Returning starters are important, but don’t let that be the only indicator of success in Conference USA football this season.
Conference USA football media days are right around the corner. Every coach will stand in front of the media and offer some clarity into some of the narratives that have been surrounding their programs for the last few months. 2018 will be put to bed as everyone turns their collective focus to 2019, the season to come.
With the new year comes a familiar stat thrown out with increasing regularity: returning starters. Fans and media alike would love to boil down their expectations of next season into a digestible number. Returning starters has become a placeholder of sorts for that aggregate view. But it might be one of the more troubling data points to process.
For example, FIU and Western Kentucky sit atop Conference USA with 19 returning starters apiece. FIU won nine games last year and came close to playing for the conference championship. Western Kentucky won three games, finishing 2-6 in conference play.
The Hilltoppers have a new coach in the mix, but is it reasonable to assume they’ll be on par with FIU because the same number of guys will be taking the majority of the snaps? Not likely.
Likewise, Rice and Marshall each have six returning starters on defense but the Thundering Herd allowed 100 yards fewer per game than the Owls did last season. And for that matter, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility some of the Owls newcomers who will be starters in 2019 will be better than those who left the program last fall.
If there is any commonality between the returning starters across Conference USA and the rest of college football, it’s the lack of consistency. Returning starters doesn’t matter as much as returning high-caliber players. That’s more difficult to measure, and thus we’re stuck with a more vague, less helpful statistic. Returning starters are good; returning playmakers are better.
Find out more about the top returning playmakers in Conference USA by grabbing a copy of our 2019 Conference USA Preview.