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IU football: Lack of 2023 returning production stands out in ESPN’s latest SP+ update

We are 100 days from the start of the 2023 IU football season, so let’s kick that milestone off with some coverage of the outlook for the seventh year of the Tom Allen era.

Yes, wow, seven years already.

On Thursday, ESPN’s Bill Connelly published updates to his SP+ model, our favorite data driven tool for college football rankings and forecasts.

SP+ factors each team’s returning production, recent recruiting success, and recent on field performance to produce rankings for each of the now 133 FBS programs.

Overall IU dropped from 64th to 71st nationally in Connelly’s SP+ from the initial February publication.  That puts them ahead of only Rutgers and Northwestern from the Big Ten in 2023, but not by much.

The headline from Connelly’s update is that Indiana is one of the lowest ranked teams in the country when it comes to returning production.  The Hoosiers rank 121st of 133 teams according to that measure, and have the lowest overall returning production (46 percent) in the Big Ten.  That reflects a major drop-off from Connelly’s February analysis when the Hoosiers were 41st in this criteria.

Indiana has seen a number of additions to the 2023 roster via the transfer portal since Connelly’s February edition of SP+, so perhaps the significant drop at least in part reflects what IU has (or hasn’t) done via the portal relative to everyone else.  Also, most of IU’s portal additions didn’t play significant FBS snaps, so that also seems to be a clear factor.  We also think a major factor is simply that the early SP+ estimates, very whatever reason, simply undershot what IU had lost on the defensive side of the ball.

The story of IU’s 2023 season appears to hinge on one primary factor — how will new and relatively unproven players step up and produce in the first major opportunities of their college careers.  That’s obviously the case at quarterback, where Dexter Williams won’t be available to start the season, and Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby are battling for the starting job along with freshman Broc Lowry.  None of them have played meaningful college snaps.

And that dynamic exists up-and-down the roster.

Here’s how Connelly weights returning production in his SP+ model, and how it impacts Indiana in 2023:


Weighting in returning production model:

  • Percent of returning WR/TE receiving yards: 24% of the overall number
  • Percent of returning QB passing yards: 23%
  • Percent of returning OL snaps: 47%
  • Percent of returning RB rushing yards: 6%

The Hoosiers obviously lost almost all of their passing yards from a year ago, but given how ineffective that position was, that might not be the worst news.

They also lost a healthy chunk of their receiving and rushing yards.  But Indiana has reloaded fairly well at those spots, and again, for better or worse, they’ll have a new quarterback running the show.

Offensive line has been the weak link for two straight years.  That’s the spot where IU returns quite a bit of snaps from last season, and the hope going into 2023 is that new position coach Bob Bostad cures what has ailed the Hoosiers up front.

Overall, SP+ says IU is returning 50 percent of its offensive production.  That ranks No. 107 nationally, but we’ll say this:  If the Hoosiers can get quarterback and the offensive line right, the rest will take care of itself.


Weighting in returning production model:

  • Percent of returning tackles: 70%
  • Percent of returning passes defensed: 14%
  • Percent of returning tackles for loss: 12%
  • Percent of returning sacks: 4%

Leading tackler Aaron Casey is back at linebacker, but Indiana lost their next nine top tacklers from a year ago.  They’ve brought some talent in the door in an effort to replace that lost productivity, but by and large it will be a whole bunch of guys who haven’t seen many FBS snaps taking the field for the Hoosiers on defense.

IU also lost five of their six leaders in pass break-ups, and four of their top five in tackles for loss.

Overall, SP+ says IU is returning just 42 percent of its defensive production.  You know the names of the guys who are gone, such as Cam Jones, Tiawan Mullen, Jaylin William, Devon Matthews, Dasan McCullough and Bryant Fitzgerald, to name a few.

42 percent returning defensive production ranks No. 124 nationally, and it’s on this side of the ball where the major drop-off came relative to Connelly’s February release when he said IU would return 72 percent.  It isn’t clear what accounts for the disconnect from February to today, but the 42 percent figure appears to be more accurate based on the criteria.

For a complete overview of Indiana’s position-by-position roster turnover since 2022, GO HERE:

IU football: A complete position-by-position look at the offseason roster changes

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