas A&M (18.4): -17.8, 28-21
9. 2014 — Missouri (35) at South Carolina (18.6): -16.4, 21-20
10. 2012 — Missouri (33) at Tennessee (16.8): -16.2, 51-48

Most Unexpected Losses
1. 2016 — Missouri (36) vs. Middle Tennessee (89): +53, 45-51
2. 2012 — Missouri (33) vs. Syracuse (73.4): +40.4, 27-31
3. 2012 — Missouri (33) vs. Vanderbilt (64.2): +31.2, 15-19
4. 2017 — Missouri (39.6) vs. Purdue (67.2): +27.6, 3-35
5. 2014 — Missouri (35) vs. Indiana (58.6): +23.6, 27-31
6. 2015 — Missouri (36.2) at Vanderbilt (43): +6.8, 3-10
7. 2016 — Missouri (36) at West Virginia (37.8): +1.8, 11-26
8. 2016 — Missouri (36) vs. Kentucky (34.2): -1.8, 21-35
9. 2015 — Missouri (36.2) vs. Mississippi State (30.6): -5.6, 13-31
10. 2015 — Missouri (36.2) at Arkansas (27.8): -8.4, 3-28


And Now Let Me Show My Work...