Every year, ESPN's Bill Connolly breaks down the returning production for every FBS college football program. Some of the nation's top teams lose a lot of major players from last season.
National champion LSU has seen a ton of turnover in the weeks since the win over Clemson. Obviously Joe Burrow graduated, which is the biggest loss, but a number of others have declared for the NFL Draft and the team has also had a large number of transfers. This doesn't even weigh in the coaching departures, which include defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who is now head coach at Baylor, and passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Obviously, it is all worth it for Ed Orgeron and company.
The Tigers are far from alone, even if you're just talking SEC powers. SEC West rival Alabama loses even more overall production this season. The Crimson Tide are tied for 127th overall (out of 130 teams) in returning production in 2020, bringing back just 38-percent of production on the defensive side. On offense, Tua Tagovailoa is gone, along with three of the team's four star receivers. I wouldn't bet against Alabama returning to the College Football Playoff, but Nick Saban has something of a rebuild on his hands.
The production stat that Connolly created is more complex than just counting snaps or yards. On offense, things break down like this: previous season's QB passing yards returning are 32-percent of the formula, previous season's WR/TE receiving yards are 32-percent, career starts on offensive line are 17.5-percent, previous season's offensive line snaps are 12-percent, and previous season's RB rushing yards are 6.5-percent. Defensive production is a little more complex. From Connolly:
• Percentage of defensive returning production formula derived from defensive line: 5%
• Percentage derived from secondary: 37%
• Percentage derived from full defense: 21%
What is "production" from a defensive standpoint? I've found that while raw tackle figures are important, having to replace disruption matters just as much. Tackles for loss (including sacks) account for 15% of the formula, while passes defensed, perhaps surprisingly, account for 33%. These are evidently the skills most difficult to replace.
So if returning production in the secondary is worth 37%, and defensive line is worth 5%, does that mean the secondary is seven times more important than the line? Not necessarily. It simply means that turnover among defensive backs has much more of an impact. Obviously defensive line play matters, but perhaps raw talent matters more than continuity up front?
Here are the 10 Power Five conference teams that return the least production from 2019 to 2020.
Utah Utes: 130th in returning production at 37-percent (Offensive Rank: 104, Defensive Rank: 130)
Alabama Crimson Tide: 127th in returning production at 42-percent (Off: 106, Def: 121)
LSU Tigers: 126th in returning production at 42-percent (Off: 128, Def: 91)
Kansas Jayhawks: 125th in returning production at 42-percent (Off: 115, Def: 116)
Michigan Wolverines: 124th in returning production at 43-percent (Off: 119, Def: 109)
Michigan State Spartans: 116th in returning production at 46-percent (Off: 112, Def: 110)
Colorado Buffaloes: 114th in returning production at 49-percent (Off: 120, Def: 70)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: 110th in returning production at 50-percent (Off: 125, Def: 53)
Mississippi State Bulldogs: 109th in returning production at 51-percent (Off: 86, Def: 112)
Baylor Bears: 107th in returning production at 51-percent (Off: 51, Def: 127)
The Utes, which return the least production overall, are also last in returning defensive production in all of FBS college football. UL-Monroe comes in at 112th overall, bolstered by a decent return on defense, but are dead last in returning offensive production.