College Football Returning Production: Is Strong Continuity An Indicator Of Success?

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Written By Brett Gibbons | Last Updated
college football returning production

In 2023, the top three teams in returning roster production combined for 33 wins. Two of them (Kansas and Missouri) won bowl games, and the third, Florida State, likely should have received a College Football Playoff bid. In the age of the transfer portal, the community hems and haws over whether returning production really matters and, oftentimes, how to even calculate it. When used in the proper context, returning production in college football matters.

Of course, topping the basic returning production (RP) metric doesn’t guarantee success. In 2022, it took the top seven teams in RP to reach 33 wins. That group included a 1-11 USF team and two 3-9 ones in Stanford and Northern Illinois. But returning a talented roster – even one that might be considered good but not great – has often proved to be fruitful.

So, which teams return the most roster production this year? And how does that RP translate to college football odds, like a berth to the newly expanded college football playoff? While reading, feel free to click any of the odds below to bet now.


In this day and age, that’s a million-dollar question. The basic explanation is a percentage of returning snaps, yards, tackles, etc. a team returns from last year’s squad.

But how do you quantify a team like Oregon, who brought in Oklahoma QB Dillon Gabriel this offseason? He threw for more than 3,600 yards and 30 touchdowns a season ago, but zero of those yards or touchdowns came with the Ducks. What about center Seth McLaughlin, who started 14 games for Alabama last season but is now with Ohio State?

The process of efficiently factoring transfers in – and also accurately tracking transfers out – is one ESPN’s Bill Connelly painstakingly collects and provides to subscribers. As shown in his initial RP numbers released in February (which featured multiple inaccuracies), it’s an extremely difficult metric to track.

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, Stanford returns 85% of its offensive production from a season ago, third-most nationally. However, that offense ranked 102nd in points per drive and 108th in scoring. Stanford competing in its new conference, the ACC, would be a stunner ( to win it). So college football conference realignment is also a factor.

Conversely, Florida State returns just 56% of its offensive production (88th), but projects to relatively fare better in-league, having  odds to win the ACC.

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, Tennessee features potential-star QB Nico Iamaleava this season. Despite returning just 48% of its roster production (108th) – mostly due to seeing QB Joe Milton and RB Jaylen Wright depart – the Vols are expected to continue scoring points in buckets. Tennessee’s minimal RP isn’t necessarily an indicator of regression.

On the flip side, Missouri returns 71% of its production from an 11-win season (17th). However, the Tigers lose both star corners and a first-round pass rusher to the NFL (as well as their defensive coordinator). Likely, Mizzou takes a step back defensively despite the impressive RP number.

Instead, using RP as just one tool on the handicapping belt is the best way to go. In extreme cases like Oregon State and Toledo this year (or Kent State and East Carolina in 2023), outlier numbers of RP can be used to project regression. For teams already at their height like Ole Miss this season, a high RP number (70%) could indicate sustained success, as the Rebels project to be fighting for a top-ten spot come November.

But in the event of Florida State (or last year’s Colorado, 2022 USC, etc.), a low RP number doesn’t mean regression. Be sure to compare those metrics with inbound transfer classes. The ‘Noles lost a load of talent to the NFL. However, they signed the seventh-best transfer class nationally, headlined by QB DJ Uiagalalei. FSU expects to compete for the ACC again this year.


TeamReturning Production2023 Record2024 SP+ Rank (Ntl.)2024 Win Total
Iowa State86%7-6 (6-3)30th/
Oklahoma State85%10-4 (7-2)20th/
Stanford*85%3-9 (2-7)84th/
Virginia Tech84%7-6 (5-3)31st/
Virginia81%3-9 (2-6)77th/
Rice81%6-7 (4-4)89th/
Hawaii81%5-8 (3-5)100th/
Iowa79%10-4 (7-2)22nd/
Baylor79%3-9 (2-7)61st/
USF79%7-6 (4-4)76th/
SMU*78%11-3 (8-0)23rd/

*Note – Moving to ACC in 2024


Returning production figures in parentheses.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (72%, 14th)
SP+ rank: 49th

Turning Rutgers into a regular bowl contender in the Big Ten is quite the feat for Greg Schiano. With nearly three-quarters of the roster production returning, headlined by workhorse RB Kyle Monangai, the Scarlet Knights appear to be poised to continue that progression. Except they seemed to make one critical error – Rutgers brought in Minnesota transfer QB Athan Kaliakmanis, a move that sent incumbent starter Gavin Wimsatt packing. Kaliakmanis ranked 137th in passer rating (75.2), 149th in completion rate (52.7%), and 135th in yards per attempt (6.2) despite a top-40 mark in average depth of target (aDOT).

