2021 College Football Returning Production & Transfer Grades for All 130 Division I FBS Teams
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In my early teenage years, I developed an obsession to know every stat on the back of a baseball card. Topps, Donruss and Fleer released industry-standard versions annually. Meanwhile, the high-gloss new kid on the block, Upper Deck, provided an update on how to consume baseball player statistics.
College football is ostensibly in the same place as baseball was just a few decades ago: Batting average and ERA have been traded in for WAR and xFIP; and in our world, the days of total yards have been cast aside in favor of Cumulative Success Rate and Expected Points.
We have now arrived at a liminal moment in terms of roster grading. Our current methods to update every team — from the Alabama Crimson Tide, all the way down to the UMass Minutemen — may warrant scrutiny.
The Genesis & Evolution of Returning Production
For years, Phil Steele provided an encyclopedia filled with every stat possible — but, the most important was returning starters. As recently as just 10 years ago, power ratings were based on number of starters returning to the team — regardless of the statistical quality or value of second-string players.
Then, returning starters were blown out of the water with the innovation of Returning Production. The evolution of the Returning Production metric captured the biggest questions — from number of offensive linemen retained year over year to returning Havoc statistics on defense.
The Current Landscape of College Football
College football rosters have never been more unstable than the current 2021 offseason.
Immediate eligibility rules have have been put in place for student athletes to hop in-and-out of the transfer portal. The Miami Hurricanes have already witnessed quarterback N’Kosi Perry leave the program — then return to the Hurricanes … only to re-enter the transfer portal again.
FYI, I'm told plan for N'Kosi Perry, who pulled out of the transfer portal this afternoon, is to graduate from Miami this spring and look for a school after that where he can start and play immediately. Staff likely to help him in that process.
— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) January 20, 2021
Eligibility requirements are being flexed in 2021 due to COVID-19, making it easier for seniors like Alabama running back Brian Robinson to return for a fifth season.
Revamping Our Assessment Criteria
Each college football player represents a quantitative value — much like an asset. Rather than teach a a freshman-level finance class, indulge me the following summation:
In the financial world, assets are categorized and charted among seven classes. By extension, the transferring asset of college football should be graded similarly to equities, currency, fixed income, commodities, global markets and real estate.
Example No. 1: Tennessee Volunteers
⇒ QB Hender Hooker (via Virginia Tech)
Do we simply take Hendon Hooker’s numbers from Virginia Tech and assume those will be the same under Josh Heupel’s high-tempo offense at Tennessee?
Example No. 2: Mississippi State Bulldogs
⇒ QB Jack Abraham (via Southern Miss)
⇒ QB Chance Lovertich (via South Alabama)
Mississippi State inherits QB Jack Abraham from Southern Miss and QB Chance Lovertich from South Alabama. Abraham and Lovertich are moving to an offense that features the highest pass rate in the nation.
By way of extended metaphor, Mississippi State has added those commodities to its real estate equity in order to compete in the SEC market.
Introducing the Transferring Assets & Returning Production (TARP) System
With the number of moving parts in an unstable environment, offseason roster grading must adopt a Transferring Assets & Returning Production (TARP) system.
Transfers will now have their statistics weighted to the balance of their new teams rush-pass rate. For example: If former LSU blue-chipper Arik Gilbert lands at a program that targets tight ends, his stats will be weighted accordingly.
Here is a look at how weights are assigned at each individual position:
- Quarterback Passing Yards = 32%
- Rushing Yards = 7%
- Receiving Yards = 32%
- Offensive Line Starts = 15%
- Offensive Line Games Played = 14%
- Tackles = 40%
- Passes Defensed = 33%
- Interceptions = 6%
- Sacks = 6%
- Tackles For Loss = 15%
Right now, there is a float on the rushing and receiving numbers based on the offensive type. We certainly would not grade Georgia Southern’s receivers higher than its returning rushers.
As for the defensive side of the ball we focus on Havoc numbers outside of total tackles.
The weighted percentages assigned to each given metrical category must correlate with a proportionate adjustment to the given team’s power rating — as mitigated by the program’s rush-pass ratio.
With our scale in mind, we move to each individual roster and its cumulative statistics via transfer players and returning production.
Every single member of FBS is in a fluid situation, which renders these numbers stale nearly at the moment of publication.
Accordingly, the forthcoming TARP ratings and corresponding adjustments will be updated biweekly leading up to two-a-days in August.