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MATRIX MAN

Do you like college football? How about analytics?

Dave Bartoo enjoys both, so much so that the Forest Grove resident turned the combination of the two into a labor of love whose destination remains unknown. COURTESY PHOTO - Forest Groves Dave Bartoo combined his passion for analytics and sports to make himself a player in the world of college football.

Four years ago, Bartoo had an idea: take college football and use analytics and storytelling to explain what and why teams win and lose. The result was the College Football Matrix, a website designed to analyze the collegiate game using a blend of talent, coaching and location (where the games are played).

“Everyone wants to overcomplicate what makes college football tick,” said Bartoo. “But it’s really rather simple.”

His site offers a view into college football from a strictly analytical standpoint — what you should expect for each team and why. Unlike the college football polls, the College Football Matrix doesn’t just tell you where a team is ranked, but also why they’re ranked there.

Bartoo says polls operate primarily under the methodology of what pollsters see on film. His system offers a different perspective, and does so in an easily understandable manner.

“It’s reasonable in terms of its explanation, and that’s why people gravitate to it.”

Also because it wins.

Unlike Vegas-style sports gambling venues, which have the luxury of revisiting games and predictions on a weekly basis, Dave’s predictions are all made prior to Sept. 1 and are set in stone for the remainder of the season. But eerily like Vegas, his picks have a high rate of accuracy. In his best year, he finished just seven games behind Vegas’ picks and correctly predicted almost 80 percent of the games’ outcomes — “hella good,” according to Bartoo.

Born in California, Bartoo attended the University of Oregon, where he met his wife, and ultimately landed in Forest Grove roughly 12 years ago. He studied business marketing, which got him a job, another job, and eventually a position at a start-up company where he learned he could be an independent operator -- which he’s been for more than a decade.

He enjoys analytics, but more than that he enjoys the journey into the unknown. “I like opportunities that lack a clear objective,” he said. “It’s exciting to see where they go.”

Radio in Mississippi

When Bartoo created the College Football Matrix in 2012, he hadn’t a clue where he’d end up. His buddy setup a Twitter account for him and within 90 days he was doing his first ESPN radio hit in, of all places, Mississippi.

“It was crazy that someone picked up on it,” said Bartoo. “Since then I’ve done over a thousand radio shows nationwide.”

He’s been profiled on the now-defunct Grantland website, works regularly with Paul Finebaum — whose radio show famously covers the SEC (South Eastern Conference) — and has been referenced various times on ESPN’s College Gameday.

“It’s fun,” the 45-year-old said. “Sometimes I’ll talk to some TV guys, and later that night I’ll hear them reference something in our conversation and I’ll be like, ‘I know where they got that!’”

Where they got that was cfbmatrix.com, Bartoo’s website, where he posts his predictions, results and opinion pieces based on his various analytics. Examples include “weekly upset alerts,” “weekly game projections” and his “White Rabbit Looks,” which range from statistical breakdowns of coaches to scoring efficiency charts and average scoring.He has also hosted a college football preview guide for two years, as well as digital publications of other fans, such as college football aficionado Phil Steele.

However, in spite of the popularity of his Matrix, Bartoo has struggled to find a way to monetize it. “The problem is that everyone wants everything for free these days,” he said. “And if you don’t give it to them, someone else will — and they’ll call it good.”

The money conundrum isn’t only Bartoo’s — it turns out very few of the college football preview publications actually turn a profit.

“No one’s really making money,” Bartoo chuckled. “Grantland shutdown last year, so it turns out ‘smart’ doesn’t pay.”

In addition to his website, he’s started consulting for individual college football programs doing, among other things, recruiting analytics. He can tell you, as an example, that incoming freshman linemen weighing under a certain amount are very unlikely to contribute during their inaugural season, historically speaking. Or that last season, the average SEC recruit weighed nine pounds more than the average Pac-12 or Big-12 recruit — enabling those players to play earlier — while the lighter, less developed players need time before stepping on the field.

Innocuous? Maybe to an outsider, but to insiders of the game it’s invaluable information with a track record of success.

Every national champion this century has been a top-10 recruiter over their previous four years, and 82 percent of division winners have been top-3 recruiters in their division. The numbers matter, and coaches are beginning to take notice.

“Some coaches and high level executives want nothing to do with analytics,” said Bartoo. “But I’ve found the successful ones will always at least pause and think about it.”

So what is Dave predicting this season? You’ll have to wait and see.

“I like to let everyone else give their opinions first,” he said. “Then I bring my completely different perspective in.”

He’s also creating a new vessel in which to do it. “I’m planning a deeper dive into podcasting this year. My goal is to have a top-25 podcast on iTunes.”

It wouldn’t be wise to bet against him. In four years, Bartoo has managed to — via his website — become a respected cog in a college football wheel dominated by the big boys of American sport.

“It’s cool that I’ve been able to basically do this sitting at the foot of the Coast Range,” Bartoo said with a grin.