We’ve assessed every Big 12 team’s depth chart and rated each team’s top 10 players. We’re redoing our position rankings this week. All of this is an effort to better evaluate the conference and its potential contenders in 2016. Another factor to consider: experience.
Just as we’ve done the past two years, here’s a deep dive into the post-spring rosters of every Big 12 team. We've added up the career starts for every returning player to better judge which teams are loaded or reloading. One note: The starts players made at other FBS schools or junior colleges are not counted in these numbers.
As you can see in the chart, Oklahoma State is No. 1 in this category thanks to the Big 12’s most experienced offense. The Cowboys did not lose much on that side of the ball (most notably J.W. Walsh and David Glidden). They did lose 164 starts on defense and a lot of leadership from that unit with Emmanuel Ogbah, Jimmy Bean, Kevin Peterson, Ryan Simmons and others. But to put the Pokes' advantage on offense in perspective, they return nearly the same number of career starts that TCU’s veteran-loaded offense did a year ago.
A few more takeaways from this year’s career starts data:
Defending Big 12 champ Oklahoma did lose a lot of big-name defenders, including a few early NFL draft entrants, but still ranks No. 4 in returning starts on defense. The Sooners' need to develop wide receivers is obvious (Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal graduated with 67 starts, and the returning receivers have 22), but Oklahoma is right in the middle of the pack in terms of experience. Not overly concerning.
The Big 12 program that lost the most talent: Texas Tech. As if repairing its defense wasn’t hard enough, the Red Raiders lost a total of 181 career starts on defense and return just 90. The dismissal of linebacker Dakota Allen last week clinched Tech’s last-place spot in total starts returning (205) as of today. To put in perspective what they lost on offense: the senior group of Le'Raven Clark, DeAndre Washington, Jakeem Grant, Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales combined for 184 starts. On the bright side, quarterback Patrick Mahomes does have eight returning receivers who have started at least one game.
The "young team" label is still applicable for Texas, but the Longhorns do have the third-most returning experience at 230 starts. That’s in large part because they didn’t lose too much -- only six departing players had 20-plus career starts. Keep in mind, their impressive crop of freshmen last season combined for one-third of the 230 starts.
Two units that must reload this offseason: West Virginia’s defense and Kansas State’s offense. They are the least experienced units in the conference. Only four returning West Virginia defenders have started more than one game. K-State’s number of returning starts on offense (75) might be slightly misleading, since leading rusher Charles Jones didn’t record a single start last season. But the Wildcats did lose 130 starts from their offensive line alone.
One curious trend with this year’s numbers: No Big 12 team appears to have an overwhelmingly experienced defense. Iowa State leads with conference with 140 returning starts on defense. That number would have ranked fourth-best a year ago. I don’t know if that suggests we could see a slightly more wide-open Big 12 race or more points scored. Maybe it doesn’t mean much. We shall see.