Hot Reads: Returning to Returning Production in the Big Ten for 2020
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Hot Reads: Returning to Returning Production in the Big Ten for 2020

May 08, 2020

I've spent the past few weeks locked in a Yearbook-building bunker deep underground, primarily focused on team previews (which, honestly, is one of my favorite parts). All of the spreadsheets are built and, I think, all of the roster additions and subtractions for all of the Big Ten teams have been accounted for at this point. Unless someone transferred in the past 12 hours, which, now that I say it, has probably happened somewhere in the Big Ten.

Anyway, I'm emerging from the bunker momentarily to take an updated look at returning production based on things that have happened this spring. I first wrote about 2020 returning production, in response to a reader request, on Jan. 8, then took a closer look a month later when Bill Connelly of ESPN released his weighted numbers. 

In both instances, Nebraska had one of the most experienced offenses in the country and a defense that was middle of the pack based on what it returned. Things haven't changed drasticlly in the four months since, but they have changed a bit. Also, I've folded the East teams into this calculation as well. (In all cases below we're looking at a "percentage of [stat] returning." If a team rushed for 2,000 yards in 2019 and the players responsible for 1,500 of those yards returns, the returning production is 75%.)

TEAM RUSH% RK PASS% RK REC% RK
Illinois 33.7 12 100 1 78.7 3
Iowa 75.6 8 0.8 14 95.7 1
Minn. 36.1 11 100 1 56.7 10
Nebraska 80.9 6 83.0 7 75.5 5
NW 97.4 1 95.6 5 87.3 2
Purdue 93.7 2 73.4 9 77.7 4
Wisconsin 30.5 13 100 1 48.3 13
Indiana 80.4 7 36.3 11 73.3 8
Maryland 23.7 14 65.6 10 75.1 6
Michigan 87.1 5 5.4 12 61.6 9
Mich. St. 75.5 9 2.7 13 38.6 14
Ohio St. 46.8 10 92.2 6 50.1 11
Penn St. 88.3 4 100 1 48.5 12
Rutgers 90.4 3 78.0 8 74.9 7

>>JD Spielman is still included in Nebraska's numbers, though I consider that to be far from a certainty at this point. Should he not return, it has a pretty big impact on these numbers. The one big departure in this round for the Huskers is quarterback Noah Vedral, which removes 500-plus yards from Nebraska's totals (100 rushing, 400 passing). That was enough to drop the Huskers behind Purdue and Rutgers on offense from where they were in January.

>>As I've spent a lot of time thinking about the conference and the division races, Northwestern is one of the more interesting teams in the league. The Wildcats return virtually everything on offense, though it's from one of the most anemic offenses in the country in 2019. The arrival of former Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey could help shore up Northwestern's passing game, which compiled all of 1400 yards last season. Only three options teams had fewer. Kentucky, a team that played a wide receiver at quarterback most of the year, had more. That said, all that pain in 2019 has the potential to pay off in 2020.

>>Speaking of Indiana QBs, the Hoosiers got dinged pretty good with the departure of Peyton Ramsey from a statistical standpoint but it was pretty clear that Michael Pennix Jr. was their preferred starter. If he comes back close to his 2019 form, Indiana should be fine as its strong in the rushing and receiving categories. And stronger yet on defense. It's hard for me to project much of a drop-off for the Hoosiers in 2020.

TEAM TKL% RK TFL% RK PDEF% RK
Illinois 65.2 6 56.1 7 79.1 4
Iowa 56.1 8 49.3 10 65.5 7
Minn. 36.1 14 33.9 14 38.1 14
Nebraska 59.5 7 56.2 6 55.4 9
NW 80.6 2 58.7 5 77.4 5
Purdue 71.8 5 84.0 2 90.7 2
Wisconsin 75.8 4 60.3 4 89.6 3
Indiana 79.5 3 85.6 1 92.0 1
Maryland 49.9 11 34.7 13 51.1 11
Michigan 49.3 12 53.8 8 46.2 13
Mich. St. 48.2 13 50.5 9 50.8 12
Ohio St. 54.5 10 44.4 12 51.4 10
Penn St. 55.8 9 47.5 11 64.5 8
Rutgers 84.8 1 76.4 3 70.2 6

>>It's worth noting with both sets of numbers that rank doesn't matter so much as the percentage. Teams approaching 80% should be pretty well set and expecting to improve, but you have to get all the way down to 50% or less before you start projecting a little regression. And, in the case of Ohio State, you can often write that off as a relatively small concern given that the Buckeyes nearly lap the field in the league when it comes to talent acquisition.

>>Minnesota has a ton to replace defensively, which is something to watch. Wisconsin loses a lot at linebacker, but is well-situated otherwise. Iowa is middle of the road when it comes to returning production defensively. That all sets up what should be a pretty fascinating division race. The top three teams from last year all have a hole or two based on experience returning, while the top three returning-production teams are all potential usurpers–Northwestern, Purdue and Nebraska.

>>Things are less jumbled in the East, though that's been the case in the recent past. Ohio State gets the Ohio State benefit of the doubt (not that there's much doubt). Penn State is stacked offensively, but loses some on defense. The Nittany Lions are still a little better off than Michigan. The Wolverines have to replace a lot on defense, but they regularly turn out tough units. Michigan's ceiling might be determined by its production at quarterback.

Below the traditional top three, we have previously-mentioned Indiana which is stacked defensively. Maryland and Michigan State could be in for rough years given all they have to replace. And, finally, Rutgers is somewhat interesting. New coach (who was the old coach) and he inherits a lot of returning players. The Scarlet Knights have so far to go that a drastic improvement in Year 1 seems unlikely, but I'm betting Rutgers gets at least one win this year that nobody sees coming.

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