Wilson: Comparing Returning Production to Success Rate to Find Undervalued CFB Teams for 2020

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Alika Jenner/Getty Images. Pictured: Eric Burrell

Mar 23, 2020, 04:53 PM EDT

The cancellation of sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic has oddsmakers scrambling to give bettors action.

The markets for fall sports have started to open, including college football Game of the Year lines at FanDuel.

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Just a few years ago, the college football GOY market was set in Las Vegas by the Golden Nugget or SouthPoint around Memorial Day. No longer.

If you want to dip your toes into these markets, you should familiarize yourself with how good teams were last season, and what they have coming back.

Those two things are a huge part of my offseason Power Ratings adjustments.

What We’re Looking At

We’ve scrapped the Phil Steele methodology that relies on number of returning starters, and instead look at it through the lens of statistical contributions that are coming back.

We’ll also look at success rate from last season. What is success rate? In the most simple terms, it’s an efficiency metric that shows how often a team stayed on schedule on first, second and third down.

Then, we’ll compare the two.

It’s great that Texas is bringing back most of its defense, but that defense wasn’t very good last season.

Continuity will be of the upmost importance this offseason in particular with no spring practice, though. Many student athletes do not have access to tailored meal plans or weight room facilities.

Players may show up to fall camp out of shape or without knowledge of a new scheme. This is all under the assumption the college football regular season will start on schedule.

Below I’m going to focus on each Power 5 team’s returning production and success rate from last season. While most other power ratings have influence of returning production, we’ll take it one step further.

Notes on the SEC

The key numbers for returning production are anything around 53% offensively and 63% defensively. At those numbers, power ratings begin to change one way or the other.

Alabama did not get any bump from the offensive side at 55% returning production, but a success rate rank of No. 4 in the nation indicates the Crimson Tide should still be a force on offense.

Texas A&M is the most notable team on offense, returning 80% with a 2019 success rate rank of 17th.

The biggest offensive dip in the conference may come from LSU at 30% returning production. Continuity will be an issue from the start in the post-Joe Burrow/Joe Brady era.

Vanderbilt may top all teams in defensive returning production, but a 2019 success rate rank of 111th does not build confidence the Commodores can turn it around.

The best defensive team in the conference will be Georgia, but a success rate rank of 15th is a bit deceiving, as the Bulldogs have ranked outside the top 30 in havoc. For Kirby Smart to contend for a national title, the defense must find ways to create takeaways.

Notes on the ACC

The North Carolina team that took Clemson to the brink returns 87% of its offense, including sophomore quarterback Sam Howell. That offense ranked top 50 in success rate and may see the Tigers again in the ACC Championship Game.

Virginia Tech has one of the highest marks in all FBS in returning production on defense. Justin Hamilton takes over as defensive coordinator for longtime DC Bud Foster after serving as safeties coach last season. Considering Hamilton has played and coached under Foster, do not expect any major scheme changes.

Geoff Collins may have won only three games in his inaugural season at Georgia Tech, but brings back a lot from a decent defense.

The Yellow Jackets held five teams to 26 points or fewer and ranked in the top 40 in opponent plays from scrimmage over 20-plus yards.

Notes on the Big 12

The highest returning production marks on both sides in the Big 12 belong to Oklahoma State. Quarterback Spencer Sanders showed flashes of extreme talent before injury, wide receiver Tylan Wallace is an explosive playmaker and running back Chuba Hubbard has 20-1 odds at Westgate to win the Heisman.

The Pokes return almost everyone on defense, so with a slight bump in success rate there, it could be a magical season in Stillwater.

Iowa State is another team that was on the positive side of power rating adjustments on both sides of the ball. The Cyclones will have their best chance to post double-digit wins for the first time in program history.

Count me out of the group that sees Texas as a national title contender. A defensive returning production of 82% is nice, but a success rate rank of 90th says the group has a ton of work to do.

Chris Ash is a proven commodity at defensive coordinator, but the ceiling may be the Big 12 Championship.

Dave Aranda has his work cut out in Waco, where the entire Baylor defense is depleted. Former North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora is the new offensive coordinator for the Bears. Fedora ended his time in Chapel Hill with offenses that ranked top 30 in adjusted pace and IsoPPP.

I will be looking to take Baylor overs weekly until Aranda’s defense has caught up.

Notes on the Big Ten

Ohio State is one of the few teams in the nation that can survive a dip in defensive returning production. The poaching of Greg Mattison before last season from Michigan’s staff was a boon for Ryan Day, as the Buckeyes ranked best in the nation in defensive success rate.

Expect Indiana to remain in the bowl picture with a high overall returning production percentage and success rate rank in the top 40. QB Peyton Ramsey moves on to Northwestern, but Michael Penix Jr. will look to avenge a fourth quarter breakdown in the Gator Bowl.

Penn State received positive grades in the players returning, but the biggest news is the addition of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. James Franklin’s new OC held that position at Minnesota in 2019, where the Gophers ranked top 10 in passing success rate and explosiveness.

The West is loaded with offenses returning 2019 stars, with none bigger than Nebraska. Depth on the defensive side of the ball, and a little second-order win total regression, should be all that stands in the Cornhuskers’ way from making a bowl.

Look for Iowa to be the team in the West to take a step back in success rate, as quarterback Nate Stanley and edge rusher A.J. Epenesa both depart.

The most noticeable teams from our power ratings are USC and Wisconsin. The Badgers return 81% of a defense that ranked second in havoc and sixth in success rate. Therein lies the fundamental difference between our power ratings and everyone else, as it is just not a returning production count… it asks the question of how good are the players you return.

Wisconsin can make a case as the best defense in the nation entering 2020.

Notes on the Pac-12

We start with USC, which got my biggest upgrade in power ratings this offseason. The Trojans are the highest returning production defense in the conference and second offensively to Cal.

A success rate rank of 115th is an eyesore, but consider most of the South division ranks outside the top 100. The removal of DC Clancy Pendergast for Todd Orlando is the most underrated move on the coaching wire.

Offensively, the Trojans return everyone to Graham Harrell’s air raid attack. A healthy Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels will compete for starting duties on a team that should win the Pac-12.

Oregon falls in line with a number of Pac-12 teams that will be searching for an offensive identity.

The Ducks join Washington State, Washington and Colorado as teams under 36% offensive returning production with a new offensive coordinator or head coach.

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