The UT football team has 10 returning starters on offense this year. That’s true no matter which side of the “real UT” debate you fall on. Tennessee has QB Tyler Bray returning, along with star wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, the entire offensive line, and well, everyone except the tailback position. Texas is a little more unsettled at the quarterback position but has both guys who played last year back and competing, in David Ash and Case McCoy. They are loaded at running back with the depth from last year, plus star freshman Johnathan Gray, and most of a dominant run blocking offensive line.
So how much advantage does a team with 10 returning starters typically have the next season? What kind of improvement should we expect from these teams based on having continuity (and knowing that if starters are replaced, it’s because the young talent is pretty good)?
It would make sense that returning starters on offense would be a little more important in college than defense. Defense can be all about athletic ability, and the top programs have turned over for years while winning by having the better “Joes” on defense. Offense, though, particularly at the quarterback and line positions, requires precision and practice to fine tune.
I looked at the last four years and the returning starter data listed by Phil Steele. There was only one team that had 11 listed returning starters on offense over that span–Vanderbilt last year. They made the biggest leap also, going from 2 wins to 6 wins, and improving by almost 17 points based on the simple rating system (SRS).
Twelve teams had 10 returning starters, including the quarterback. In looking at both their average power ranking by SRS, and their win totals in both years, those teams improved by 5.2 points, and 1.9 wins on average.
To expand it a little further, I went ahead and looked at those with 9 starters returning, including the quarterback. Twenty other teams appear, and they improved by 3.7 points and 1 win the next year.
The improvement wasn’t uniform (or linear, as we might say). Bad teams with lots of returning starters had more room for improvement, while the top teams tended to hold their value or improve slightly. The bottom third of our teams with 9+ returning starters by almost 8 points on average, many shooting to bowl contention. The top third from the previous year improved by about 1.5 points.
Texas had an SRS rating of +12.1 and an 8-5 record last year. That rating put them at #15 even though they finished outside the rankings nationally. It was a combination of tough schedule and not getting a signature win against the best teams on the schedule. Even if we project a more modest 2 point improvement for Texas, that puts them in the Top Ten. The other teams from the SEC and Big XII the last four years with a rating in that range averaged 10 wins. I’ve got Texas as #2 in the Big XII (the media went with West Virginia).
As for Tennessee, they had a +4.3 rating and a disappointing 5-7 record playing in the SEC last year. They should show more improvement because they have more room to improve. A 4 point improvement, which is average for the group of similar teams with returning starters, would put them right on the edge of the top 25. That’s where they start the year for me, and they just missed our football rankings. They are 25B for now, but if Bray and company improve more than the average team with a lot of returning starters, they could be one of the surprises of 2012. If you want a recent example, look to Michigan last year, who shot up with 9 returning starters on both sides of the ball to a Sugar Bowl appearance.
[photo via US Presswire]
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