For the 2nd straight year, an ACC team tops the annual list of returning production percentages for the nation’s 133 FBS programs, as compiled by Bill Connelly of ESPN.

Virginia Tech tops the list with 77% percent of its overall production back from 2023.

While the abundance of veteran talent doesn’t necessarily guarantee success on the field, the metric at least provides some statistical insight into how much improvement or regression can be expected in the season to come.

It worked out well for Florida State in 2023. The Seminoles were No. 1 in last year’s rankings and they went on to win the ACC championship with an unbeaten regular season. Connelly’s list also foreshadowed the 4-win improvement by Boston College, which had the nation’s 8th-highest percentage of returning production.

The percentages are calculated using a formula assigning specific values to such things as passing and rushing yardage, offensive line snaps, tackles, sacks and passes defended, among others. Because FBS transfers are proven performers with tangible statistics, their 2023 production is included in their new school’s percentage.

Joining the Hokies in this year’s top 10 are Virginia at No. 5 and Syracuse at No. 10. The rest of the ACC has Cal at No. 14, Wake Forest at No. 36, Stanford at No. 37, BC at No. 40, Louisville at No. 44, Miami at No. 45, Georgia Tech at No. 46, Pittsburgh at No. 53, Clemson at No. 54, SMU at No. 66, NC State at No. 80, Florida State at No. 83 Duke at No. 88 and North Carolina at No. 127.

What does it all mean?

Here are 5 takeaways to help make some sense of it all:

5. Handicapping the newcomers

SMU figures to have the best chance for immediate success among the ACC’s incoming new members after winning the American Athletic Conference championship in its final season in that league. But with the lowest percentage of returning production, the Mustangs might face the toughest task of the 3.

They return only 62% of their total production, 60% on defense and 64% on offense.

By contrast, Cal returns 73% of its production from a team that won 6 games and played in the Independence Bowl – only its 3rd postseason appearance in the 7-year tenure of coach Justin Wilcox. That included 79% of their offense.

Stanford, meanwhile, brings back 69% of its offense and 65% of its defense from a team that won only 3 times and allowed 42 or more points 7 times. But those percentages might not matter that much as coach Troy Taylor works to deepen the talent pool by bringing in plenty of new faces for his 2nd season with the Cardinal.

4. Elliott’s last stand

After winning only 3 games in each of his first 2 seasons at Virginia, 2024 is likely to be a make-or-break proposition for coach Tony Elliott.

If it is, he’ll have a veteran roster with which to sink or swim. The Cavaliers rank 2nd in the ACC and No. 5 among FBS programs with 76% of their overall production back. That includes 85% of their offense.

Even though they lost Malik Washington, the ACC’s leading receiver, they return both quarterbacks that took snaps last season – graduate Tony Muskett and sophomore Anthony Calabria – along with New Mexico State transfer Gavin Frakes.

Defensively, 1st-team All-ACC Jonas Sanker, who led the team with 114 tackles and 11 pass breakups, is among the 68% of UVa’s defense from 2023.

3. Unfamiliar Heels

It can be argued that North Carolina underachieved over the past 2 seasons with soon-to-be 1st-round NFL Draft pick Drake Maye at quarterback. After losing Maye and several other key performers – including leading receiver Tez Walker and top tackler Cedric Gray, Mack Brown team will be in a position to overachieve in 2024.

The Tar Heels return only 36% of their defensive production, which considering how poorly that unit has performed could be addition by subtraction.

But newly-hired coordinator Geoff Collins isn’t the only one who will be working with almost a completely blank slate. Although they return the ACC’s leading rusher, Omarion Hampton, their offense will also be in rebuild mode with only 37% of its production from last season.

2. Dabo’s dilemma

We all know that Clemson’s Dabo Swinney likes the transfer portal as much as kids like vegetables. But if ever there was a year in which the Tigers coach would be advised to dip his toe in the water and bring in a few veteran free agents, this would be it.

His team ranks only 12th in the ACC in returning production at only 64%. Even more concerning is that most of the experienced talent is on the wrong side of the ball. While it’s helpful that quarterback Cade Klubnik and top rusher Phil Mafah and leading receiver Tyler Brown are all back, the defense that carried Clemson for most of the season – including its 5-game winning streak to end the season – returns only 49%.

Swinney is fiercely loyal to the players he recruits out of high school. With so many holes to fill, he’s going to have to hope a lot of those players are ready to step in and produce to have any shot at avoiding a 4th straight season without a playoff appearance.

1. Trending up, trending down

Virginia Tech is clearly set up for success in 2024 with virtually every key performer on both sides of the ball deciding to run it back. That includes dynamic dual-threat quarterback Kyron Drones and star edge rusher Antwaun Powell-Ryland, who was 2nd in the ACC with 9.5 sacks.

The percentages are impressive – 95% returning on offense and 86% overall from a team that rebounded from a 1-3 start to fashion a 4-win improvement and its first bowl win since 2016.

Still it’s a stretch to assume that Hokies will be next season’s version of Florida State based solely on all the talent it has returning.

Speaking of the Seminoles. …

It would be just as much of a mistake to expect Mike Norvell’s team to suffer a significant dropoff just because it lost a significant portion of the talent that led this last season’s success.

There’s no question FSU will face a decidedly more uphill climb in its quest to win a 2nd straight conference title with only 58% of its total production back (56% on offense, 60% on defense, 15th among ACC teams).

How steep of a climb it is will likely depend on how well Norvell works the transfer portal after spring practice. And if his Seminoles will get the Oregon State version of transfer quarterback DJ Uiagalelei rather than the one that struggled with his consistency for 3 seasons at Clemson.