Bill Connelly, the college football stats guru for nerds like you and me (and former FO writer), has relied for a couple of years on his returning production statistic. Bill uses a weighted average of the returning stats, not players, from year to year as an indicator of who might be more successful in the upcoming season. I’m going to tweak and build on the idea of returning production, focusing on talent instead of stats and exploiting new data from the college football transfer portal.
The Returning Talent Index is simple: the index is your team’s talent composite weighted by returning production, plus net transfer ratings, plus incoming recruiting ratings, normalized to a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1. A returning talent index of 1.5 means your team improved by 1.5 standard deviations relative to average, and a returning talent index of -0.25 means your team got worse by a quarter of a standard deviation relative to average.
I begin by looking at the “raw” data based on the entire Power 5, and then will add in conference adjustment ratings to get a final score for each team, identifying who got the biggest bump from transfers along the way. At the end, I’ll highlight the Group of 5 teams to identify who might make a playoff push, or at least a New Year’s Six run. I use the team composite rating from 247 Sports, which aggregates the recruiting stars and ratings currently on a team’s roster, as well as recruiting data on incoming freshmen and the transfer portal, all readily available on the 247 websites. Returning production is calculated from play-by-play data from the NCAA’s website.
And here’s what the SEC looks like:
My immediate thought upon seeing that: poor Shane Beamer. My second thought: Georgia plays every single team with a talent drop. My third thought (related to the second): So much for the East closing the gap with the Dawgs.
Here’s Parker’s take:
LSU clearly outpaces the conference at more than two standard deviations better than the SEC average. Loaded Georgia and Alabama round out the top class of the conference. The SEC’s second tier could be interesting, though, as 2020 East division champion Florida got slightly worse on net, and upstart programs Ole Miss (with a Very Fun Offense), Mississippi State, and Arkansas all improve on promising seasons. Texas A&M, perhaps the best non-Alabama SEC team, loses a quarterback and some serious weapons, yet improves in 2021. They highlight another fun facet of the RTI: many teams are “a quarterback away,” which we know in college football can be very far. The Aggies improved, but they’ll have to fill Kellen Mond’s shoes to compete.
South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt all get new coaches, and turnover is to be expected, although it’s worth noting that Shane Beamer has a lot of work to do. Missouri and Kentucky took a step backwards in talent, and they both may be a couple of cycles away from their peaks. All in all, the SEC is still Alabama’s conference, although Georgia, LSU, and a few interesting Tier 2 teams look to challenge that this season.
And here’s one more chart, to give you some national perspective:
LSU, Oregon, and Miami are officially the teams to watch this fall. The Tigers, after finishing 5-5 and 70th in the nation in EPA/play margin, are poised for a better 2021. This number might even be deflated given the vast opt-outs the team saw, but the Tigers return passer Max Brennan (15th nationally in with 0.15 EPA/attempt and 15th in passing first-down rate). LSU will return almost 80% of a defense that struggled at times (85th in EPA/play allowed), but has plenty of room to grow and will be bolstered by Clemson transfer Mike Jones.
… Other teams that stand out in the national picture: familiar favorites Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Alabama are all bolstered by their big recruiting classes, despite losing talent. North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, UCLA, and Ole Miss are all looking to capitalize on the top of their development cycles with high returning production, while teams such as Penn State, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Nebraska look to bounce back from underwhelming campaigns.
Does any of that data lead you to revisit your take on this post about SEC 2021 win projections?