As major college football returns to normal in 2021, one of the lingering effects of the pandemic season will be the return of hundreds of extra, older players who choose to stick around for another year. With spring practice approaching, more than 1,000 scholarship players are expected to take advantage of the NCAA’s eligibility mulligan, according to an Associated Press review of rosters provided by 129 schools.
The number of these super seniors on each team is subject to change and likely to go down as players continue to assess the value of an playing extra year of college football, but their presence is likely to have a major impact on the 2021 season.
ESPN’s SP+ power rankings use returning production (everything from yards and points scored to tackles and interceptions) to project how teams will do in the coming season. Bill Connelly, who created SP+, said there will be more returning production across college football in 2021 than in any year since he started tracking it in 2014.
Connelly said on The AP Top 25 College Football Podcast the typical national average for returning production among FBS teams is about 62% per team. As rosters continue to come together, with transfers still finding homes for next season, the national average for returning production has already topped 70% per team.
Georgia’s ‘super seniors’
Super seniors are defined as players who would have been out of eligibility after the 2020 season, but are taking advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year to all fall athletes because of the pandemic. A survey by the Associated Press found Georgia FBS schools expect this number of scholarship super seniors on their rosters heading into spring practice:
“Everybody’s like eight to 10 (percentage points) higher because they’re returning more seniors, because all the seniors got a chance at an extra year of eligibility,” Connelly said.
Normally, the top teams in returning production will be around 87%, Connelly said. Currently, three teams are expected to have more than 90% of their production from 2020 back in 2021.
Leading the way was Louisiana-Lafayette at 96%. UCLA and Miami were both at 91%. Lafayette (Levi Lewis) and Miami (D’Eriq King) each has a quarterback who will be a super senior.
As of this past weekend, Illinois expects to have 17 scholarship super seniors, the most of any Power Five school.
Where do Georgia FBS schools fall?
The Associated Press asked each FBS program how many scholarship super seniors they expect to have on their rosters heading into spring practice. Super seniors are defined as players who would have been out of eligibility after the 2020 season, but are taking advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year to all fall athletes because of the pandemic.
Georgia State and Georgia Southern, both Sun Belt programs, will return 10 extra players. Georgia Tech (ACC) reported seven returning seniors, while Georgia (SEC) reported the fewest at three.
The NCAA ruled super seniors will not count next season toward the Bowl Subdivision cap of 85 scholarship players per team. As of now, athletes using their COVID-19 year of eligibility after 2021-22 will count toward scholarship and roster limits in all NCAA sports.