Only a year ago, the Tigers returned just seven starters off of their national championship team. No team in the country had fewer returning starters.
But Auburn will return 18 starters in 2012, tied for eighth in the nation with 11 other teams and second-best in the SEC. Only Tennessee returns more starters. The Volunteers are bringing back 20 starters.
Phil Steele compiled all the information for all 123 FBS teams for 2012 — and before I get a bunch of people in the comments telling me that the Football Bowl Subdivision only has 120 teams, UT-San Antonio, Texas State and UMass become full members of the FBS next season — and Auburn ranks near the top of the national standings in terms of returning starters.
Steele’s rankings take into account offense, defense, kicker and punter, so a perfect score would have been bringing back all 24 starters. No team is bringing back everybody, although UTSA only loses one player off of its defense and brings back 23.
Because I couldn’t just take Steele’s numbers at face values, I’ve gone back through every SEC team and tried to name all the players they will have coming back as full-time starters. For the purposes of this exercise, I used the starters from a team’s final game and then checked the background to see how many games, what precipitated the start and tried to make the judgement as fair as possible.
1. Tennessee (5-7) — Returning Starters: 20
- Offense: 10 — QB Tyler Bray, FB Ben Bartholomew, WR Da’Rick Rogers, WR Justin Hunter/Zach Rogers, TE Mychal Rivera, LT Dallas Thomas, LG Alex Bullard, C James Stone, RG Zach Fulton, RT Ja’Wuan James.
- Defense: 8 — DE Jacques Smith, NT Daniel Hood, SLB Curt Maggitt, WLB A.J. Johnson, CB Izauea Lanier, SS Brent Brewer, FS Prentiss Wagner, CB Marsalis Teague.
- Special teams: 2 — K Michael Palardy, P Matt Darr.
t-2. Auburn (8-5) — Ret. Starters: 18
- Offense: 7* — QB Clint Moseley, RB Onterio McCalebb, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, WR Emory Blake, LG Chad Slade, C Reese Dismukes, RG John Sullen. * — Readers will point out, correctly, that several other receivers are returning starters: Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Travante Stallworth can all make a case. On the other hand, nobody ever solidified their spot and became a go-to No. 2 option and clear starter at the position.
- Defense: 9 — DE Corey Lemonier, DT Kenneth Carter, NT Jeffrey Whitaker, LB Daren Bates, LB Jonathan Evans, DE Nosa Eguae, CB T’Sharvan Bell, SS Demetruce McNeal, CB Chris Davis.
- Special teams: 2 — K Cody Parkey, P Steven Clark.
t-2. Florida (7-6) — Ret. Starters : 18
- Offense: 7 — RB Trey Burton,WR Andre Debose, TE Jordan Reed, LT Xavier Nixon, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RT Chaz Green.
- Defense: 10 — DE Sharrif Floyd, DT Dominique Easley, DE Ronald Powell, SLB Lerentee McCray, MLB Jonathan Bostic, WLB Jelani Jenkins, CB Marcus Roberson, S Matt Elam, S De’Ante Saunders, CB Cody Riggs.
- Special teams: 1 — K Caleb Sturgis.
4. Vanderbilt (6-7) — Ret. Starters: 17
- Offense: 8 — QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, FB Fitz Lassing, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, LG Ryan Seymour, C Wesley Johson, RG Mylon Brown.
- Defense: 7 — DT Rob Lohr, DE Walker May, SLB Al Owens, WLB Archibald Barnes, FS Javon Marshall, CB Trey Wilson.
- Special teams: 2 — K Carey Spear, P Richard Kent.
t-5. Ole Miss (2-10) — Ret. Starters: 16
- Offense: 8 — QB Randall Mackey, RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, TE Ferbia Allen, TE Jamal Mosley, C Evan Swindall, RG Matt Hall, RT Bobby Massey.
- Defense: 6 — DT Uriah Grant, OLB Joe Kight, MLB Mike Marry, SPUR Aaron Garbutt, S Charles Sawyer, CB Wesley Pendleton
- Special teams: 2 — K Bryson Rose, P Tyler Campbell.
t-5. Texas A&M (7-6) — Ret. Starters: 16
- Offense: 9 — RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, TE Hutson Prioleau, LT Luke Joeckel, LG Brian Thomas, C Patrick Lewis, RG Shep Klinke, RT Jake Matthews.
