The SEC is truly a defensively driven league. History tells us that returning starters on offense in the SEC is a virtually worthless statistic when considering an improved win total.
The same history tells us that SEC teams that return seven or more starters on defense are very likely to improve their win total from the previous season.
Returning both the kicker and punter in the SEC has been statistically as important as returning the quarterback for teams that improve their win total. For teams that decrease their win total, not returning their quarterback was about two times the factor as not returning both kickers.
For teams that dropped their win total at least three games from one season to the next, the vast majority did not return their quarterback.
There is only about a 65 percent chance that an SEC team returning their quarterback will improve their win total from the previous season. Not returning the quarterback is a factor in about 64 percent of SEC teams that decrease their seasonal win totals.
For Auburn in 2012, this data is a mixed bag of goods.
Auburn 2012 Returning Players with Starting Experience on Defense
Many have claimed that Auburn only returns seven starters on defense. This is a very conservative number, and somewhat misleading.
Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae were starters at defensive end in 2011. Dee Ford also has starting experience at defensive end.
Jeffrey Whittaker and Gabe Wright were starters at defensive tackle in 2011.
Kenneth Carter also has starting experience at defensive tackle.
Jonathan Evans, Jake Holland and Daren Bates all started in 2011 at linebacker.
Demetruce McNeal, Chris Davis, Jermaine Whitehead, T’Sharvan Bell, Ryan White, Ryan Smith and Jonathan Mincy all had starts in 2011 at defensive back.
The fact is that Auburn returns over 16 players with at least some starting experience on defense.
Of these players with starting experience, over half were rated as 4-star or above recruits by recruiting services.
Due to seasonal injuries, Auburn does only return seven starters on defense if the final depth chart from 2011 is used as a guideline, and this is where superficial analysts have gone astray.
The fact is that Brian VanGorder inherited a superbly talented and deeply experienced defensive unit with which to implement his defensive scheme. He has never had this luxury at any previous collegiate stop in his coaching career.
While these players are learning a new defensive scheme, they understand their positions and what it takes to play in the SEC. Every projected starter for the 2012 Auburn defense is likely to have at least some starting experience in their career. Every projected starter VanGorder is likely to take to Atlanta has played in that very venue in front of a very large crowd.
The 2012 Auburn defense is not going to be wide eyed and green to start the season. It is a defense that has been to some of the most hostile venues in the nation, and they will know what to expect.
Auburn returns more defensive players with at least some starting experience than any other team in the SEC for 2012.
Auburn returns both kickers for 2012 and they were two of the best in the nation in 2011.
Returning Starting Quarterback
Contrary to most reports, Auburn does return their starting quarterback. It is true that he appears to be in grave danger of being beaten out of his starting position, but he does remain on the team. Logic should tell anyone that a deposed starter through competition should lead to better performance at the position.
Returning Starters on Offense
The fact is that Auburn returns every starter on offense with the exception of the offensive line. Auburn will be replacing two tackles on the offensive line for 2012. Many analysts have listed Auburn as returning only seven offensive starters. Auburn actually returns eight starters from the final 2011 depth chart, and has four more offensive players with starting experience.
Scot Loeffler inherited the most talented offensive roster Auburn has had in recent years with 10 players listed with starting experience, and they were formerly rated by recruiting services at 4-stars or above.
This is a group of offensive players who understand their position and have played in some of the toughest venues in the nation.
It is no wonder the Auburn family is supremely confident that their team will perform on a higher level than in 2011. The fact that the team has picked up the new offensive and defensive schemes much faster than most assumed is likely directly linked to the overall collegiate experience of this Auburn team.
Taking into account the overall returning starting experience for the 2012 Auburn Tigers, history tells us there is better than a 90 percent chance that they improve their win numbers from the 2011 season.
Taking into account the overall number of returning players with at least some starting experience, the 2012 Auburn team has a very high probability of increasing their seasonal win total by three games or more, according to conference history.