(Written by Ken Crawford)
One of the many “joys” of the off-season is finding statistics that will help predict the success of teams in the fall. There’s all kinds of them: Returning points, returning touchdowns, returning yards, returning catches, returning starters, returning tackles, returning sacks, returning pass breakups, returning interceptions, etc.
The thing all of these stats have in common, besides being about “returning” is that they’re easy to calculate. All you have to do is take the players who have stayed with the team and total their numbers for the stats you’re interested in. Any bozo can spend 10 minutes on YahooSports or ESPN or Rivals to produce these number.
What often gets overlooked is that there are a whole bunch of statistics that one would like to have but are more difficult to compile. How about: returning fullback blocks, returning O-Line pancakes… OR how about returning starts?
Particularly for the offensive line where there aren’t any NCAA tracked stats, it’s difficult to determine statistically how much strength is coming back. Leave it to someone like the Wall Street Journal to take the time to compile returning offensive line starts. Here’s the numbers for the Pac-10:
- USC 91
- WSU 82
- UW 67
- UA 66
- ASU 56
- UCLA 56
- Cal 53
- Stan 53
- OSU 37
- UO 20
(As an interesting aside, the way this came to me was via Oregon Duck fans who were disconcerted to see that Oregon was so low. When the first article came out they only showed a handful of examples of the better teams and who was statistically strong and who was weak. It wasn’t until yesterday that the WJS released all the data and showed that Oregon was the 3rd worst in D-I football, plus the absolute worst in a BCS conference, ahead of only Ball St. (16) and Memphis (18) overall.)
What these numbers say to me is a few things:
The first is that my concerns about this Cal O-Line are well founded. Starts are not the only metric to judge a line by, but watching them get owned by the D-Line all spring made me a little bit suspicious. True, our D-Line looks great, but it’s bad to see Cal at the bottom of the middle pack in starting experience.
The next is that this might be the year to bet against the Oregon teams. Oregon State lost a LOT last year minus a few skill players on offense. They’re key to success last year was an opportunistic offense with the Rodgers brothers and a very stout defense. Losing 8 defensive starters made me confident they were going to take a step back. Seeing their O-Line is in trouble (who was the Most Valuable Unit in the USC upset) makes me pretty confident that they’ll be a middle of the Pac team. As for Oregon, only 20 combined starts… OUCH! Luckily for them, they’ve got a great system and a lot of reloading talent so I think they’ll still be tough, but this hurt my respect for them a bit.
Of course then there is USC who always seems to have 1 key area of strength to keep them in the mix. Weak offensive year? They put up the nations most stingy defense BY FAR. Weak defensive year and breaking in a QB (this year)? They bring back an O-Line that means they won’t need to throw the ball a lot and when they do, he’ll be well protected. ARG!?! These guys are still way ahead of everyone else as a program.
The final thing is just how much line strength the supposed weaker teams are returning. WSU with 82… WOW! Then with UW and UA both in the mid-60′s one’s got to think that these three teams may be less of a pushover this year than many might be expecting.
In any case, lets hope the talent on Cal’s O-Line will be enough to make up for it’s mediocre level of experience.