As the fledgling 2020 college football cycle unfolds we turn the page from the LSU-driven 2019 CFB season to the current roster landscape. My focus at this point of the season is sifting through incoming freshmen, transfers, graduates and coaching changes within the college ranks to lay the foundation for spring practice sessions when I hone-in on player evaluation. If this were a CFF Econ 101 class - Winter is for macroeconomic work, spring is for microeconomics. Since there are SO many transfers (1,942 at current count for the first transfer portal cycle) and national signing day looms, it's hard to get a complete roster composition picture until spring camp opens.
Fortunately the always informative Billy Connelly's S&P Preliminary 2020 Returning Production Top-10 list he dropped on Twitter last week is a great place to start when analyzing which teams will improve and decrease for CFF purposes. In general, from year-to-year the more experienced teams tend to improve more relative to their counterparts. However how do we truly judge experience's impact on team success? It's important to understand that the S&P+ rating system weighs lost production differently than simply adding up stats, as it gives greater emphasis to returning wide receiver and quarterback production since he considers continuity in the passing game to be more important to a team's improvement than returning production on the offensive line or at RB. Here is the aforementioned Top-10 list along with some commentary on each team's CFF worthy personnel and overall yardage and PPG thoughts.
Top-10 in S&P Overall Returning Production:
The Yellowjackets completely changes over from the option to HC Geoff Collins' more traditional offense. It's no surprise GT would rank highly here given the massive overhaul of the roster. They also bring in four-star Elite-11 QB Jeffrey Sims who possesses the kind of talent that can turn a program around in a hurry. Watch the Elite-11 videos on YouTube for more perspective on Sims' immense talent. Keep in mind GT only averaged 286 YPG and scored 16.7 PPG in a true Year-Zero rebuild, so while improvement is inevitable it's tough to project anything more than a low-20's PPG average until Sims gets acclimated to the college game. Georgia Tech is on track to be competitive in 2021 which is about all you can ask from them.
HC Mike Gundy's mullet must contain mystical powers as OSU retains both 2,000 yard rusher Chuba Hubbard AND star WR Tylan Wallace who chose the plains of Stillwater over NFL glory. This year's OSU team could have a similar look to their legendary 2011 Brandon Weeden-led Cowpokes who so thoroughly dominated OU in the Bedlam game at T. Boone Pickens Stadium that the student body tore down the goalposts and marched them right out of the place. I know, because I was there assisting in the caper. OSU finished 20th nationally with 454 YPG, but scored 32.5 PPG which was second lowest of the top-20 YPG finishers. I expect averages closer to 475 YPG and 37 PPG in 2020 given the experience and depth present.
Houston took some lumps in the changeover to HC Dana Holgerson last year, but that first-year of paying dues now had bred a more experienced roster that is familiar with the system. Though D'Eriq King took his talents to South Beach, Houston still scored 30.7 PPG and raw QB Clayton Tune ended the season with a 393-yard, four TD performance against Navy. Adding to his CFF value, Tune also has shown he can run, racking up 244 yards and two touchdowns in seven starts. Throw in the return of the lightning-fast Marques Stevenson and you've got a recipe for a big offensive season for the Cougars who should score in the 35-37 PPG range.
Much ink was spilled about USC's descent this offseason. Will HC Clay Helton be fired? Who will be the new DC? Why can't USC recruit in SoCal anymore? Yet I haven't read much about the fact that USC is ranked in the top-5 in returning production among top-40 teams on both offense AND defense, and 5th in returning production among all-130 FBS schools. They've got Slovis, their entire RB corps and the London/St. Brown/Vaughns trio coming back in OC Graham Harrell's offense. Keep in mind they posted 454 YPG and 32.5 PPG last season and I project the numbers to increase to at least 35+ PPG in 2020. Their passing attack should be heavily targeted in traditional CFF leagues while Dynasty leaguers will be evaluating highly touted WR's Bru McCoy and Kyle Ford for when Vaughns and possibly St. Brown depart after the season.
