Bill Connelly’s updated his preseason S&P+ rankings.
This time around, my major tweak was in looking more closely at offensive and defensive trends instead of full-team trends as a whole. Instead of using a weighted five-year history figure for the team, I tinkered with the proper weights for offense and defense. It’s the same with returning starters — attrition affects the units differently.
Using eight years of returning starter data, bouncing it off of S&P+, and using some general regression, I was able to derive the following:
Returning Starters Proj. Change in Off. S&P+ Proj. Change in Def. S&P+ 1 -21.3% -10.1% 2 -16.1% -8.4% 3 -11.5% -6.6% 4 -7.4% -4.6% 5 -3.9% -2.6% 6 -0.8% -0.5% 7 +1.7% +1.8% 8 +3.7% +4.1% 9 +5.2% +6.5% 10 +6.2% +9.0% 11 +6.7% +11.7%
Inexperience matters more on offense than on defense, while experience makes more of a difference on defense, if that makes sense. Let’s put that another way: returning almost no starters will hurt an offense more than a defense, while returning 10 starters helps a defense more than an offense. And returning 5-8 starters affects each unit pretty much equally.
The reason I bring this up is Georgia’s season opener.
Yes, Clemson fifth. I’ve removed draft points from the equation for now, simply because I don’t like the way I do it and don’t think it has much of a positive effect, so losing Sammy Watkins will look like simply losing a starter. But the major positive impact for Clemson comes from experience on defense; the Tigers have improved by quite a bit over the last couple of years, and they return a relatively experienced unit in 2014. They’re one of only three teams projected in the top 15 on both offense and defense. (The other two are pretty obvious.) You don’t have to actually believe the Tigers are a top-5 team if you don’t want, but you might want to set the bar a little higher than you were thinking.
Now, Georgia did alright against that defense on the road last season (35 points, 545 yards total offense), despite losing Malcolm Mitchell for the season and Todd Gurley for over a quarter’s worth of action. And Bill’s analysis doesn’t take into account a starting defensive lineman and reserve defensive back being suspended for the first game. But it does suggest that Georgia’s strength may be going up against Clemson’s.
Yeah, Georgia’s defense is in a state of flux, to put it mildly. But don’t forget Harvey-Clemons didn’t play in last season’s opener. And that as far as impact goes, Clemson’s departures on offense far outstrip Georgia’s departures. (There’s also the possibility that Pruitt has a better idea how to defend Clemson’s offense than Grantham did.)
At this point, it’s a lot harder to put a finger on what to expect than what we thought going into last season.