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How Important Are Returning Starters? Depends On The Starters Returning

I'll Be BackEvery year at this time PhilSteele.com — the guy provides what amounts to statistical porn for football numbers geeks like us — performs the difficult task of tracking each and every FBS schools’ returning starters.  He posted his 2014 results last week and we’ll show you his SEC calculations below.

But how important is it to return a large number of starters?  Sure, everyone wants experience.  A team full of freshmen and newcomers isn’t typically a pathway to success in the Southeastern Conference.  There is, however, a pretty big difference between a good team returning its starters and a bad team returning its starters.  Sometimes you want some fresh blood taking over a few roles.

Below is a look at the returning starter numbers — as of last January — for the 2013 season.  The SEC’s schools are listed according to their total number of returning starters from 2012.  For comparison, we also show you how many more (or fewer) SEC wins each squad had in 2013 than it had in 2012.  We also list returning starters at quarterback and along both lines combined… just to see if there’s a correlation between experience at those positions and SEC improvement:

 

  School   Ret. Starters   Off. Ret. Starters   Def. Ret. Starters   Ret. QB Starter   Ret. OL/DL Starters   SEC W Change ’12 to ’13
  Ole Miss   18   8   10   1   8   0
  Auburn   15   6   9   1   8   +7
  Alabama   13   6   7   1   3   0
  Georgia   13   10   3   1   5   -2
  Kentucky   13   6   7   1   5   0
  LSU   13   8   5   1   5   -1
  Miss. State   13   7   6   1   6   -1
  Tennessee   13   5   8   0   6   +1
  Vanderbilt   13   7   6   0   4   -1
  Missouri   12   6   6   1   5   +5
  S. Carolina   12   7   5   1   6   0
  Arkansas   11   4   7   0   5   -2
  Florida   11   6   5   1   4   -4
  Texas A&M   10   6   4   1   5   -2

 

So what does this tell us?  Not very much.  The three teams that returned the fewest starters all saw declines in their league records, but would Florida have really dropped four more league games this season if not for a rash of injuries?

Returning starters is an interesting number to look at — especially in January when there’s very little to look at — but it’s hardly an accurate predictor of future success.  Did Auburn show a big improvement because everyone was back or because Gus Malzahn knew how to use everyone on offense?  Did Georgia lose more games because of lost starters from its defense or because a wave of injuries on the other side of the ball.

New coaches, injuries, and in some cases offseason legal entanglements are all so important that they render returning starters almost moot.  Unless.  Unless your team has lost starters across the board.  That seems to be the only worry point.

All that said, what numbers has Phil Steele come up with for 2014?  Here ya go:

 

  School   Ret. Starters   Off. Ret. Starters   Def. Ret. Starters   Ret. QB Starter   Ret. OL/DL Starters   2013 SEC Record
  Kentucky   16   8   8   1   6   0-8
  Miss. State   16   8   8   1   6   3-5
  Ole Miss   15   6   9   1   5   3-5
  Georgia   15   5   10   0   4   5-3
  Arkansas   15   7   8   1   5   0-8
  Texas A&M   15   6   9   0   8   4-4
  Auburn   14   8   6   1   6   7-1
  S. Carolina   14   8   6   0   5   6-2
  Florida   14   7   7   1   5   3-5
  Alabama   12   7   5   0   5   7-1
  LSU   12   5   7   0   6   5-3
  Tennessee   10   5   5   1   0   2-6
  Vanderbilt   10   7   3   0   6   4-4
  Missouri   9   5   4   0   5   7-1

 

As noted above, it’s folly to use these numbers to try to accurately predict which teams will improve in 2014.  Fans of Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Missouri, however, should probably be aware of the fact that losing tons of starters doesn’t often result in wins.  And those teams have lost a lot of starters.  Tennessee, for example, is the only team in the nation to lose all five starters on the offensive line which means the Vols are also the only team in the country to lose every starter from both line.  That spells trouble.

But no one should run out to Vegas and start dumping money on any of these schools based on returning starters alone.  Coaching, injuries, schedules and off-field behavior will all have a say in who really improves of declines in the SEC next season.

 


1 comments
bpa_kc
bpa_kc

As for Missouri, many believe (myself included) that if Mauk continues to improve, that he will be as good as, if not better than Franklin this year.  I do expect Missouri to take a step backwards record wise since the SEC is a REALLY REALLY tough league and 7-1 requires both a good team and a lot of things to break your way (even if you are a "power program" like Bama, LSU, etc).  I think a lot of Missouri's success in 2014 will also depend on whether DGB can remain on the roster and take another step forward.  I think he has the potential to be one of the top receivers in all of CFB... but he obviously is also a bit of a knuckle head. 

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