- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is no simple measure that consistently predicts college football success. The best is pedigree, but even that often fails. Just ask Notre Dame and Texas.
While returning starters -- most particularly a quarterback -- are the easiest way to map out how a team stands in the preseason, there are more than a few folks who believe a veteran offensive line is as meaningful as anything.
No less than the Wall Street Journal put that theory forward in 2009, and it's pretty clear that it's a good thing to have experience returning on the O-line.
Last season, just eight of the 25 teams in the final AP poll ranked among the bottom half out of 126 teams when it came to returning offensive line starts in 2013. While leading the nation with lines with 124 and 123 starts didn't help Texas and Tennessee much a year ago, eight final Top 25 teams ranked in the top 30 when it came to offensive line starts, including No. 10 Florida State (national champion), No. 9 Michigan State (Rose Bowl champion), No. 27 Stanford (Pac-12 champion) and No. 3 Duke (nation's most surprising 10-win team).
So let's look at how the Pac-12 stacks up when it comes to returning offense line starts. We did the North Division on Monday. Today, it's the South.
Returning O-line starts: 104
Notes: The Wildcats have four returning starters from 2013, but this number is big because tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele will be fourth-year starters -- 38 and 37 career starts apiece. Whoever wins the QB job will have great WRs and a good O-line in front of him.
Returning O-line starts: 88
Notes: All that youth forced into action in 2013 becomes a 2014 benefit. Those guys will be older, stronger and more seasoned after playing pretty darn well last fall. The Bruins are led by center Jake Brendel (27 starts), but the wild card is transfer Malcolm Bunche, who made 14 starts at Miami.
Returning O-line starts: 60
Notes: Jamil Douglas will be in the Morris Trophy conversation this fall, though he's a more natural guard than LT, where he finished spring practice. He leads the Sun Devils' three returning starters with 27 starts. The general feeling in Tempe, however, is this could be an A-list O-line with Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, healthy and dominant during spring practice, and Nick Kelly at center.
Returning O-line starts: 59
Notes: The Buffaloes welcome back three starters, led by OG Daniel Munyer, who has started 27 games. This unit must improved for the Buffs to take a step up in the South. It will be interesting to see if 6-foot-7, 300-pound right tackle Stephane Nembot breaks through. He looks like an NFL tackle, even if he's yet to consistently play like one.
Returning O-line starts: 53
Notes: Versatile Max Tuerk leads USC with 20 starts, but the story with the Trojans O-line might be youth. A guy like Aundrey Walker, with 18 career starts, isn't guaranteed a starting job with a strong crew of hungry freshmen and redshirt freshmen battling for first-team status. This unit will be talented, but it might be a year or two away from peaking.
Returning O-line starts: 46
Notes: This spring, LG Jeremiah Poutasi looked like the future NFL draft pick he was projected to be last year. He, with 22 starts, and OG Junior Salt (12 starts) give the Utes two all-conference candidates, at least in terms of pure physical ability. Siaosi Aiono, an eight-game starter, is a much better fit at center than RT. Things are unsettled at the tackle spots.
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