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SP+: EMU last in MAC with 44% returning production
Bill Connelly's preview series begins with the returning production percentage Thursday.
Bill Connelly of ESPN began his preview season on Thursday with his returning production percentage list.
In his ongoing coverage of using advanced math to help shape our view of college football as a whole, returning production percentage is his way of showing how much is or isn’t coming back to each FBS team. I’ll co-sign and say that this is a better way of looking at things instead of sticking to “8/11 returning starters on offense, 5/11 returning starters on defense.” Those counting stats don’t tell you if the non-returners play left guard or quarterback on offense, or if a team’s losing a defender who plays the ball well in coverage or if a team’s losing a defender who gets in the backfield.
As a remedy for this, I have for a few years been deriving what I call a team's returning production percentage as an alternative to returning starters. It looks at the most predictive key personnel stats -- percentage of your QB's passing yards returning, percentage of your secondary's passes defensed returning, and everything in between -- and is weighted based on what correlates most strongly with year-to-year improvement and regression. It is a major factor in my annual SP+ projections, which will be released next week. (The other primary factors: recent recruiting and weighted five-year history.)
Connelly further spells the math and their importances with this:
Over the past six seasons, offenses with returning production above 60% average an improvement of about two points per game, while those below regress by about three. And the extremes are pretty stark: Only one of the 18 teams that have returned at least 90% of their offensive production saw its offensive SP+ rating fall, while nine improved by at least seven adjusted points per game.
Meanwhile, of the 37 offenses that returned 35% of their production or less, only five improved, while 19 regressed by at least seven adjusted points per game.
It's the same story on defense: Teams returning at least 85% of defensive production improve by an average of five adjusted points per game, while teams returning 40% or less regress by five adjusted points per game. If you're on one end of the spectrum or the other, your fate is pretty settled.
You can click here to read more of the math and how everything gets figured into his equations (and the rest of the nation’s rankings), but here’s the rundown on how returning production percentages look across the Mid-American Conference.
ESPN: Returning production for the MAC 2020
Akron — 78% overall (14th nationally), 89% offense (3), 66% (57)
Ball State — 74% overall (22), 68% offense (60), 81% defense (19)
Central Michigan — 73% overall (24), 70% offense (48), 77% (30)
Miami — 73% overall (26), 86% offense (10), 61% defense (74)
Buffalo — 71% overall (37), 80% offense (16), 62% defense (71)
Toledo — 71% overall (39), 72% offense (44), 70% defense (48)
Ohio —64% overall (68), 51% offense (95), 78% defense (28)
Kent State — 62% overall (73), 68% offense (58), 57% defense (89)
Northern Illinois — 49% overall (113), 39% offense (117), 59% defense (81)
Bowling Green — 47% overall (115), 45% offense (108), 49% defense (108)
Western Michigan — 46% overall (118), 41% offense (113), 50% (106)
Eastern Michigan— 44% overall (123), 40% offense (116), 49% defense (111)
Connelly’s blurb on the MAC:
Average projected SP+ change: -0.5 points per team (fifth)
Most returning production: Akron (78%, 14th)
Least returning production: Eastern Michigan (44%, 123rd)
Per SP+, 2019 was one of the MAC's worst seasons, but inexperience was at least a partial cause. It has six teams in the top 40 here, including both of last season's division champs (Miami and CMU) and its recruiting heavyweight (Toledo). This could create a challenging landscape for two recently successful, and now retooling, programs: EMU and WMU.
EMU last in the MAC overall
Eastern Michigan’s last in the league with a 44% of overall production returning, 123rd in the nation, by Connelly’s numbers. EMU’s offense only has 40% of its production returning (116th nationally), and 49% on defense (111).
Last year, EMU was 117th nationally with only 51% returning. EMU had 64% return in 2018, 80% in 2017, and 73% in 2016 — Connelly’s first year publishing the stat. (Note: These percentages improved in quality over time.)
If you’ve been paying attention to how many guys EMU had to replace this offseason through recruiting, then seeing such a low number for this conversation shouldn’t sound off any real alarms. EMU’s losing its starting quarterback, its top two running backs, starting linemen, play-making receivers, defensive backs with pro potential — it was a loaded graduation.
That’s why EMU was able to celebrate such a big, 32-man signing class earlier in the week.
EMU’s going to be a very young team, but the program is at the height of its recruiting. Chris Creighton knew he was going to graduate a bunch of guys, now the hope for him is that he was able to recruit (and develop) well enough to have things pay off in 2020.
More on the MAC
Buffalo’s probably my knee-jerk favorite to win the MAC in 2020, and the returning numbers are encouraging. Bulls’ defense returns only 61%, but Taylor Riggins is going to be a problem in 2020.
Toledo was embarrassingly bad last year, but I think Toledo’s the best-equipped to get its act together and go from 6-6 to double-digit wins next year. 71% of the Rocket production returns next year and is pretty balanced on both sides. If the defense makes any significant strides, then there’s no reason why Toledo can’t go back to normal.
WMU led the country last year with 85% of its production returning, but in fairness, that article was published before a bunch of other Broncos transferred out. But at this time last year, WMU was looking pretty good, then things happened. Then the team went 7-6. This year, WMU’s return is second-to-last in the MAC. I don’t want to give a prognosis, but I think WMU’s got the talent to fix some mistakes it ran into in 2019. (Also, it’s MAC schedule isn’t super brutal this year.)
Akron leads the conference in this category with 78% of its 0-12 team coming back. You figure it out.
The teams that return the second and third-most to their teams by this stat are the two teams that made it to the MAC Championship: CMU (73%) and Miami (73%). CMUs returning at least 70% on both sides of the ball, but Miami’s taking a hit on defense (61%) with key players now graduated.
NIU and BGSU are in their second years under new head coaches, and each return less than half of their respective production totals from last year. That means there’s going to be a lot of playing time for underclassmen to have.
Kent State’s not returning a ton on offense (68%), but Dustin Crum’s not gone yet. If he’s still efficient and the recruiting + development from Sean Lewis’ staff pays off, I think the Flashes can make another big step forward and make a real run for the MAC East division.