- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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We’ve broken down the Big 12’s returning talent in a variety of ways this spring, but here’s one more factor worth considering: experience.
There’s no perfect way to capture how experienced a team is or estimate how that will affect its fortunes in 2014. But a deep dive into the raw data revealed some intriguing takeaways about which Big 12 squads might be loaded and which ones are reloading.
We’ve scanned the post-spring rosters for every Big 12 team and added up the total number of career starts for each and every returning player.
The unvarnished answer: Texas leads the Big 12 in returning starts, not only as a team, but also in career starts on offense and on defense.
Here are the results, sorted by offense, defense and the combined total along with how each unit ranks in the Big 12:
Here’s the caveat: Texas was No. 1 in the Big 12 in career starts last year, too.
The Longhorns had a combined 627 career starts on their roster by the end of 2013 and still went 8-5. The jury is still out on whether that team overachieved or underachieved, but having more experience than everyone else didn’t save Mack Brown’s job.
That Texas is tops in these categories shouldn’t be much of a surprise. From 2010-12, Brown put 46 true freshmen on the field. Many of them became starters early on, and UT brings back 31 players with starting experience this fall.
Surprised to see Oklahoma State at the bottom of the charts? Don’t be. Though OSU is making a lot of folks’ preseason top-25 lists, the Cowboys are very young.
This was the second-most-experienced team in the league last season with 592 career starts by the end of 2013. Between graduating seniors and some spring departures, OSU lost a total of 449 career starts this offseason.
Only five Oklahoma State defenders with starting experience return. Lineman Daniel Koenig is the only offensive player with double-digit career starts. Keep that in mind if this ends up being a rebuilding year for the Cowboys.
You’ll notice Baylor is also near the bottom of the Big 12 in terms of returning starting experience. Not a big shock there, since last year’s conference champs have to replace more than a dozen starters.
Baylor’s coaches would argue those numbers are misleading, though, and they might be right. For Bryce Petty, being a fifth-year player is probably more valuable than having 13 career starts. And some of its better defenders -- Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings, Orion Stewart -- played major minutes in 2013 but weren’t credited with starts.
TCU’s defense ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 in returning starts with 170. Its offense lost only 85 total starts this offseason, second-fewest in the league behind Texas Tech (82). Might that be a recipe for a comeback season?
Oklahoma, the consensus league favorite for 2014, ranks third in the Big 12 in all three total start categories. The Sooners bring back 29 players with starting experience.
One more observation: For the teams at the bottom of last year’s Big 12 standings, these experience numbers provide some encouragement.
Iowa State’s offense ranks No. 2 in the conference in total career starts. Kansas has 18 players on offense with starting experience. West Virginia has 31 players who’ve started games.
Again, how much these numbers play a factor this fall is impossible to say. But they do at least give us a baseline measurement of how experience each Big 12 roster possesses, and an indication of which ones might need big production from young players to fight for the title belt.