With Indiana basketball teetering on the brink, we’ve already started the hype train for the 2017 Indiana football season. Tom Allen’s Hoosiers will see a favorable schedule & return more quality starting talent than any team in recent memory in Bloomington. There’s absolutely reason to suspect this could be Indiana’s best team in nearly 25 years — and 8 or more wins could be in the horizon.
Now there’s quantifiable data to prove it.
Last season, SBNation’s Bill Connelly began calculating “returning production” — a far better figure than returning starters for projecting success into next season. He calculates roughly the amount of continuity and production returning to the position, and then uses a statistical model to project the rough impact that continuity and returning production matter in that given facet of football. For example, continuity on defense -- specifically in the secondary — matters a ton. Continuity on offense -- specifically in the rushing game — doesn’t matter much at all. (The pass game does, we should say).
That’s extremely good news for Indiana.
Per Bill C.’s numbers, no team in America features more returning defensive production than Indiana — getting 96% of the defensive impact back in 2017.
It gets better, too. Connelly’s numbers indicate that Indiana can expect to give up on average 5.4 less points per game defensively than they did last season. That may not sound like a ton, but consider: It’s nearly one and two full points higher than Oregon and Georgia, who are expected to see the 2nd and 3rd biggest PPG decreases in 2017 based on returning defensive production. Programs in great shape see a modest 1 to 2 point bump, at best. Indiana’s situation is almost otherworldly.
Offensively, the numbers aren’t as kind to Indiana, but they aren’t as terrible -- they’re right in the middle of the pack. But as Bill notes, returning production can’t account for everything and is based on last season’s numbers. Indiana will have the conference’s only receiver with a past 1,000 yard season coming back to the field in 2017 in Simmie Cobbs, despite playing just one snap before his ankle injury last season. Camion Patrick, who was rumored to be the first-choice starter for 2016 over Devine Redding before his ACL injury, will be fully healthy at running back. That’s ultimately really good news, too — Indiana’s offense is likely underrated in these calculations.
Oh, and want more good news?
The rest of the Big Ten is bringing up the rear — returning less production than any other conference in America.
Indiana, at 13, ranks the highest of any Big Ten team in returning production on both sides of the ball combined. But save Penn State at 27 and Northwestern at 30, no other Big Ten team ranks in the Top 50 nationally. Iowa is 120th. Michigan State is 124th. Michigan is 127th. Woof.
This is the story of Indiana’s opportunity in 2017 — they’ll return a ton, and they’l have a schedule that features a ton of teams that were bad in 2016 that should expect to maybe get worse. (Hi, Sparty!) It is worth noting that FIU sits on top of the standings, and Virginia ranks tops nationally in returning offensive production -- but neither sat higher than 85th in year-end S&P rankings in 2016.