The Big Ten's returning starters in 2013

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
2:30
PM ET
When sizing up prospects for a new season, most people usually point first to one stat: the number of returning starters.

That doesn't always equate to success, but it's a pretty good gauge of experience and talent. Last season, Indiana had the most returning starters in the Big Ten with 19, and improved its win total from one to four. Ohio State was second with 18 returning starters and went 12-0. On the flip side, Purdue was tied for third with the most returning starters (16) and went 6-7, while Northwestern won 10 games despite returning just 12 starters from the previous season.

With all that in mind, football prognosticator extraordinaire Phil Steele has come out with his list of returning starters for every FBS team. Let's take a look at how the Big Ten stacks up:

1. Indiana (19 total returning starters)

Offense: 10 (QB included)
Defense: 9
National rank: T-1st

2. Minnesota (16)

Offense: 10 (QB included)
Defense: 6
National rank: T-17th

T-3. Michigan State (15)

Offense: 8 (QB included)
Defense: 7
National rank: T-24th

T-3. Northwestern (15)

Offense: 8 (QB included)
Defense: 7
National rank: T-24th

T-3. Wisconsin (15)

Offense: 8 (QB included)
Defense: 7
National rank: T-24th

6. Iowa (14)

Offense: 7
Defense: 7
National rank: T-41st

T-7. Nebraska (13)

Offense: 9 (QB included)
Defense: 4
National rank: T-58th

T-7. Ohio State (13)

Offense: 9 (QB included)
Defense: 4
National rank: T-58th

T-7. Penn State (13)

Offense: 8
Defense: 5
National rank: T-58th

T-7. Purdue (13)

Offense: 5
Defense: 8
National rank: T-58th

11. Illinois (12)

Offense: 9 (QB included)
Defense: 3
National rank: T-88th

12. Michigan (12)

Offense: 6 (QB included)
Defense: 6
National rank: T-88th

Some quick takeaways:
  • You can see why there's hope for a bounceback season for the Big Ten. Ten of the 12 teams rank in the upper half of the FBS in number of returning starters, including five in the top 24. And nine of the teams return their starting quarterbacks.
  • Indiana once again tops the league in returning starters, a testament to Kevin Wilson's severe youth movement in 2011. The Hoosiers also get back Tre Roberson at quarterback from his broken leg. But they might be breaking in new, young starters on defense as they continue to search for talent. Still, the experience could help IU get to a bowl game.
  • Minnesota has a lot of starters back, but also a lot of questions, as they lose key defensive players like D.L. Wilhite, Michael Carter, Troy Stoudermire, Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis. The Gophers also need more playmakers on offense, though they showed they could be a physical run team in the bowl with a healthy offensive line.
  • Of the three teams tied for third, Michigan State has the most question marks. The Spartans have a returning starting quarterback, but there's no guarantee that Andrew Maxwell starts in 2013. And they lost their two best playmakers in Le'Veon Bell and Dion Sims to the draft. Northwestern brings back almost all of its top players, while Wisconsin had a very small senior class in 2012.
  • Last year's two division winners, Ohio State and Nebraska, each return nine starters on offense, but only four on defense. Both should be among the highest-scoring teams in the league and the country. But their seasons will likely depend on how well they integrate young players in key spots on defense.
  • Illinois can't even finish high in these rankings. Though after an abysmal season, it might be time to break in some new faces. At least new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has some experience to work with, if not an abundance of dynamic athletes. Michigan also ranks low with only 12 returning starters. We know this will be a young Wolverines team in many spots, including the offensive line. But with Devin Gardner back and some excellent recent recruiting, Michigan has a chance to avoid a drop-off if those young players perform well.

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