- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is no simple measure that consistently predicts college football success. The best is pedigree, but even that often fails. Just ask Notre Dame and Texas.
While returning starters -- most particularly a quarterback -- are the easiest way to map out how a team stands in the preseason, there are more than a few folks who believe a veteran offensive line is as meaningful as anything.
No less than the Wall Street Journal put that theory forward in 2009, and it's pretty clear that it's a good thing to have experience returning on the O-line.
Last season, just eight of the 25 teams in the final AP poll ranked among the bottom half out of 126 teams when it came to returning offensive line starts in 2013. While leading the nation with lines with 124 and 123 starts didn't help Texas and Tennessee much a year ago, eight final top-25 teams ranked in the top-30 when it came to offensive line starts, including No. 10 Florida State (national champion), No. 9 Michigan State (Rose Bowl champion), No. 27 Stanford (Pac-12 champion) and No. 3 Duke (nation's most surprising 10-win team).
So let's look at how the Pac-12 stacks up when it comes to returning offense line starts, beginning with the North Division.
Returning O-line starts: 124
Notes: The Huskies welcome back seven players with starting experience, including five with 20 or more career starts. Three of them -- Dexter Charles, Mike Criste and Micah Hatchie -- earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last season. The Huskies aren't too worried about things up front.
Returning O-line starts: 107
Notes: Ducks center Hroniss Grasu is the only All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 O-lineman returning this fall, which will be his fourth as a starter. He leads the conference with 40 career starts. Tackles Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fisher are two-year starters, but Johnstone is coming back from a knee injury and might not be available early in the season.
Returning O-line starts: 51
Notes: The good news is the Golden Bears have eights guys coming back with starting experience. The bad news is the O-line struggled mightily last season, which is one reason why -- other than injuries -- so many guys saw action in 2013. There are high hopes, however, that some of the young guys forced into action, such as then-freshmen Steven Moore, Chris Borrayo, Matt Cochran and Christian Okafor, will take big steps forward.
Returning O-line starts: 42
Notes: The Pac-12 blog doesn't like to confess to surprise, but the Beavers' number here is about 30 less than it would have guessed, even though three starters need to be replaced. The centerpiece, of course, is center Isaac Seumalo, a legitimate All-American candidate after earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. The junior owns 25 career starts. Sophomore Sean Harlow is next with nine starts last season. Still, five guys have started at least one game, which means the shade of green here isn't so light.
Returning O-line starts: 33
Notes: OT Gunnar Eklund and OG Joe Dahl started every game last season. Though three starters need to be replaced, including center Elliott Bosch, the unit's unquestioned leader, there's a general feeling of optimism because the line should be much bigger than it was the past two years. Still, this will be a young crew next fall.
Returning O-line starts: 15
Notes: Stanford lost four starters from one of the nation's best offensive lines in 2013, two of whom were NFL draft picks. The good news is the return of massive LT Andrus Peat to protect QB Kevin Hogan's blindside. A second-team All-Pac-12 performer in 2013, Peat is an almost certain first-round NFL draft pick if he opts to leave after this season. Further good news is the likely four new starters all saw significant action last season, and not just in mop-up duty. The Cardinal has recruited this position so well, there's not that much worry on The Farm about the lack of starting experience.
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