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Tennessee ranks near the bottom of FBS in returning production

Nothing to panic about, however.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The roster churn seemingly never ends in college football these days, following the emergence of the transfer portal and the added layer of NIL. It’s no longer the juniors or seniors you have to worry about leaving the program — it’s everyone. That’s made things a little more complicated for Bill Connelly’s returning production metric, which he publishes every year.

Here’s how Connelly explains his process with the added challenges of the transfer portal.

For a few years now, I’ve been attempting to expand how we measure returning production. The formula I have created shifts with each new year of data and has had to shift a ton with the rising number of transfers. But the gist remains the same: High or low returning production percentages correlate well with improvement and regression. They might not guarantee a good or bad team, but they can still tell us a lot. (ESPN)

Teams are assigned a percentage point of returning production, which obviously gives you an idea of returning experience. While it doesn’t mean everything, it can be an indicator of who is on the rise or who is on the decline.

Where Tennessee ranks in returning production for 2024

For Tennessee, the metric isn’t all that rosy. The Volunteers rank 94th in FBS in returning production with a mark of 52 percent. For reference, Virginia Tech returns 86 percent of their production from 2023.

The number makes sense. The Volunteers lose both of their top tight ends and top running backs, along with No. 2 receiver Ramel Keyton. Quarterback Joe Milton saw his eligibility expire as well, handing the keys to the car to Nico Iamaleava. All of that, at least on the surface, leaves Tennessee with several holes to fill. But as we saw in the Citrus Bowl, Josh Heupel will have plenty to work with.

Tennessee ranks 107th in returning offensive production at 46 percent. Defensively, Tennessee ranks 66th in returning production at 58 percent.

The Volunteers lose defensive lineman Tyler Baron and linebacker Aaron Beasley. They’ll have to replace the entire secondary after several players hit the portal and landed elsewhere. The secondary piece of the puzzle will be one to watch develop during the spring.

Elsewhere in the metric, a couple of things stand out. National Championship contenders Washington and Michigan rank in the bottom three of returning production on offense. Both schools are in the bottom ten overall.

Alabama, armed with new head coach Kalen DeBoer, ranks 115th — 126th on defense with just 33 percent of production returning. Some of the winners in the SEC include Texas A&M (18th), Texas (25th), Missouri (31st), Florida (32nd), Georgia (47th) and Auburn (50th).

How Tennessee will replace that 2023 production

Despite the ugly number, the staff has done a nice job filling vacancies on the roster. At running back, Dylan Sampson will take over and likely won’t miss a beat. Former four-star prospect Cam Seldon will also play a big role.

Obviously Nico Iamaleava will take over under center, throwing to Bru McCoy, Squirrel White, Dont’e Thornton and newly added Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell.

Tennessee replaces offensive tackle Gerald Mincey with former five-star prospect Lance Heard. They’ve added tight end Holden Staes from Notre Dame to pair with Ethan Davis.

The secondary is more of a mystery, but reinforcements like Jermod McCoy (Oregon State), Jakobe Thomas (MTSU) and Jalen McMurray (Temple) should help.