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Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Badgers lead way in returning lettermen

By Brian Bennett

We talk a lot about returning starters when previewing the season, and we gave you the whole breakdown of returning starters and career starts in the Big Ten last month. But that doesn't tell the entire story of a team's experience level.

Phil Steele attempts to calculate that further by breaking down how many lettermen each FBS team returns in 2013. Steele uses percentages of returning lettermen since schools use different methods to determine how they give out letters. But for the most part, the number of lettermen who are back reflect how many players with some experience a team has.

Steele's numbers show that Wisconsin has the highest percentage of returning lettermen of any BCS AQ school, at 83.87 percent (Rice and Texas-San Antonio rank 1-2, respectively). The Badgers, who have 17 returning starters, lost only 10 lettermen off last year's Rose Bowl team. That experience should help Gary Andersen in his first year as coach.

Here's how the rest of the Big Ten looks in the national rankings:

9. Michigan State: 80 percent
30. Indiana: 74.65 percent
35. Minnesota: 74.32 percent
49. Northwestern: 71.05 percent
71. Ohio State: 68.92 percent
73. Purdue: 68.57 percent
88. Michigan: 66.67 percent
99. Iowa: 65 percent
122. Illinois: 57.89 percent
123. Nebraska: 57.33 percent
125. Penn State: 54.29 percent

Some of these numbers cast the returning starters figures in a new light. Penn State, for example, ties for sixth in the Big Ten in returning starters with 16 but has a lower percentage of returning lettermen than every FBS team except Louisiana Tech. Indiana has one of the highest returning starters numbers in the country (21) but lost more lettermen than you'd expect. Nebraska ranked 42nd nationally in career total starts returning but is among the lowest teams in the country in percentage of lettermen who are coming back.

Do these numbers mean much in the grand scheme of things? Consider that the three BCS AQ teams with the highest percentage of returning lettermen last year (Florida, Stanford and Oregon) all ended up in BCS games, while Orange Bowl champion Florida State ranked sixth among AQ teams and Sugar Bowl winner Louisville was eighth. On the flip side, Notre Dame ranked 121st out of 124 teams and played for the national title, while Alabama was 104th. Ohio State was 74th last year and ended up 12-0.

No number is perfect in predicting success, but this gives you another idea of which teams have the most experience.