Banking on experience
Banking on experience
2012-02-28 00:00:00

Does a team's number of returning starters dramatically impact its level of postseason success? DCTF's Greg Tepper takes a look at all of last year's 11-man state semifinalists to try and find out.

 By Greg Tepper
 DCTF Associate Editor

Believe it or not, the DCTF office is already starting to receive a handful of questionnaires from coaches for the 2012 summer edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. Yes, we most certainly start early – putting out the 400-page “bible of Texas football” demands it – and we’re always thankful when coaches share a similar swiftness.

Each questionnaire gives us a 50,000-foot view of each high school football team in the state entering the 2012 season, and while it doesn’t paint a complete picture – we usually try to follow up with the coach personally to get a better feel of each individual team – it can certainly be a tool for helping to get a certain feel for each squad.

And sure enough, one of the first things I make sure to glance at as each questionnaire rolls in is the number of returning starters each team will feature entering 2012. That is, common wisdom holds, one of the best barometers of a team’s future performance; after all, experienced players are better players.

But as loyal readers have figured out by now, one of my favorite hobbies is to explore, prod, research and sometimes debunk common wisdom. It’s kind of my thing.

Common wisdom holds that in order to make a deep run into the playoffs, you need the kind of returning experience – especially at key positions like quarterback, offensive line and linebackers – that provide both valuable leadership and top-level talent. After all, if you’re a multi-year starter, chances are you’re pretty good at football.

So, what about in 2011? Did the trend of experienced teams rising to the top hold?

To figure that out, I took a look at every 11-man team that qualified for a state semifinal. That means that I took the final four for all ten 11-man playoff brackets – from 5A down to 1A – and figured out how many returning starters they had entering 2011. I figured that would give me a good cross-section of elite teams from a variety of different classes, yet a large enough sample – 40 teams – to give us reasonably trustworthy data. I broke it out into offensive starters, defensive starters and total returning starters.

(And remember: the maximum number of returning starters that a team can have is 22 – 11 on offense, 11 on defense. It may seem obvious, but I’m here to help.)

So, here’s what I found.

Team O Ret. Starters D Ret. Starters Total Ret. Starters
Southlake Carroll 6 5 11
Dallas Skyline 6 4 10
FB Hightower 5 6 11
SA Madison 5 2 7
Mansfield Timberview 8 8 16
Spring Dekaney 7 4 11
Port Arthur Memorial 7 5 12
Cibolo Steele 5 4 9
Hewitt Midway 2 4 6
John Tyler 6 3 9
Pearland Dawson 7 6 13
Lake Travis 5 7 12
Aledo 8 5 13
Corsicana 5 6 11
Manvel 8 5 13
CC Calallen 4 5 9
Alvarado 5 7 12
Henderson 6 6 12
Tyler Chapel Hill 8 6 14
West Columbia 5 8 13
Monahans 3 5 8
Argyle 6 7 13
Coldspring-Oakhurst 4 5 9
Wimberley 8 8 16
Muleshoe 5 5 10
Melissa 5 10 15
Tatum 3 3 6
Hempstead 8 7 15
Cisco 6 6 12
Corsicana Mildred 9 7 16
Lexington 5 1 6
Refugio 4 4 8
Stamford 3 3 6
Mart 3 5 8
Garrison 8 7 15
Mason 10 5 15
Wellington 7 7 14
Munday 6 7 13
Tenaha 9 10 19
Burton 7 7 14

Some conclusions from the data we put together in the above graph:

-Sure enough, teams that made the final four had a higher-than-average number of returning starters, though not by much: 11.55 returning starters is the average for the state semifinalists, compared to 11 for your run-of-the-mill team. Experience, it appears, pays.

-Strangely enough, successful teams were more experienced on offense than on defense. These 40 teams averaged 5.9 returning starters on offense against just 5.6 returning starters on defense. That surprised me, as it tends to run counterintuitive to the “defense wins championships” mantra.

-The most experienced team to crack the state semifinals is also the most experienced team to take home a state championship: the Tenaha Tigers, who returned an astonishing 19 starters from their 2010 team. That’s a big reason DCTF was so high on them to begin the year. The most experienced individual units all came from the small-school ranks: 2A Melissa’s defense, 1A Mason’s offense and 1A Tenaha’s defense all featured 10 returning starters. And all won state championships.

-The least experienced teams to reach a state semifinal: Hewitt Midway, Tatum, Lexington and Stamford, each of whom returned just six starters from the previous year. Lexington also laid claim to having the most inexperienced individual unit to reach a final four, as the Eagles’ defense returned just a single starter from 2010.

-The most inexperienced team to win a state title: the Refugio Bobcats, with just eight starters back from their 2010 squad.

 -There doesn’t appear to be a clear corollary between classification and the importance of returning starters, but it’s worth noting that of the 11 teams with 14 or more returning starters, just one of them – Cinderella squad Mansfield Timberview – was bigger than Class 3A.

Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and

He can be reached via e-mail, via Twitter (@Tepper) and via the DCTF Facebook page.

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