SEC teams with the most returning starters in 2016
Most SEC teams return about 13 starters in 2016, but there are a few significant discrepancies.
LSU and Tennessee are among the national leaders in returning production, while Ole Miss returns fewer starters than every power-conference team but Ohio State.
Before we reveal the numbers from our unofficial survey, note that the number of returning starters is not a great predictor of on-field success or comparison. Vanderbilt isn’t going to be better than Alabama just because it returns five more starters.
These numbers also don’t speak to who is leaving and who is back. Most expect the Rebels to remain strong, thanks in part to the return of 4,000-yard passer Chad Kelly — perhaps the single-most important returnee in the SEC.
Also, the number of starters returning isn’t as precise as data that shows the total amount of returning production, which SB Nation calculated.
Still, it’s an exercise that spawns a lot of discussion, and there are some relevant findings.
Tennessee, one of the youngest teams in the country in the last two years, now carries a ton of experience into 2016 as coach Butch Jones attempts to win an SEC Championship.
Those assuming that Alabama and Ole Miss will be the two best teams may be forgetting just how much LSU has coming back — it’s not just Leonard Fournette.
Meanwhile, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn again will have to deal with significant roster turnover as he tries to get the Tigers back on an acceptable course.
Here’s an SEC-wide look at the returning starters on both sides of the football:
- Ole Miss returns the fewest number of starters on both sides of the ball, and that’s including quarterback Chad Kelly, tight end Evan Engram and defensive back Tony Connor.
- LSU and Tennessee return a conference-best 17 starters. There are four units that return nine starters: The offenses of LSU, Tennessee and Kentucky and the Arkansas defense.
- Here are the percentages of returning starters by position in the SEC: Kickers (85.7%), Punters (71.4%), Quarterbacks (71.4%), Receivers/Tight Ends (69.2%), Defensive Line (65.4%), Defensive Backs (63.2%), Running Backs (52.9%), Linebackers (52.2%), Offensive Line (30%).
- The quarterback figure is a misnomer. Treon Harris returns for Florida, but he’s expected to move to receiver. Sean White and Jeremy Johnson return at Auburn, but transfer John Franklin III may overtake them to win the job. Greyson Lambert returns at Georgia, but true freshman Jacob Eason could start. Lorenzo Nunez returns at South Carolina, but true freshman Brandon McIlwain could start. So there could be a lot of new faces at QB.
- The national rankings, according to Phil Steele, based on number of returning starters: LSU (T1), Tennessee (T5), Vanderbilt (T24), Arkansas (T41), Georgia (T41), Kentucky (T41), Mississippi State (T65), Missouri (T65), South Carolina (T65), Texas A&M (T65), Alabama (T98), Auburn (T98), Florida (T98), Ole Miss (T113).
- Most returning starters for each of the other power conferences, again according to Phil Steele: Louisville (ACC — 18), Purdue (Big Ten — 16), Oklahoma State (Big 12 — 16), Colorado (Pac-12 — 17).
- Only two SEC teams return four starting offensive linemen: Tennessee and Kentucky. The Vols also return three of four starting defensive linemen.
- Every SEC team returns at least two starting defensive backs.
- Georgia returns just a single starter in the front seven: linebacker Tim Kimbrough.
- Auburn is the only team that doesn’t return multiple starting receivers or tight ends. Kentucky and Texas A&M return all four starting pass-catchers.
- Alabama, Arkansas and Texas A&M are the only three teams that must replace their starting quarterback and running back.
- Nine SEC teams return both their kicker and punter.