ESPN’s Bill Connelly explains why he has “a very, very good read” on Georgia this year

ESPN’s Bill Connelly explains why he has “a very, very good read” on Georgia this year

As a college football writer who loves to break down the numbers that go with the game, ESPN’s Bill Connelly has made a true effort to reimagine the way we look at the sport’s statistics. Connelly’s SP+ formula expects big things from Georgia this season, and Connelly explained that his feel for the Bulldogs this year seems to be on point.

Connelly appeared on The Solid Verbal podcast for Tuesday’s episode and discussed several topics in the lead-up to the 2022 season, including his SP+ projections entering the new year. The Solid Verbal co-host Dan Rubenstein asked Connelly which teams is Connelly the most sure of based on the amount of data Connelly has to work with, and Connelly immediately pointed to the Bulldogs.

“I mean, no transfers. They didn’t take a single transfer this year. I mean, the defensive coordinator [Dan Lanning] left, so there is that, but you know the offense — we kind of know what that offense is going to be,” Connelly told Rubenstein and co-host Ty Hildebrandt. “And we trust even with the defensive coordinator gone — the last time they lost a defensive coordinator [Mel Tucker], they got better defensively. So, I’m not real worried about that side either. Like, they have really, really good pieces to replace. They’re projected third in SP+, a hair behind Ohio State and Alabama, but I feel we’ve got a very, very good read on them. Alabama too, if we’re being honest.”

Georgia finds itself third in the SP+ rankings with a 27.3, trailing only the Buckeyes (29.9) and the Crimson Tide (28.6). Even though the Bulldogs aren’t No. 1 in Connelly’s rankings, he explained there’s several big questions surrounding Ohio State as well as several teams just behind Georgia in the rankings.

“Ohio State, we have no idea what their defense is capable of. If it’s a top-15 defense again, they’re probably the best team in the country but we don’t know for sure that’s going to happen. Michigan, massive assistant coach turnover — or important turnover, I should say,” Connelly said. “Oklahoma is fifth. Got a completely new — that’s just pure Oklahoma aura right there. Lots of coaching changes there. Clemson is sixth. We have no idea what their offense is — if it’s going to be merely average, then they’re going to be a top-five team, but we don’t know. It wasn’t average last year. Dabo [Swinney] responded to that by promoting from within for his coordinator [Brandon Streeter], which I really didn’t like all that much. So we don’t know that. Notre Dame is seventh. They have a new coach. Like, it’s tough after that.

“And then you add in the USCs and the LSUs and the Ole Miss’s, the teams that took on just a hilarious number of transfers. It’s a pretty unique environment, but I feel like Alabama and Georgia are pretty trustworthy overall.”

The SP+ ratings are based on three main factors according to Connelly, returning production being the first and accounting for more than 50 percent of the SP+ ratings. In that regard, Georgia was ranked No. 95, with 59 percent of its production returning, with 73 percent returning on offense (43rd in the country) and 44 percent on defense (122nd in the country).

For reference, in 2021, Georgia was ranked No. 92, with 62 percent of its returning production, 84 percent on offense (20th in the country), and 39 percent on defense (126th in the country). In 2020, Georgia was ranked No. 59, with 65 percent of its returning production, 50 percent on offense (98th in the country), and 80 percent on defense (21st in the country).

The next factor is recruiting, using primarily the last two recruiting classes but also the classes before for a smaller portion. Georgia has recruited at an elite level the last four years, signing the nation’s No. 2, No. 1, No. 3, and No. 3 classes per the 247Sports Team Class Rankings. Connelly is now including the recruiting rankings of incoming transfers in his formula.

The third factor is recent performances. After Georgia finished the 2020 season at 8-2 and won its fourth bowl game under fifth-year head coach Kirby Smart, the Dawgs went 14-1 in 2021, making the College Football Playoff and becoming the first No. 3 seed to win the national championship. The semifinal win over Michigan was Smart’s third straight New Year’s Six bowl victory and the victory over Alabama was his 12th win over a top-10 opponent as a head coach. While Connelly says this factor accounts for only 10 percent of the overall projection, it is an area where, like recruiting, Georgia should rate fairly high in.