When preseason prognosticators sit down to project the college football season and bet on college football odds, one of the more important metrics has always been returning experience.
In an era of transfer portal movement and super seniors, roster management has become one of the most important elements of college football’s offseason. Pinpointing exactly which teams have the most returning talent is critical to accurate preseason analysis.
Obviously, it’s not the only metric — overall talent, coaching, scheduling discrepancies, close game, and turnover luck are all factored into official predictions. But returning talent is always a smart place to start the preseason conversation.
So using Athlon Sports’ official returning starters metric, which Power Five teams have the most returning starters back in 2022?
Mississippi State: 17
Quarterback Will Rogers returns for Mike Leach’s third season after throwing for almost 5,000 yards in the SEC’s No. 1 passing offense.
Leach’s air raid offense has clearly taken root, but the returning talent on defense is what makes this team so interesting. Defensive coordinator Zach Arnett took a defense ranked 107th in yards per play in 2019 to one that was 50th and 68th nationally the last two seasons.
Fans can expect another step forward in 2022 with eight returning starters on that side of the ball.
The Hawkeyes lived off of an elite defense and turnovers en route to a 6-0 start and 10 wins last season.
With eight starters back defensively, the Hawkeyes will once again be among the nation’s best — they ranked seventh nationally in yards allowed per play (4.72). The offense returns largely intact, including quarterback Spencer Petras.
The question remains: Is this a good thing or a bad thing after finishing 120th in offensive efficiency a year ago (4.67 yards per play)?
NC State: 17
The Wolfpack have quietly become one of the most consistent programs in the ACC. And with a conference-best 17 returning starters, that success should continue in 2022.
With every starting offensive skill player back, including quarterback Devin Leary, the only question on offense is how NC State fills the large void left by possible No. 1 overall pick Ikem Ekwonu at tackle?
Defensively, Dave Doeren loses just one starting player from a unit that was ranked No. 2 in the ACC and 16th nationally at 4.94 yards per play allowed.
The Jayhawks won’t be competing for a conference title anytime soon like other teams on this list. However, second-year head coach Lance Leipold clearly showed progress in his first season and now has more returning starters than any other team in the Big 12.
Did they find a quarterback in Jalon Daniels? Can they build off the upset road win over Texas from a year ago?
The ACC’s No. 1 defense returns eight very talented starters in 2022 — including the entire defensive line — and that once again will be the strength of the team.
For a program with massive expectations and a likely preseason top-10 ranking, the offense is where the development must happen. New offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter has to get more efficient play out of second-year quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and must improve an offensive line, which is coming off the two worst rushing seasons Clemson has had in almost a decade.
Florida State: 16
Head coach Mike Norvell is hoping a strong second-half finish a year ago catapults his Florida State team into 2022. After starting 0-4 last season, the Seminoles settled on a quarterback and won five of their final eight games. Now, with 16 starters back, Norvell is eyeing a big jump in Year 3. According to Bill Connelly of ESPN, the Noles lead the ACC with 82% of returning production this fall — which includes the nation’s second-most amount of returning defensive production at 90%.
Dino Babers might be on the college football hot seat as he enters a critical seventh season.
His Orangemen improved from one win to five wins last season and will return eight starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Garrett Shrader. Syracuse was 75th in yards per play on offense last fall but was sneaky good on defense, ranking 24th nationally. If Shrader continues to develop and the defense maintains its form, the ‘Cuse could surprise in the ACC this fall.