- Defense: 5 — DT Eddie Brown, Jr., J Caleb Russell, ILB Jonathan Stewart, OLB Sean Porter, CB Dustin Harris, SS Steven Campbell.
- Special teams: 1 — P Ryan Epperson.
t-7. Arkansas (11-2) — Ret. Starters: 15
- Offense: 7 — QB Tyler Wilson, RB Dennis Johnson, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, LT Jason Peacock, C Travis Swanson, RG Alvin Bailey.
- Defense: 6 — DT DeQuinta Jones, DT Byran Jones, DE Tenarius Wright, LB Alonzo Highsmith, CB Tevin Mitchell, S Eric Bennett.
- Special teams: 2 — K Zach Hocker, P Dylan Breeding.
t-7. Georgia (10-3) — Ret. Starters: 15.
- Offense: 6 — QB Aaron Murray, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Tavarres King, LG Kenarious Gates, RG Chris Burnette.
- Defense: 9 — DE Abry Jones, NT John Jenkins, DE Garrison Smith, OLB Jarvis Jones, ILB Michael Gilliard, ILB Alec Ogletree, OLB Cornelius Washington, CB Sanders Commings, SS Shawn Williams, FS Bacarri Rambo.
- Special teams: 0
t-9. LSU (13-1) — Ret. Starters: 14
- Offense: 6 — RB Spencer Ware, WR Odell Beckham, Jr., LT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, RG Josh Williford, RT Alex Hurst.
- Defense: 6 — DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan, DE Sam Montgomery, MLB Kevin Minter, CB Tyrann Mathieu, FS Eric Reid.
- Special teams: 2 — K Drew Alleman, P Brad Wing.
t-9. South Carolina (11-2) — Ret. Starters: 14.
- Offense: 8 — QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus Lattimore, FB Dalton Wilson, TE Justice Cunningham, WR Ace Sanders, LG A.J. Cann, C T.J. Johnson, RT Mike Matulis.
- Defense: 6 — DE Devin Taylor, DT Kelcy Quarles, MLB Shaq Wilson, WLB Reginald Bowens, S Devonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger.
- Special teams: 0
t-11. Kentucky (5-7) — Ret. Starters: 13.
- Offense: 6 — QB Maxwell Smith, RB Coshik Williams, FB D.J. Warren, WR La’Rod King, C Matt Smith, RG Larry Warford.
- Defense: 6 — DE Collins Ukwu, DT Donte Rumph, DT Mister Cobble, DE Taylor Wyndham, SLB Ridge Wilson, FS Mikie Benton.
- Special teams: 1 — K Craig McIntosh.
t-11. Mississippi State (7-6) — Ret. Starters: 13.
- Offense: 5 — WR Arceto Clark, WR Chad Bumphis,WR Chris Smith, LG Gabe Jackson, C Dillon Day.
- Defense: 7 — DT Josh Boyd, DE Kaleb Eulls, SLB Deontae Skinner, WLB Cameron Lawrence, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Corey Broomfield, S Nickoe Whitley.
- Special teams: 1 — P Baker Swedenburg.
t-11. Missouri (8-5) — Ret. Starters: 13.
- Offense: 5 — QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, WR T.J. Moe, LT Justin Britt, C Travis Ruth.
- Defense: 6 — DE Brad Madison, MLB Andrew Wilson, WLB Zaviar Gooden, CB Kip Edwards, CB E.J. Gaines, S Kenronte Walker.
- Special teams: 2 — K Grant Ressel, P Trey Barrow.
14. Alabama (13-1) — Ret. Starters — 12.
- Offense: 6 — QB A.J. McCarron, TE Michael Williams, LT Barrett Jones, LG Chance Warmack, RG Anthony Steen, RT D.J. Fluker.
- Defense: 4 — DE Jesse Williams, DE Damion Square, ILB Nico Johnson, FS Robert Lester
- Special teams: 2 — K Jeremy Shelley, P Cody Mandell.