Northwestern's offense was a catastrophe last season scoring a paltry 16.3 PPG, which bested only the rotting CFF husks of Rutgers and Akron. Attrition was certainly a factor, but HC Pat Fitz stays in place and will use the forced-experience of 2019 to put together a competent offense in 2020. Northwestern hired Mike Bakajian, who was the playcaller at BC last year, to be their new OC. Bakajian also made OC stops at Tennessee, Cincinnati (where he coached Travis Kelce) and Central Michigan. At CMU he coached one of the all-time CFF legends, Dan "Lord" LeFevour to a season where he threw for 3,438 yards with a 28/7 ratio while rushing for 713 yards and 15 TD's on the ground. At Northwestern however it seems despite a former blue-chip recruit at the QB position in Hunter Johnson, CFF players should instead focus on whichever of the Anderson/Bowser/Hull trio who ends up emerging as starter. HC Fitz churns out productive RB's and we've seen Bakajian lean on CFF star RB's A.J. Dillon for BC and George Winn for Cincinnati. The only projectable WR is Riley Lees who caught 51 passes for 430 yards and zero touchdowns last year. He should be on PPR deep league radars. A nice bump to mid-20's PPG average is attainable for Northwestern and they should bounce back to an offensive performance level more in line with Fitzgerald's career averages.
Indiana averaged 31.8 PPG and 433 YPG in the snail-paced Big-10 and returns their cannon-armed sophomore QB Michael Penix who was injured half-way through his breakout freshman campaign. Throw in Whop Philyor's return along with Stevie Scott and Sampson James to get the rushing offense lifted, and you've got the recipe for a potent offense. HC Tom Allen has proven to be a formidable offensive coach having been named one of 22 finalists for the 2019 George Munger College Coach of the Year Award for having IU ranked in the top-25 for the first time since 1994. I love the Indiana offense as a consistent under-the-radar source of CFF aerial production as the Hoosiers ranked 15th in the country with 302 passing yards per game last season. I see the yards and scoring both increasing to 450 YPG and 34-36 PPG in 2020.
You'll notice that many of these teams experienced injury hardships at key positions that elevatEd Young players into prominent roles. Though these hardships hurt the school's productivity in 2019, that added experience across the roster is now an asset heading into 2020. Purdue is a great example of that, as QB Elijah Sindelar and WR Rondale Moore were lost to injury early on, allowing WR David Bell and QB's Jack Plummer and Aidan O'Connell to log major reps. Sindelar and TE Brycen Hopkins depart, but the QB's still averaged 310 PYPG and Rondale Moore returns to the lineup from injury. I look for this more mature offense to easily rise from 393 YPG and 25.8 PPG up to 430 YPG and low-30's PPG.
I'm delighted to see Rice gained more experience in 2019 and should improve upon their lowly marks of 294 YPG and 17.9 PPG. Unfortunately versatile starting RB Aston Waller graduates leaving a mish-mash of potential RB replacements with a favorite that should emerge in spring camp. WR's Brad Rozner and Austin Trammell each posted 55+ catches and 700+ yards and are respectable CFF PPR targets in 20+ team leagues. Departing QB Tom Stewart threw for an 8/2 ratio so it will be sophomore Wiley Green who completed 53% of his passes with a 4/2 ratio that takes over under center. It's hard to predict anything more than low-20's PPG for this perennial CUSA cellar-dweller.
ECU's QB Holton Ahlers was extremely hyped in the CFF Community heading into 2019, and understandably so given that he's built like a G-5 Tebow for rushing purposes and plays in a CFF-friendly system. However I faded Ahlers in my CFF leagues when HC Scottie Montgomery got fired and ECU brought in former James Madison HC, Mike Houston to run the team. The changing of staffs and system took several games for the offense to get acclimated to, but when ECU finally did they put up 37.2 PPG over their last-4 games. Ahlers threw for over 300-yards in each of them averaging 4 total-TD's per game. He had thrown for 300-yards once and scored three touchdowns only one time as well in his first 8 games. The offense averaged 26.8 PPG last year to go with 430 YPG. Of the 46 FBS teams that averaged at least 430 YPG in 2019, only Mississippi scored less points per game than ECU. The scoring will catch up to this yardage anomaly in year-2 of HC Houston's system, so you can expect a PPG well into the 30's this season for ECU.
It's a testament to UAB's stout defense and #130th ranked 2019 schedule that this team was able to win nine games, because their offense was held back by injuries and ineffectiveness for much of the season. Starting QB Tyler Johnson faced bouts of inconsistency and injury and RB Spencer Brown was injured throughout the year averaging only 3.8 YPC as the offense only managed to post 352 YPG and a lowly 23.1 PPG. With a more experienced QB Johnson, RB Brown finally healed up and WR Austin Watkins having shown to be a talented playmaker catching 57 passes for 1,092 yards and six touchdowns last season, UAB has a core of potentially CFF worthy skill position players. I'm apprehensive on being too bullish here since the schedule won't be as favorable in 2020, but a bump to 26-28 PPG is well within reach.