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2012 College Football Returning Starters

– “In our next issue, we are including a column which features the returning starters for the 2012 season and in many instances, used your final numbers.  We found them to be the most accurate available, even more than Phil Steele.  You do a heck of a job with your research.” 

– Tommy Duff
Editor of The Kickoff

CFBMatrix article link:  Do returning starters metrics really mean more wins?Don’t bet on it

February 1, 2012

Primer Question:  What would you rather have, 24 returning starters from Kentucky or 12 from Alabama?  Exactly.  Talent wins.  While 9+ back on offense or +9 back on defense (both kicker back > QB back) may net an extra .5 of a game, its largely an emotional issue.  

A lot of fans like these returning starter stats, but it really breaks down to overall talent, coaching and scheduling (correlations I have shown in the CFBMatrix FARR modeling).   44 of 68 teams had their starting quarterback from 2010 returning, but neither the Oregon Ducks nor the Auburn Tigers had a returning starting QB in their NCG runs.   In 2010 the Oregon Ducks returned 18 starters, so did Washington State and they both finished the season in first and last, the same as 2009.  What would you rather have, 22 returning starters from Kansas or 11 from Oklahoma.  As with most of the numbers, you as a fan, read, process and interpret it into your own conclusion.  The article breaking down the facts versus myths will make you rethink your assumptions.

It is easy to find good years for returning starter numbers but that doesn’t really tell the whole story.  So in typical CFBMatrix fashion, I put together a profile of returning starter data from 2009 through 2011 seasons.  I will post them on a separate report when complete but for now I will log bullet points as I calculate them out for you.  Here are few points on returning starters:

  • From ’09-’11 109 teams returned 15 or more starters to start the season. 57.6% of those teams had a better record than the previous season. (ex. Oklahoma State returned 15 and won 11 games in 2011 vs 10 in ‘2010)
  • For all teams returning less than 15 players, their odds were 37.7% that they won more games than in the previous season (ex. Tennessee returned 13 in 2011 and were -2 games under the 7-5 record of 2010 even though I think it is mostly Dooley being bad)
  • Teams returning 15+ starters had a +57 games total over the previous year’s total wins or +.518 games per team
  • Teams returning <15 starters had only -47 fewer wins than the previous year’s totals or -.528 games per team.


The number that really jumps out at me is that 54 of 67 starting QBs are returning in 2012.  This is the largest number in a decade and will certainly skew the stats in terms of returning QB effect on wins and loses.

The Big 12, after we took out the final NFL early entry tally, is the leader in returning starters for 2012.  The PAC12 is the only conference well below the national averages in every category.

In reviewing the trends of returning starters, it is shows it greatest effect the further down the CFBMatrix adjusted recruiting rank a team falls.  In a nutshell, the less talent you have, the more you depend on senior leadership and experience to overcome talent shortcomings.  The loss of starters will hurt a Iowa much more than a LSU or Alabama.