The number of starters a team returns in no way guarantees of success or failure when the season rolls around, but the metric undoubtedly carries weight this time of year.
Preseason predictions are an inexact science, based heavily on whether a team has, say, 19 returning starters versus 11 or 12. Although there are many examples of bad teams who return a lot of starters and remain bad teams, the general belief among coaches is that more experience leads to fewer mistakes and more wins.
Let's take a closer look at the returning starters in the Big Ten for the 2013 season.
Here are the numbers listed by the Big Ten office (some players who split time as starters are included):
Indiana (10 offense, 9 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Minnesota (10 offense, 7 defense, 1 kicker/punter)
Michigan State (9 offense, 7 defense, 1 kicker/punter)
Northwestern (8 offense, 7 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Wisconsin (8 offense, 7 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Iowa (6 offense, 8 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Penn State (8 offense, 6 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Purdue (5 offense, 9 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Illinois (9 offense, 4 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Ohio State (9 offense, 4 defense, 1 kicker/punter)
Michigan (5 offense, 6 defense, 2 kicker/punter)
Nebraska (7 offense, 5 defense, 0 kicker/punter)
Total starters back for the 2013 season doesn't tell the whole story. University of Colorado sports information director Dave Plati examined which FBS teams have the total number of returning starts as well as returning starters only from the 2012 season.
Five Big Ten teams return more than 250 career starts on their 2013 rosters. They are:
Indiana: 391 total starts, fifth nationally
Wisconsin: 304 total starts, 26th nationally
Ohio State: 298 total starts, 29th nationally
Iowa: 274 total starts, 37th nationally
Nebraska: 269 total starts, 42nd nationally
Indiana and Nebraska both rank among the top 10 nationally in total returning starts on offense. The Hoosiers have 193 and the Huskers have 183.
Again, you can't put too much stock into returning starters, but a few observations:
Nine of 12 Big Ten squads return more starters on offense than defense in 2013 (only Purdue, Iowa and Michigan do not). Does that mean more points, yards and excitement around the league this season? Perhaps. Then again, more than half of the league is still looking for a starting quarterback.
It has been written before, but Nebraska and Ohio State have remarkably similar profiles entering 2013. Both return so much more experience on the offensive side. The Huskers have more than twice as many career offensive starts than defensive starts (86), while the Buckeyes are similarly lopsided (164 offensive starts, 96 defensive starts).
Wisconsin's experience shouldn't be discounted when sizing up the 2013 team. Yes, the Badgers have been through a lot of transition in the past two seasons and there could be an adjustment period under new head coach Gary Andersen. But Wisconsin returns 25 seniors who know how to win. There's a reason former coach Bret Bielema last offseason pointed to the 2013 squad as potentially his best with the Badgers.