Is there any correlation between returning starters and on-field success?
It’s a question that comes up every year but rarely gets the attention it deserves. As a result, countless college football handicappers end up wasting their time by running numbers that don’t have any predictive power.
From 2004 through 2010, teams that returned 12 or fewer starters won 50 percent of the time, whereas teams that returned at least 16 starters won at a 54 percent rate. So, not much of a difference.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that all returning starters aren’t created equally. For instance, a team with 11 returners and a Heisman Trophy quarterback is probably much better off than a team with 17 returning starters and no quarterback.
A recent ESPN.com study found that quarterback, offensive tackle, cornerback and safety are the most important returning starter positions for predicting future success. [Related: Seven top-25 teams that might struggle to make BCS Bowls.]
But irrespective of that, numerical counts have proven to show a degree of predictive quality through the years.
As ESPN points out, teams returning a significant number of starters are the most likely to make “marked improved,” defined as an improvement of three or more wins from the previous season.
Squads which improved their records by three or more wins averaged 13.99 returning starters, about an 8 percent increase over the national average. Of all the stats we’ve looked at so far, it appears teams possessing 14 or more returning starters have the best track record for improved success.
With that in mind, below is a list of BCS teams from last season that won at least eight games AND return 14 or more starters. For further analysis, you can use this chart (courtesy of CFBMatrix), which will provide you with a more detailed breakdown.
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LAST YEAR’S WINS, RETURNING STARTERS
- Auburn (8 wins; 15 returning)
- Baylor (10; 14)
- Clemson (10; 14*)
- Florida State (9; 17*)
- Georgia (10; 16*)
- Kansas State (10; 14*)
- Rutgers (9; 15*)
- Texas (8; 15*)
- USC (10; 16*)
- Utah (8; 16*)
- West Virginia (8; 14*)