If it's the off-season, it's time for Phil Steele to start dropping serious knowledge bombs all over the place. Today he get's the conversation off with a bang offering his tally of the 2012 returning starters. Included is the breakdown by conference which, to help our loyal readership, we will show here.
* designates offenses with a returning quarterback
Tennessee leads the SEC with a whopping 20 returning starters. Of all the woes Derek Dooley must contend with next year, experience ain't one of them. Auburn, a sieve for starters last season, will bring back 18 players who were in the starting lineup during 2011.
Interestingly, no less than ten teams are returning starting quarterbacks next season or just more than 70% of the teams in the conference. That's up from the less than 60% of returning signal callers the SEC saw last year.
Steele notes that incoming Vanderbilt coach James Franklin inherited a squad that returned a whopping 21 of 24 starters in 2011. The Commodore's abundance of experience continues into 2012 as they boast 18 returning starters matches Florida and Auburn for second in the conference.
Alabama's National Championship defense faces steep challenge with just 13 returning starters in 2012, tied with Kentucky, Mississippi State and Missouri at the bottom of the SEC. With at least three of Alabama's departees slated for the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, the whallop of talent will be particularly acute in Tuscaloosa. A run of highly-ranked recruiting classes has the larder well stocked but only a portion of it is fully battle-tested.