  • Forecast: While Rutgers’ defense should continue to pester Big Ten offenses, their own offense takes a huge hit. Perhaps most concerning is Kaliakmanis lacks a rushing threat. Last season, Wimsatt rushed in 11 touchdowns and nearly hit 500 yards in an offense designed to rush the QB. There wasn’t a real reason to bring in another QB and this year’s schedule sets up nicely.

Colorado Buffaloes (71%, 20th)
SP+ rank: 69th

The overwhelming majority of this RP number comes from two players: QB Shedeur Sanders and WR/CB Travis Hunter. Sanders is excellent and his weapons around him might be better than last year, but I’m not rushing to the window to bet over their win total. The same concerns plague the outlook for this team in 2024 as they did in 2023 – depth, offensive line talent, and defense. All three factors led to a 4-8 season that included a dreadful 0-6 finish to the season. Adding FAU star La’Johntay Wester and Vanderbilt WR Will Sheppard are legitimately good additions, but what good can they do when Sanders is running for his life?

  • Forecast: I don’t think this year will be as bad as last year. But in a more physical conference (albeit, less talented at the top) the Buffaloes just aren’t built to win late in the season. A litany of blows to the image of Deion Sanders were strewn online this offseason – sometimes by his own volition – really opened the door to a less-than-ideal locker room environment. Like last year, does this team fold after the slightest bit of adversity?


Virginia Tech Hokies (84%, 4th)
SP+ rank: 31st

I might wear this record out this summer. Virginia Tech returns a dynamic dual-threat QB in Kyron Drones, 800-yard rusher Bhayshul Tuten, and potential star WR Ali Jennings (who missed most of last year with an injury). Defensively, they bring back seven starters, including almost the entire secondary. CB Dorian Strong comes off an All-ACC season, as does pass rusher Antwaun Powell-Ryland. Better yet, four of five starters on the offensive line also return to Blacksburg. It’s quality talent that fits the bill of good-not-great from last season. That talent, if it progresses, could be great this year.

  • Forecast: Virginia Tech’s path pretty closely mirrors that of Arizona recently. A team with recruiting chops and a history of winning football bottoms out with an average coach before blowing it up. Year 1 is a struggle, Year 2 shows progress, and Year 3 returns lots of talented players. We’re at the Year 3 window with the Hokies. Their schedule is the fourth-easiest among Power Conference teams and 65th overall. It’s time to buy.

Ole Miss Rebels (70%, 21st)
SP+ rank: 8th

Ole Miss returns one of the most explosive QB-WR combinations in Jaxson Dart and Tre Harris. Although they lost star RB Quinshon Judkins to Ohio State, Lane Kiffin landed multiple talented rushers for a by-committee approach. Adding South Carolina star Antwane Wells from the portal gives the Rebels one of the top pass-catching groups in the SEC. But last year’s problem was defense. So Kiffin landed a pair of studs on the defensive line, Walter Nolan from Texas A&M and Princely Umanmielen from Florida. They join All-SEC selection Jared Ivey.

  • Forecast: Like Virginia Tech, Ole Miss follows closely in the template of another team, Florida State. The Rebels have an ace recruiter as a coach, a QB that shows plenty of talent but can’t stay out of his own way at times, stepped onto the national stage with 10+ wins, and then raided the portal for top-end talent to fill specific needs. Ole Miss’ schedule is difficult but manageable. Come its Nov. 9 showdown with Georgia, we could be talking two top-five unbeatens squaring off.

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