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Last week, we broke down the teams with the most and least returning starters on the defensive side of the ball. This week, it’s time to look at the offense from this perspective – one of my favorite handicapping angles to use during the first couple of weeks of the season. (access my 2011 returning starters chart here)
The logic behind this angle is fairly straightforward: The team with a greater number of returning starters should have an advantage in the early part of the season over its opponent, who have more players still learning to deal with the pressure, expectations, and performance that comes with being a starter in Division 1-A (or FBS) college football.
Offensive Units with the Most Returning Starters in 2011
Vanderbilt: Returning starters on offense - 11. Seeing an 11 here, one would assume that Vandy returns their entire starting group on offense. And that’s true…and false. The good news is it’s mostly true but there are a few players missing from 2010 who started quite a few games – C Joey Bailey as an example. But overall this unit should be much better. The offensive line will be much better due to experience and should pave the way for RB’s Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. QB is a question mark. Yeah, Larry Smith is back again and he has started in the past but been far from productive.
Texas A&M: Returning starters on offense - 10. Last season, Jerrod Johnson’s shoulder injury appeared to sink the Aggies. However, it provided the opportunity for QB Ryan Tannehill to step in and play and the team ripped off six straight behind him. Now a senior, Tannehill returns ask the unquestioned starter and has talent all around him. Not only is the running game quite capable with RB Cyrus Gray working behind an experienced line but Tannehill has lots of weapons to throw to. This unit has averaged over 30 points a game the last two years and I see that streak extending to three this season.
Tulsa: Returning starters on offense - 10. Everyone knows about electric offenses in programs such as Boise and Houston but the Golden Hurricanes don’t take a backseat to many when it comes to production these last few years. In fact, in three of the last four years this offense has averaged over 40 points a game. With those type of numbers, it’s hard to ask for much more but I do expect this group to be better, mainly based on the fact that the offensive line returns completely intact and is comprised almost entirely of juniors and seniors. That should provide holes for backs and protection for the QB – much to the dismay of opposing defensive coordinators. Look out.
Louisiana-Monroe: Returning starters on offense - 10. Monroe opens with a brutal schedule, visiting FSU, TCU, and Iowa in three of their first four games. I expect them to take some lumps in those games but by the time their Sun Belt games starts, this team could provide some nice value – and that will mainly be because of their offense. The one glaring issue is the loss of RB Frank Goodin. However, Coach Todd Berry has installed a system where multiple players get a chance to run the ball – including QB Kolton Browning – so the loss won’t be as noticeable as on most teams. The real upside will come from an offensive line that returns a ton of experience. Start tuning into the Warhawks around the beginning of October.
Ball State: Returning starters on offense - 10. After averaging nearly 35 points a game in 2008, the Cardinals only returned 3 starters on offense and predictably, their production plummeted to 19.2 ppg in 2009. Despite the fact that entire group returned last season, the offense was only able to get marginally better, rising to 22 ppg. And again, this group returns almost everyone for 2011 and while I expect improvement, this unit won’t run away with too many games. The QB position will be up for grabs and other skill positions lack real promise but the offensive line should hold up their end of the bargain. Nothing to get too excited about here.
Southern Methodist: Returning starters on offense - 10. Lots of talent returning to Dallas for the Mustangs. One noticeable loss however will be that of WR Aldrick Robinson. Robinson was clearly the go to guy in 2010, racking up 1301 yards and 14 TDs along the way. No one player will up for that production but QB Kyle Padron will still have plenty of success and RB Zach Line should be a workhorse. This group should average about 28 ppg in 2011.
BYU: Returning starters on offense - 10. After five straight years averaging over 30 points a game, the Cougars came back to earth a bit in 2010, “only” averaging 26.2. With 10 starters returning this season, look for BYU to get back to business as usual in terms of offensive production. The offensive line is nearly intact and should provide lots of time for QB Jake Heaps to improve on his freshman campaign.
Offensive Units with the Least Returning Starters in 2011
Hawaii: Returning starters on offense - 3. There are a handful of college football programs synonymous with offensive production and Hawaii certainly falls into that category. 2008 & 2009 were a slight departure from that but the Warriors were back on track last year, averaging almost 40 points a game. That output will be tough to match this season despite the return of QB Bryant Moniz. The senior signal caller tossed a cool 39 TDs last year but will go under center behind a line which will have to replace four starters. Making matters worse, Moniz lost his top two targets from last year as well as the top two rushers. Yes, Hawaii will again figure out a way to be productive on offense, but this unit will clearly take a step back this season.
Louisville: Returning starters on offense - 3. I’m a big fan of coach Charlie Strong and no question his Louisville program is headed in the right direction but I have a feeling any success for this team in 2011 will stem from their defense. Not only will they be breaking in a new QB but the offensive line will be very young. Look for Victor Anderson, a senior running back with some starting experience, to be the face of this unit.
Memphis: Returning starters on offense - 3. This one could be really ugly. If there was ever a case for a team being better off that it doesn’t have starters returning, this could be it. After all, Memphis only averaged 14.1 points a contest in 2010, scoring more than 20 points in just two games. The good news is there will be fresh faces everywhere this season. It won’t add up to much better production for the 2011 campaign but should at least put the program on the right track for success in future years.
Texas Christian: Returning starters on offense - 3. The past four seasons in Ft. Worth have seen steady progress from the Horned Frogs offense. From 26.1 ppg in 2007 all the way to 41.6 in 2011. Replacing starters all across this unit – and especially QB Andy Dalton – will be a tough task and the production will certainly head south. That said, coach Gary Patterson hasn’t had all his success just on the strength of his defense. The good news is with Ed Wesley back at RB, there is some potential for the ground attack. That will largely depend on how quickly Patterson can get his new offensive line to gel.
Auburn: Returning starters on offense - 3. Needless to say, it was a special year for Auburn in 2010 – especially on offense. Led by QB Cam Newton, the Tigers averaged nearly 42 points a game on their run to the title. With the clear majority of that unit gone this season – especially Netwon – it’s going to be a much different story. RB Michael Dyer showed how special he was as a freshman in 2010 but that was behind a talented line and with defenses focusing on Newton. Neither will help him this year and I see Auburn’s offensive production to be cut in half – or more – from last year.
Texas-El Paso: Returning starters on offense - 2. The good news is the Miners get to open 2011 against Stony Brook. Against the Sea Wolves, I think UTEP will be able to rack up some points. Unfortunately, after that layup it will get considerably more difficult for coach Mike Price. And that’s not necessarily saying the competition will be all that good, it’s just going to be a struggle all year on offense, especially with a completely rebuilt offensive line. The good news is at the end of this year UTEP will have some nice experience to build on for 2012.