Allow Bill Connelly to explain:
When a team improves by 18 or more adjusted points per game in S&P+, it averages a dip of 4.9 ppg the following year. When a team improves by 9-18 points per game, it sees a dip of two points. On the flip side, when a team regresses by 18 or more points, it averages an uptick of 5.8 points per game the following year. Regressing by 9-18 points? That’s followed by a surge of 3.4 points per game on average.
That being said, Bill finds a couple of factors that may mitigate a return to the middle and allow a team to retain its gains.
That said, this group of improved programs has solid stability in that only one team lost its head coach, and only four lost their starting QBs. Nine return both, which maybe makes for a softer landing?
As I like to say, that question mark is doing a shitload of heavy lifting, but for now, let’s work with Bill. Here’s one of those nine teams:
Last year: Improved from 4-7 to 10-3, from 34th to ninth in S&P+, and from 50th to 11th in FPI
2019 projections: Sixth in S&P+ (8.7 wins) and eighth in FPI (8.2 wins)
A lot of Florida’s 2018 improvement came after people had stopped paying attention. Florida’s decades-long win streak over Kentucky ended early in the year, and the Gators lost to Georgia and Missouri by a combined 40 points. But the Gators won their final four games, averaging 45 points and wrecking Florida State and Michigan in the process.
Better yet, they return most of those responsible for that late-season surge. Quarterback Feleipe Franks and an ultra-deep skill corps are back, and last year’s sophomore-heavy defense is now junior-heavy. The offensive line is undergoing a major rebuild, but the continuity is strong everywhere else despite recent attrition in the secondary.
Florida also has history on its side. While the 2010s haven’t been nearly as fun in Gainesville as the 2000s, the Gators have still finished four of the past five seasons in the S&P+ top 25. It’s more likely that 2017 was the outlier, not 2018.
To some extent, I can see where he’s coming from, particularly that last sentence.
I’ve been thinking about my SEC preseason prediction list and I have to admit I can see Florida at a 9 or 10 win level this season, with one huge caveat. The starting 22 for the Gators will be competitive, but depth is a scary issue for Florida. Injuries in the secondary or offensive line I suspect will derail that train quickly.
If the Gators are going to defy regression to the mean in 2019, Dan Mullen is going to need some real injury luck.