College Football Summer School: 2023 Returning Production

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Written By Brett Gibbons | Last Updated
college football returning production

In college football, returning production (RP) is an often misunderstood stat. In the transfer portal era, it becomes one difficult to even calculate. On one hand, you have experienced playmakers returning and continuity in the locker room. On the other hand, you might have a group of bad players coming back. And on the other hand, you have inbound stars in the portal. Returning production isn’t a metric that should be ignored. When used in the right context, it can be strong tool.

Let’s look at teams returning the most production. What does it mean for each and how can you apply it to college football odds this season?

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What is returning production?

Returning production is a stat both growing in popularity but also becoming more difficult to calculate. Just how do you factor in starters who transfer to another school? That’s something many people are trying to parse out.

Overall, the stat itself is fairly self-explanatory. How many snaps, how much yardage, touchdowns, etc. returns for your team this coming season? Continuity at quarterback, offensive line, or defense often results in a higher RP percentage. It’s a stat that ESPN’s Bill Connelly painstakingly collects and provides to subscribers.

However, is a high RP metric a cut-and-dry indicator of progression? What production is actually good RP? Moreover, which returning production weighs the most on team success?

Contextualizing the metric is imperative. For example, Missouri returns 80% of its offensive production from a season ago, eighth-most nationally. However, that offense ranked 85th in points per drive and 84th in scoring. This season, the Tigers are lined with longshot odds to win the SEC. Conversely, Alabama returns just 49% of its offensive production (109th), but projects to relatively fare better in-league, having odds to win the SEC.

The primary difference is roster talent and incoming roster talent.

How to use returning production

Instead of just comparing returning production numbers, it’s best to consider who makes up those numbers. For example, Arkansas returns star QB KJ Jefferson and not a whole lot else; its RP number on offense is 55%, 90th in the country. But the weight of Jefferson in that offense means the Razorbacks can fill in skill positions and won’t bottom out in scoring.

On the flip side, Oregon returns 72% of its offensive production, headlined by star QB Bo Nix. But they lose four of five starters on the offensive line, a unit that ranked fourth in pass blocking and sixth in run blocking, per PFF. Finding four new, solid starters along the line is difficult to do and it might cause Oregon to have an increased sack rate or decreased effectiveness running the football.

Instead, using RP as just one tool on the handicapping belt is the best way to go. Extreme cases like Kent State and East Carolina this year (or Nevada and Hawaii in 2022), outlier numbers of RP can be used to project regression. For teams already at their height like Michigan this season, a high RP number (77%) could indicate sustained success, as the Wolverines project to be fighting for a College Football Playoff spot come November.

But in the event of Colorado (or 2022 USC), a low RP number doesn’t mean regression. Be sure to compare those metrics with inbound transfer classes. What Deion Sanders has done with the Buffs program is unprecedented and power ratings have a difficult time projecting their success this year. Be wary of complete overhauls in those regards.

Top Returning Production Teams 2023

TeamReturning ProductionPower Rank (Ntl.)
Florida State79%12th
North Carolina79%25th
Texas A&M78%17th
South Alabama77%72nd

College Football Returning Production To Beware

Boston College Eagles

Win total: O/U /
Power Rank: 73rd

Boston College returns 74% of its overall production (13th), including 79% on offense (14th) and 70% on defense (32nd). The offensive metric lies a bit, though, as veteran QB Phil Jurkovec hit the transfer portal after missing most of last season due to injury. Without Jurkovec behind center, Boston College finished 123rd in points per drive and 111th in EPA per play. OC Frank Cignetti left for Pitt – not the worst OC loss in the country – but BC was only able to rise a pair of offensive assistants to co-OCs, far from inspiring.

  • Forecast: Defensively, Boston College didn’t fare much better, finishing 98th in points per drive. Overall, the guys coming back just aren’t that good and there’s no reason to expect a major progression on either side of the ball. Granted, there are easier places to recruit than Boston College, but Jeff Hafley was unable to do much on the trail or in the portal.

Wisconsin Badgers

Win total: O/U /
Power Rank: 20th

For the past two years, this section has been reserved for teams that return a lot of production, but ones I don’t expect to take a step forward. Not the case with Wisconsin. Why its RP is misleading is due to the major cultural and schematic shifts in the Wisconsin football program. Inbound is the most dramatic hire in team history, Luke Fickell and UNC coordinator Phil Longo. Also inbound is SMU star Tanner Mordecai. I’m more interested in how this returning production shapes out this year rather than just who returns.

  • Forecast: Wisconsin is going to improve on its 7-6 record last year, hard stop. How dramatically they improve may actually rely on the glut of production and experience returning for the Badgers. Four staters in the top six offensive linemen return as does the majority of the core of their defense. Season-long, I’m buying into Wisconsin. But I’m wary at the beginning of the year betting spreads or totals with them until I see how this staff uses returning production.

College football teams with strong returning production

Michigan Wolverines

Win total: O/U /
Power Rank: 4th

The back-to-back Big Ten champions return the entire corps of their offensive yardage: QB JJ McCarthy and dynamic backfield duo Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards. Along the offensive line, which again projects to be one of the best in college football, Michigan brought in three starters in the transfer portal, which does add to its returning production metric. Defensively, they bring back four staters in the front six, three in the secondary, and add starter Josiah Stewart to the mix.

  • Forecast: I’m truly shocked that Michigan isn’t the outright favorite in the Big Ten this summer. Its roster is loaded with talent and experience and Jim Harbaugh once again nailed the transfer portal. They handle Ohio State at home and play the fourth-easiest schedule in the Big Ten. What’s there not to like? The foundation of what Michigan brings back is potentially the most impressive in the country. Get ready for another CFP push in late November.

Florida State Seminoles

Win total: O/U /
Power Rank: 12th

Like Michigan, Florida State brings back an absurdly talented roster, bolstered by a haul in the transfer portal. Top billing includes Heisman contender Jordan Travis, 6-foot-7 receiver Johnny Wilson, and All-America pass rusher candidate Jared Verse. The ‘Noles pulled in All-ACC corner Fentrell Cypress and receiver Keon Coleman, among others, to make up 247Sports’ sixth-ranked transfer class. Almost all of the RP this year for Florida State is an indicator to forward progress – potentially setting up FSU’s best team since 2014.

  • Forecast: There’s a reason why Florida State is the favorite to win the ACC over Clemson for the first time in years. The Seminoles return three starters from last year’s offensive line and add two additional starters from the portal, headlined by UTEP’s Jeremiah Byers. However, blindly betting over their win total would be foolhardy – the ‘Noles play LSU and Florida out of the conference and play Clemson on the road. Chances are, FSU will need to beat Clemson twice – neither at home – to capture an ACC title.

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