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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Returning Starters, Do They Really Matter?

Check out any preseason magazine on college football, read any article about a team coming into the year, listen to any talking head on ESPN picking his darkhorses, and you are going to hear the phrase “returning starters” more than you can stomach.  It’s an easy stat to throw around for “experts” because it’s something they know.  It’s something they have seen so they feel comfortable throwing that around.  But does it really matter very much?  I took a look at the last 8 UK and how many starters on each side of the ball each team had.  Plus, I broke it down by position as well, and found out which positions are most important to have returning starters.  Take a look:

2005
Offense: 7 returners (1 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 3 OL)
Defense: 6 returners (3 DL, 1 LB, 1 CB, 1 S)
RESULT: 3-8 (2-6 SEC)

2006
Offense: 9 returners (1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR, 1 TE, 5 OL)
Defense: 7 returners (2 DL, 3 LB, 1 CB, 1 S)
RESULT: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)

2007
Offense: 7 returners (1 QB, 1 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 OL)
Defense: 8 returners (2 DL, 3 LB, 1 CB, 2 S)
RESULT: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)

2008
Offense: 4 returners (1 WR, 3 OL)
Defense: 8 returners (3 DL, 2 LB, 2 CB, 1 S)
RESULT: 7-6 (2-6 SEC)

2009 
Offense: 7 returners (1 QB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 3 OL)
Defense: 5 returners (2 DL, 1 LB, 1 CB, 1 S)
RESULT: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)

2010
Offense: 5 returners (1 QB, 1 RB, 2 WR, 1 OL)
Defense: 6 returners (3 DL, 1 LB, 1 CB, 1 S)
RESULT: 6-7 (2-6 SEC)

2011
Offense: 6 returners (1 WR, 1 TE, 4 OL)
Defense: 10 returners (3 DL, 3 LB, 2 CB, 2 S)
RESULT: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

2012
Offense: 5 returners (1 RB, 2 WR, 2 OL)
Defense: 5 returners (3 DL, 2 S)
RESULT: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)

2013
Offense: 7 returners (1 QB, 1 RB, 2 WR, 3 OL)  assuming Max Smith is the starter
Defense: 7 returners (3 DL, 2 LB, 1 CB, 1 S)
RESULT: ??????????

So, what does it all mean?  As you all know, I am an expert at breaking down stats and coming to the most logical, sound conclusions from those statistics.  So, here is what I gather for those 8 years of data:

1. THE RETURNING QB IS HUGE

-In years where the starting QB returned, UK won 8, 8, 7, and 6 games.  In the years where UK was breaking in a new quarterback, they won 3, 7, 5, and 2 games.  Returning quarterback: 29 wins in 4 years.  New quarterback: 17 wins in 4 years.  Max Smith being back is huge (assuming he is the starter).

2.  LINEBACKERS KEY ON DEFENSE

-When trying to figure out where it is key to return starters on defense, it seems linebacker has the most prominence.  UK has returned all 3 linebackers 3 times since 2005.  They won 8 games twice and 5 games in 2011.  In years where they returned 1 or no linebackers, they won 3, 7, 6, and 2 games.  Linebackers are often the guys with the most tackles, and usually the leaders of the defense.  The importance of experience at that position appears strongest.

3. OVERALL, OFFENSE OVER DEFENSE

-In 2011, UK returned 10 of it’s 11 starters on defense and went on to miss a bowl for the first time in 5 years.  Clearly, returning defensive starters didn’t mean as much.  But, the only time UK returned 8 or more offensive starters, 2006, is the year they won 4 SEC games and 8 games overall.  Kentucky has had more defensive starters return the last 3 seasons, and has not won a bowl game in all 3.

Article written by Bryan the Intern

16 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Returning Starters, Do They Really Matter?



  1. Big Blue Coming At You
    9:06 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    It matters when you have good coaches to coach them.



  2. 2-11
    9:11 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    Nice post, 2-11.



  3. James
    9:11 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    So according to your logic BTI, Kentucky is goin to win about 6 or 7 games this season.

    I can totally get behind that. Also, would you consider Whitlow a returning starter as he took the most snaps as the #1 QB last season? I know smith got the nod originally, but it ended up being Whitlow’s team.



  4. niaps
    9:26 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    Great breakdown. #3 Whitlow couldn’t pass. As a matter of fact he really sucked at passing. Thats the main reason he should not even be in the QB rotation. He is terrific in the open field and a very good runner. I believe he would help the team the best as a slot receiver or as a Wildcat, not as full time QB. That is just my opinion for what it’s worth.



  5. Nick
    9:27 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    It also matters which starters they are.



  6. CATandMONKEY
    9:30 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    I don’t know if you can say definitively, that returning defensive starters don’t mean much ( Agree they didn’t mean much in 2011).
    If those starters cannot tackle and have a demotivating coaching staff, well…then your statement will most always remain true.
    Thank the Heavens for Stoops and Co. !



  7. False
    9:32 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    “Kentucky has had more defensive starters return the last 3 seasons, and missed bowls in all 3.” – That is not correct. UK went to a bowl game 3 seasons ago (and lost). Try to do better.



  8. James
    9:34 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    Can’t disagree #4 but I was simply making the point that Whitlow could be considered a starter as well.

    He also looked like the best QB during the spring game (for what that’s worth) and it also took Woodson a few years to develop. He wasn’t a very good passer either at the beginning.

    A season or two under Brown will do wonders for all of our QB’s.



  9. Al/in/Indy
    9:35 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    Reguardless if we go 8-4 or 4-8, I know this is going to be a better/more exciting coached team than what we’ve had in the past 3 years. I’m content that we now have a coach who actually knows the Xs and Os of the game. Not run 2 downs then pass, punt.



  10. niaps
    9:37 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    Yes #6 thanks for Stoops and his crew as our coaches this year. The Cats lost some close games last year just due to bad coaching. Not gonna be the case this year. Very hard schedule to have a winning team this year but expect to see a lot more competitive team on both sides of the ball.



  11. tom
    9:43 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    It matters how good the starters were to begin with. I would say, for the most part, a returning starter for Alabama is a bigger asset than a returner for UK or WKU. Not always the case, of course, but generally speaking



  12. Joker
    10:01 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    How do you know that Stoops is a better coach?



  13. niaps
    10:16 am July 11, 2013 Permalink


  14. Musehobo
    10:24 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    “As you all know, I am an expert at breaking down stats and coming to the most logical, sound conclusions from those statistics.”

    Hahaha. Seems like you kind of know what the rest of us have been saying for a while. Most of the time your breakdowns are BS. This ones hit and miss. We all know that returning players is important. We all also know that Joker sucked ass. And the decline over the last 3 years is mostly due to a conservative coach who played scared. After Rich Brooks got things straightened out, he figured out a way to keep us decent. But Joker is the main reason and we all know it.



  15. NO MATT JONES
    10:59 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    This doesn’t account for UK’s new offensive scheme. So last year’s starter isn’t like a normal returning starter. They have to learn a new playbook. And while the Air Raid might be pretty simple compared to past schemes, it’s still a new system. Too many unknowns to make assumptions about how well our “starter,” who has played like 6 college games total, will perform.



  16. Rufus Baker
    11:42 am July 11, 2013 Permalink

    The significant factor isn’t whether you have a RETURNING QB, but rather whether you have a returning GOOD QB. Also, you are going to have to decide whether it was returning QBs or Returning LINEBACKERS who generated those wins. Your post shows once again why you are widely mocked throughout the BBN. If there is something at which you truly are expert, it certainly isn’t drawing logical conclusions from statistical information. But thanks for trying anyway, son.