One of the most telling indicators going into a season is offensive line experience.
A year ago, Auburn's five projected starters up front had 108 career starts, which was second in the SEC. That veteran offensive line was a huge key in the Tigers winning the national championship.
Then again, offensive line experience doesn't guarantee anything, either. Georgia went into last season with a combined 127 career starts among its five offensive linemen. The Bulldogs returned four players with more than 20 career starts in the offensive line, but wound up suffering through their first losing season since 1996.
As we look ahead to the 2011 season -- and thanks to Phil Steele for doing the legwork -- Alabama leads the way in the SEC with 90 career starts returning on its offensive line.
The SEC doesn't have any teams in the top 20 nationally when it comes to offensive line experience. Alabama is tied for No. 23 with Utah State. Senior center William Vlachos and junior guard Barrett Jones, who's expected to shift to left tackle, have combined for 52 of those 90 starts for the Crimson Tide.
Here's a look at where the SEC offensive lines rank nationally in career starts entering the 2011 season:
T-No. 23: Alabama (90)
T-28: Georgia (86)
T-37: Mississippi State (80)
T-41: LSU (78)
T-43: Kentucky (77)
T-43: Ole Miss (77)
T-56: South Carolina (70)
T-60: Vanderbilt (68)
T-89: Tennessee (50)
T-94: Arkansas (49)
T-111: Florida (27)
No. 118: Auburn (15)
A few things of note about the guys up front this coming season in the SEC:
Kentucky returns perhaps the best guard tandem in the league in senior Stuart Hines and junior Larry Warford.
Alabama's Barrett Jones is the best overall offensive lineman in the league, but will likely be playing a new position. Jones is expected to move from right guard to left tackle.
There's no shortage of talented centers in the SEC. Seven are on the 2011 Rimington Trophy spring watch list -- Ole Miss' A.J. Hawkins, South Carolina's T.J. Johnson, Georgia's Ben Jones, LSU's P.J. Lonergan, Kentucky's Matt Smith, Arkansas' Travis Swanson and Alabama's William Vlachos.
Tennessee has three players returning -- tackle Ja'Wuan James, guard Zach Fulton and center James Stone -- who combined for 26 starts last season as true freshmen.