A year ago, the returning production metric devised by Bill Connelly, now of ESPN, hated the Texas Longhorns, ranking head coach Tom Herman’s team No. 121 nationally, largely because the defense only returned 48 percent of its production. This year, there’s better news for the burnt orange faithful, as Connelly’s 2020 numbers have the Longhorns at No. 21 nationally.
Here’s how Connelly produces the numbers on offense:
• Percentage of last season’s QB passing yards returning: 32% of offensive returning production formula
• Percentage of last season’s WR/TE receiving yards returning: 32%
• Percentage of career starts returning on the offensive line: 17.5%
• Percentage of last season’s offensive line snaps returning: 12%
• Percentage of last season’s RB rushing yards returning: 6.5%
With seven starters returning, including quarterback Sam Ehlinger, Texas ranks No. 62 on offense with 66 percent of the production returning — this should provide some cause for concern after the departures of Collin Johnson and especially Devin Duvernay, who alone accounted for 36.9 percent of all the receiving yards and 28.1 percent of the receiving touchdowns. Replacing that production won’t be easy, even though Herman’s offenses typically features slot receivers.
A revamped offensive system under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich could take some time to reach its full potential given the lost production, too, especially with a new center.
Texas also doesn’t benefit much from the returns of running backs Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson. With full health this season, assuming no preseason injuries, Ingram should improve this season and Johnson should improve, too, with a full offseason to devote to growing at the position.
The numbers say that doesn’t mean much, but in actuality it could help the Longhorns more than the metric predicts given where the position was last season with all the injuries.
And here’s how the numbers on defense are weighted:
• Percentage of defensive returning production formula derived from defensive line: 5%
• Percentage derived from secondary: 37%
• Percentage derived from full defense: 21%
Compared to last season, when Texas lost three longtime starters in the secondary who produced 186 tackles and 55 percent of the passes defensed in 2018, the Longhorns are only losing one starter in 2019 — safety Brandon Jones — and return 82 percent of the defense’s production.
What the metric doesn’t account for are all the injuries suffered by returning players last season, so it doesn’t quite capture how much the defense can improve, even without making a jump due to new defensive coordinator Chris Ash and his assistants.
Connelly will release his preseason SP+ projections this week, which should provide even more insight into where the Longhorns slot nationally heading into spring practice. Even if those predictions aren’t as rosy as the high expectations that will surround Herman’s team going into the 2020 season, it’s worth remembering that Herman is one of two active coaches nationally, along with Pat Fitzgerald, who consistently out-perform those projections. Texas (barely) accomplished that feat again last season despite all the disappointment.