Clemson Football: Returning production bodes well for the Tigers in 2024

Returning production statistics are even true returning production anymore, but we can still learn from them, and they present an overall positive spin for Clemson Football.
Clemson running back Phil Mafah (7)
Clemson running back Phil Mafah (7) / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

The 2023-24 athletic year isn’t officially over until the completion of all spring sports, but Clemson Football fans are unofficially transitioning from the 2023 postseason to the 2024 preseason.

I am not a huge fan of analytics, but some of them are reasonable to consider when prognosticating, especially during the preseason when we don’t have on-the-field results.

In the same vein, I am not a huge fan of the work of ESPN’s Bill Connelly, but I acknowledge that some of the statistics and rankings he presents have value.

Connelly recently posted this information on X regarding the returning production for all the FBS teams.

While this post does yield useful information, multiple caveats must be considered.

If you click on the post, you can see that Connelly explains and acknowledges some details about how he arrived at these numbers. The main takeaway is that his calculation isn’t just talent returning to the program that played with the program last season. His calculation includes 2023 production from players who were transfers. Transfer production is included even if the player’s production was for a different program last season.

This seems odd at first because returning production isn't exactly 'returning', but this is a better indicator of future success than just looking at non-transfer returning production.

While some transfers thrive in a program with overall better talent and a better system, others don’t perform the same. This kind of calculation assumes apples-to-apples among all FBS programs. While Connelly acknowledges that he reduces impact for players who jump from the FCS to the FBS, a player’s production at a Group of Five school is calculated into their new program’s ‘returning’ production with equal weight.

One of the takeaways from that is that without more information, we don’t know how much of this returning production happened with these programs instead of other programs or at what level of play it occurred. There are four exceptions: the four programs that didn’t take any transfers.

Those four programs include the three military academies: Navy (65%), Army (47%), and Air Force (25% and last among all programs).

Clemson Football's returning production statistics are among the most transparent because they don't include production from incoming transfers

The fourth program is Clemson, which has the most returning production of the four schools with 68%. That figure places them at 32nd place in the FBS and 6th among teams that finished last season ranked in the final AP Top 20.

Clemson’s returning production numbers will not be dependent on transfers acclimating to a new program or new coaches. Last year, Tar Heel fans didn’t know if Devontez Walker would produce the same way in Chapel Hill in 2023 as he did at Kent State in 2022. Ultimately, he didn’t for multiple reasons. The point is Clemson doesn’t have to consider that variable.

We can look at a few examples of teams that took several transfers that we would expect to rank rather high on this list and see that even with transfers, they don’t rank as high as we might have assumed. Ohio State is perceived to be a national contender next year due to high-profile transfers, yet they only rank 56th on this list at 65%. That figure includes Will Howard’s production at Kansas State and Quinshon Judkins’s production at Ole Miss.

NC State is considered a contender within the ACC because of multiple transfer additions (including quarterback Grayson McCall, whose statistics were accumulated at G5 Coastal Carolina), yet their returning production sits at 59%, which puts them at 80th overall. Defending ACC Champion Florida State is in 89th place with 56%.

While Clemson’s status as a program that didn’t take transfers eliminates an unknown variable from predicting how returning production could impact their 2024 season, it makes one thing very clear: If the Tigers are to take a step forward, they will have to accomplish it by developing the talent they have in-house.

Bringing back 68% of a C-grade offensive roster probably isn’t better than 65% of a B-grade offensive roster in Columbus. On the other hand, it’s probably better than +80% of a D-grade offensive roster. Incoming ACC program Stanford sits at No. 2 overall on this list at 85%. Virginia sits 6th at 81%. It is reasonable to believe that those programs will be better offensively than they were in 2023, but they start so far down the list that it is hard to imagine that their improvement would put them into contention for a conference championship or national recognition.

In the big picture, I think Connelly’s calculation puts an overall positive spin on Clemson’s chances for 2024, especially how it relates to their ACC chances. The first step in getting to the playoffs is winning a conference title.

If there is a team in the ACC for which I think this calculation is even more positive than it is for Clemson, it is the Virginia Tech Hokies. Several observers, myself included, were already high on Tech’s chances to make an impact this season. With a figure of 84% returning production after finishing in the top half of the ACC in 2023, the Hokies could be able to surprise in 2024 the same way Louisville did last season.