ESPN’s Bill Connelly is perhaps College Football’s leading “advanced stats” guy, with his SP+ rankings being used across the sport as we fruitlessly try to predict what will happen in this crazy game. A major component of Bill’s rankings involve returning production (which makes sense), and on Monday, he published his first returning production rankings for 2024.
Texas A&M comes in at No. 18 nationally in returning production, which is tops in the SEC.
2024 RETURNING PRODUCTION (Vol. 1)!!— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) February 5, 2024
* Va Tech, Iowa State, Texas A&M, Utah: ⬆️⬆️⬆️
* CFP teams (and Shoulda Been CFP teams) not named Texas: ⬇️⬇️⬇️
* I kinda might have a decent read on transfers now? Possibly?https://t.co/YJIhPDnxlM
SEC returning production rankings:
- Texas A&M
- South Carolina
- Ole Miss
- Mississippi State
The Aggies return 72% of their overall production, including 77% on offense (No. 22 nationally) and 67% on defense (No. 35 nationally). If this hype feels at all familiar, it’s because A&M also led the SEC in production a year ago. After a 7-6 season that saw Jimbo Fisher get fired, it’s clear that this is far from an end-all-be-all stat. Development, scheme and culture (and a little luck) all still play a major role in the fates of a college football team each year.
So why should this year be any different?
Not just experience, but veteran experience
This time a year ago, a big chunk of Texas A&M’s returning production included players who had started as true freshmen, including QB Conner Weigman, RB Levon Moss, OL Kam Dewberry, TE Donovan Green, WR Evan Stewart, DE Shemar Stewart and DT Walter Nolen. All of those players are supremely talented, but talent is not always a substitute for experience and development.
Fast forward to to now, and the only true freshmen really counting in those returning production numbers are OL Chase Bisontis and LB Taurean York. There were certainly other freshmen who contributed, and even more who will step into bigger roles as sophomores, but the Aggies as a whole should be a much more veteran unit in 2024 than they were in 2023, and that alone can lead to substantial change.
Transfer portal additions
In 2023, Texas A&M added only 12 players via the transfer portal, which meant that at positions of need, you were really relying on those handful of players to pan out. While players like WR Jahdae Walker and QB Jaylen Henderson proved to be transfer bright spots, you also had several significant misses, perhaps most notably at CB with Josh DeBerry and Tony Grimes.
This season, the Aggies have north of 20 transfers coming in (with potentially more to come in the spring window), and in addition to bringing in more top-end talent (eight 4-star recruits instead of just three), A&M also has more options in the pipeline should those upper guys not pan out (or get injured).
Mike Elko & Co.
Perhaps the biggest reason A&M fans hope this year can be different lies not with how the roster differs from a year ago, but rather what the new staff can do with that roster. Mike Elko, OC Collin Klein and DC Jay Bateman are tasked with doing what Jimbo Fisher could not: turn a top 10 roster into a top 10 team. Based on Elko’s overachievement in his two years at Duke, it’s not far-fetched to believe that he could take what is still a very talented group of players and put them into a system that takes better advantage of that talent.
Spring football is still a few weeks away, and real answers won’t come until the Aggies take the field against Notre Dame on Aug. 31. But if A&M does struggle in year one under Mike Elko, just like in recent seasons, it won’t be because they don’t have the talent to do so.