How much do returning starters matter?

August, 23, 2011
8/23/11
12:00
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My guess is you will find this interesting: The Importance of Returning Starters. Insider

The conclusion is as you might expect: Nuanced.
Since 2004, FBS teams have averaged approximately 12.97 returning starters per season. Teams with 13 or more starters returning from the previous season won a combined 53 percent of their games during that time period. Teams with 12 or fewer starters won about 50 percent of their games since 2004 -- hardly a huge disparity.

Even smaller is the difference between experienced squads. Teams with 16 or more returning starters have won about 54 percent of their games since 2004.

So we rely too much on returning starters when predicting potential success.

But we are Pac-12 fans. We also know that all returning starters are not created equal. There is a major reason some of us feel the national pundits are selling the conference short this fall.
We looked at BCS teams since 2000 to determine which positions were most important to the most successful teams in college football, and discovered that 80 percent of all quarterbacks who have led their teams to a BCS bowl game were returning starters.

Hello, Andrew Luck, Darron Thomas, Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Jeff Tuel, Jordan Wynn, Ryan Katz, Tyler Hansen and Kevin Prince.

But other positions, not surprisingly, matter more, too.
Besides quarterback, BCS teams have the highest return rate at offensive tackle (71 percent of tackles on BCS teams are returning starters), cornerback (71 percent) and free safety (72 percent).

Then let's look at Pac-12 teams with their QB returning who also have at least one -- or both -- of the above: Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC and Washington State.

Obviously, there is no exact science to correlate returning starters to a successful season, but this would be my formula: a standout QB, both offensive tackles and the center, one All-Conference defensive lineman, one All-Conference cornerback.

Experience at the toughest position -- QB -- is a key one, but certainly not insurmountable -- see Oregon last year. Then there's the O-line. The veteran tackles provide the savvy, speed-rush protection on the edge, while the veteran center means you get the right line calls. Of course, that's also not always a given: Oregon State had its center and both tackles back in 2010, and the results weren't good. On the D-line, it seems to me having at least one guy who commands special attention -- two blockers -- is key. Finally, a lockdown corner who cancels one side of the field is certainly a nice thing to have.

Who most meets those measures? Many teams are close, but none get an exact match.

Which leaves us here with no climactic end for you. Sorry.

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