Although using returning starters to measure a college football team is hardly an exact science, it does have value. But it's not the only way to measure the returning experience of a football team.
Phil Steele has broken down how many lettermen return for each FBS team. Because teams hand out letters for different reasons, his ultimate measure is a percentage.
For example, Utah handed out the most letters in the nation last year -- 84. Of those, 50 return. That percentage of return -- 59.52 percent -- ranks last in the Pac-12 and 118th in the nation. Utah also has the fewest returning starters in the Pac-12 -- 12 -- so it's fair to say the Utes are an inexperienced team.
Here's how the Pac-12 stacks up. (The number to the left is the national ranking. The number in parenthesis is returning starters. The next two numbers are returning lettermen and 2012 total lettermen.)
6. Colorado (19) 61 of 74, 82.43 percent
13. Washington (20) 58/74, 78.38
23. Oregon State (17) 60/79, 75.95
25. Stanford (14) 59/78, 75.64
38. Arizona (17) 51/69, 73.91
42. Washington State (17) 43/59, 72.88
45. Oregon (15) 52/72, 72.22
55. USC (15) 57/81, 70.37
59. UCLA (13) 51/73, 69.86
63. Arizona State (15) 55/79, 69.62
65. California (13) 52/75, 69.33
118. Utah (12) 50/84, 59.52
While these numbers coincide pretty well with returning starters, Stanford's ranking fourth here is another reason to be high on the Cardinal. Though it ranks ninth in terms of returning starters, it is not an inexperienced team.
Moreover, this further tightens the South Division picture. Those three -- USC, UCLA and Arizona State -- are extremely close in terms of returning experience.
How much value do these numbers have? Big Ten Blogger Brian Bennett previously broke down the numbers for his conference, and noted this:
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.
So there's predictive value, as long as one doesn't get carried away.