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How much production is WSU returning?

Lots in the wrong places.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 New Mexico State at Washington State Photo by Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Good morning. The Washington State Cougars finally secured the first commitment of the 2021 recruiting cycle this week, ending a drought that, according to the Spokesman Review, leaves the Arizona Wildcats as the only conference team without any current commits for 2021. Remember that time when Kevin Sumlin was one of the hottest names in college football coaching? Seems like a century ago.

While recruiting (hopefully) provides hope for the future, what about the players who are taking the field in 2020? What did WSU lose, and where? ESPN’s Bill Connelly has a useful metric we’ve referenced in the past, known as returning production. Many times, you’ll read about returning starters, but that doesn’t necessarily do justice to the contributors who are still on the team. For example, Alabama often has guys who play tons of snaps, but who don’t start, so they aren’t counted among the returning starters. The same could be said for WSU’s receiving unit. Though they have eight guys who catch a lot of passes, only four of them start.

Connelly explains how his formula has been a work in progress:

In terms of turnover and attrition, some positions are indeed more important than others.

After years of tinkering, I’ve found that the following percentages create the strongest tie between returning production on offense and the following year’s improvement and regression:

• 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%

At first glance, this might seem a bit surprising. It of course makes sense that returning your starting quarterback is important, but continuity in the receiving corps carries equal weight. Meanwhile, rushing yards are far easier to replace.

Obviously, it’s difficult to ascribe production numbers to the offensive line, but Connelly’s method seems as sound as any other.

He goes on to describe what he defines as “production” on defense, and believes that losses in the secondary are much more difficult to replace than losses along the line.

What is “production” from a defensive standpoint? I’ve found that while raw tackle figures are important, having to replace disruption matters just as much. Tackles for loss (including sacks) account for 15% of the formula, while passes defensed, perhaps surprisingly, account for 33%. These are evidently the skills most difficult to replace.

So, what does this all mean for WSU? Well, a quick glance at their rankings indicates just how much Anthony Gordon brought to the offense in 2019. Not only did he throw for a ton of yards and touchdowns, no other quarterbacks had much of a chance to contribute.

As a whole, WSU ranks 85th in FBS in terms of returning production, and the difference between offense and defense is stark. The offense returns 36% (121st in FBS) while the defense returns a whopping 80%, good for 22nd overall. One caveat with that last number: Connelly published this before Bryce Beekman passed away, and given the weight put on returning defensive back production, WSU’s percentage is probably lower than it was in February.

At 85th nationally, WSU ranks eighth in the Pac-12.

How valuable are these rankings in terms of the future? As always, it depends. For example, the Northwestern Wildcats return the most overall production in FBS, sixth-most offensively. That’s good, right? Um, did you see Northwestern’s offense last season? You really want all those guys on the field some more? The sentiment is similar for the WSU defense. On the surface, it would seem great that they have so much continuity, and it probably is a good thing. Then again, we saw the defense get repeatedly shredded in 2019, so whether all of that returning production is helpful remains to be seen.

The viability of these metrics also depends quite a bit on your recruiting acumen. Some teams that rank below WSU are the Alabama Crimson Tide, Clemson Tigers, Oregon Ducks, LSU Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes. However, all of those programs are recruiting at a very high level, so losing production is offset pretty heavily by the arrival of four-and-five star reserves. For a team like WSU, that isn’t able to “reload” the way the big boys can, returning production is probably much more predictive of future success.

Related: Yikes, Utah Utes.

You can find he entire breakdown, including Connelly’s methodology and the 1-130 rankings here.


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This Week in Parenting

Despite the quarantine, scouting activity seems to have ramped up. The fine folks over here have offered to help the kids earn merit badges via Zoom conferences. These have occupied a good amount of our time in the evenings, but it’s better than watching TV. There are 13 merit badges one must earn in order to qualify as an Eagle Scout, one of which is Communication. As part of that, each kid has to make a speech on the topic of his/her choice. I was listening in, and the topics ranged from giraffes to Roblox to video games. My kid’s speech topic? The raid to kill Osama bin Laden. To be honest, I was surprised that he didn’t choose some obscure World War II battle.

Mrs. Kendall and I like to keep things varietal in the car, so she usually listens to music with the kids, while I prefer podcasts. Lately, we’ve put aside Stuff You Should Know in favor of The Cold War: What We Saw. One of the episodes goes into detail about Stalin’s death, and for some reason, the eight year-old is fascinated by all of the palace intrigue surrounding the episode, and I can see the wheels turning in his brain as he tries to peel back the layers.

For example, when they found Stalin laying on the floor in his night shirt, the narrator said he’d had a massive stroke. The kiddo heard that and immediately theorized that Stalin had died of heatstroke because he wore too many clothes to bed. When he or his brother throw out things like this, I try to say little more than “that’s a good idea,” because I figure it’s a good thing that they’re trying to think through what happened, even it the theory is not even on the way toward half-baked.

A funnier moment happened at home later on, when the 11 year-old revealed that he’d looked up a photo of Stalin. The younger boy dove in. “Really? How ugly is he on a scale of 1-10?” The reply made it better. “Oh, he’s an 11.”

Speaking of the Cold War, as a Gen-X’er who heard this song constantly, you can bet that I’m going head-first into this podcast.

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Best beer I had this week: More manna from the gods (or the mailman) this week, as shipments from both Omnipollo and Mikkeller arrived. There were so many good ones that I’m picking co-winners, both from Omnipollo. First is Pineapple Pizza Space Cookie IIPA, which is one of the best IPAs I’ve ever had. Next is Mads, which was like drinking a piece of boozy carrot cake. Shoulda ordered more!

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