Bill Connelly’s preview of South Carolina — “So South Carolina is improving but isn’t and is gaining ground on the division but isn’t” is essentially spot on — led me to something he posted in January that I evidently missed.
The East was crazy-young in 2016, and division teams ranked seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 31st, and 50th in my initial returning production figures. Only Tennessee returns less than 67 percent of production.
Click on that link and you’ll find that Bill wrote this about the SEC East’s upcoming season:
As things stand, four SEC East teams rank among the top 10 in overall returning production: Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. Plus, Missouri ranks in the top 10 in returning offense and is 31st overall.
Granted, last year’s two best East teams — Florida (15th in year-end S&P+) and Tennessee (28th) — have some inexperience to deal with. The Gators should show gains on offense but also rank 103rd in returning defensive production, while Tennessee ranks 109th in overall production.
Still, the division as a whole should improve. It won’t catch the West, but expect a little more balanced playing field in the SEC.
More specifically, and based on his metric…
How returning production in four different offensive stats correlates with changes in Offensive S&P+ ratings:
(The higher the number, the more likely returning production in these areas is to coincide with strong offense.)
- Receiving yards correlation: 0.320
- Passing yards correlation: 0.231
- Rushing yards correlation: 0.126
- Offensive line starts correlation: 0.096
The conclusion remains: Continuity in the passing game matters a hell of a lot, and continuity in the run game doesn’t have as strong an impact.
On defense, where returning production appears to matter more in general, the correlations are both stronger and more diverse. Since teams use different numbers of defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs, I look at both unit-specific categories and those for defense as a whole.
Correlation between defensive stats and changes in Defensive S&P+:
- Overall passes defensed correlation: 0.406
- Overall tackles correlation: 0.369
- Defensive back passes defensed correlation: 0.363
- Defensive back tackles correlation: 0.352
- Overall tackles for loss correlation: 0.296
- Defensive back tackles for loss correlation: 0.291
- Linebacker tackles for loss correlation: 0.174
- Defensive line sacks correlation: 0.171
The main takeaways are similar to last year: disruption and continuity in the secondary are key. And the ability to get hands on passes, via interception or breakup, is harder to replicate than any other, when it comes to box-score disruption.
… Georgia turns up 35th in returning offensive production, 5th in returning defensive production and 9th overall. Interestingly, with regard to the overall rankings, Georgia is essentially tied with three other teams at 81%, and all four teams reside in the SEC East. And in a comparison of the four — Kentucky, South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt — I think most would say that Georgia has the most talented roster.
One other interesting thing about Bill’s analysis is that, contrary to Phil Steele, he finds a low correlation between returning production on the offensive line and statistical improvement on offense. If you’re Georgia, that’s good news, right?
There’s one other thing to consider from Georgia’s perspective with regard to Bill’s metric. Florida was already showing badly in returning defensive production when he posted this, and with the loss of two more members of the Gators’ secondary, one of whom led the team in tackles last season, you’d have to think that number goes even further south now. That’s some potentially bad news for a team that has relied heavily on its defense to win the division the past two seasons, so, to repeat, if you’re Georgia, that’s good news, right?
Again, none of this guarantees success for Georgia in 2017. It is another indication, though, that the coaching staff should have enough raw material available to it to fashion a successful season.