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January 26, 2012

Auburn returns the second-most starters in the SEC

Times have changed for Auburn in one short season.

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.

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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.
Outlook: Having Bray back behind all five linemen, plus his top three receivers and tight end, gives Volunteers fans something to be excited about. The entire secondary also returns.

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.
Outlook: A couple of Auburn’s starting spots on offense are still up in the air. Beyond the aforementioned receiver situation, Clint Moseley will probably face open competition at quarterback, and something has to shake out of the muddled receiver group. In addition, Chad Slade saw spot time on the offensive line, but I included him because he ended up starting more than half the season. On defense, Bell’s injury was a bad one, and other players could see competition for playing time. Bottom-line, though, the Tigers have a lot of guys coming back with a lot of experience under their belts.

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.
Outlook: Bringing 10 starters back off of a defense that finished the season ranked ninth in the country means that Florida will be hard to score against, but it’s the lack of returning playmakers at the skill positions that could hurt the Gators next year. Arguably the top three players on offense — QB John Brantley, RB Chris Rainey and RB Jeff Demps — are all gone.

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.
Outlook: Steele has Vanderbilt down for 18 returning starters, but after taking a look at their lineup, I only see eight players who were obviously a key component in the starting lineup for every game, although guard Josh Jelesky did start the final three games. He may have counted center Logan Stewart, who has been dismissed from the team. Vanderbilt built some momentum under new head coach James Franklin in 2011, and with so many players back in key positions, the Commodores could be a tough out again.

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.
Outlook: For the second straight team, I’m  a little more hard on the returning starter quotient than Steele, and I’ve decided to take one away from the revolving door that was Ole Miss’s defense. Not enough guys started enough games. No surprise here, but head coach Hugh Freeze has a lot of work ahead.

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.
Outlook: Michael tore his ACL late in the season and faces a long road to recovery back, but if he does, he’s a very good back. New Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin’s toughest task? Finding a quarterback to run his wide-open offense with the departure of former quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

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.
Outlook: The Razorbacks have been billed as one of the nation’s top returning teams, and bringing quarterback Tyler Wilson back, plus the return of running back Knile Davis from injury, makes Arkansas dangerous. The Razorbacks do have to replace three great wide receivers in Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs.

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
Outlook: If Georgia can get its offensive line together around the two guards, the Bulldogs should be the favorite to win another SEC East title behind Murray, who will battle Tyler Wilson for top QB in the SEC all season long. At the skill positions on offense, Georgia is deep and young, and the defense returns most of the playmakers from the nation’s No. 3 unit.

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.
Outlook: Mingo’s pass-rush ability kept him on the field so much that he’s being called a starter for the purposes of this blog, and try as I might, finding the seventh starter Phil Steele claimed for the offense was impossible, but LSU’s overall numbers stay the same. LSU’s biggest question is whether it can get better play at the QB position than departing seniors Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson.

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
Outlook: A healthy Lattimore is probably one of the top two or three running backs in the country, and with so many players back on offense, the Gamecocks will have a chance to build around him. On defense, South Carolina phenom Jadeveon Clowney steps into Melvin Ingram’s spot at defensive end. The battle between the Gamecocks and Georgia for the SEC East should be a good one.

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.
Outlook: Smith gave the Wildcats some spark at the end of the season, but finding the offensive lineman to block for him is the next big task for Kentucky’s offense. On defense, Mikie Benton is the only holdover left from an experienced secondary.

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.
Outlook: The task doesn’t get any easier on offense for head coach Dan Mullen, who loses star running back Vick Ballard. At the very least, quarterback Tyler Russell looks like the passer of the future, and the Bulldogs have depth at every level of the defense.

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.
Outlook: If the Tigers can fill out their offensive line, the offense could make some noise in its first year in the SEC behind its top three playmakers, although Josey is coming off of a season-ending injury. Before the injury, though, he was the Big 12’s leading rusher, and Franklin may instantly become the SEC’s best dual-threat quarterback. On defense, Missouri has to replace the heart of its defensive line, although E.J. Gaines is a player in the secondary.

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.
Outlook: After going through Alabama’s lineup over and over, I couldn’t find the seventh returning offensive starter, and that means the national champs come in last in the SEC in terms of returning starters. With McCarron, Eddie Lacy, and most of the line back, the offense should be solid, but the defense has an awful lot of big names to replace.


  1. This is both good and bad.

    Good, in that we should significantly improve to at least a realistic expectation of a 9-3 regular season.

    Bad, in that if we don’t and/or we get killed by rivals again, there’s not a youth excuse for the coaches to fall back on this time.

    Comment by Hunter-Gatherer — January 27, 2012 @ 8:29 am

  2. I heard Russell Shepherd was returning for LSU on offense and may be considered the other offensive starter. Is he a returning WR?

    Comment by Bart Franks — January 27, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

  3. I did consider Shepard, but LSU traditionally lines up with a tight end, two backs in the backfield and two wide receivers. Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. were LSU’s two main starters. Shepard only caught 14 passes this season.

    Comment by JErickson — January 27, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

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