Phil Steele quantified the number of returning starters for every Power Five team in 2015 as experience is especially critical when working with relatively young players in college vs. at the professional level. You can check out his data at that link where he also ranked all the teams by the number of returning starters excluding specialists. Well, punters are people too, so I won't be using his national ranks or his numbers for "total" (i.e., non-specialist) returning starters. The specialist-friendly data for the Pac-12 teams is included below in Tables 1 and 2.
Table 1. The returning starters for the Pac-12 teams for all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. In the event of a tie, teams are listed alphabetically.
Table 2. The number of returning starters by position group. Teams are listed in the same order as in Table 1.
Steele doesn't state the maximum number of starters for each position group. We know with pretty good certainty that he's only counting 1 for kicker and 1 for punter, thus a maximum of 2 for special teams. Defensively, I'm guessing that number is 11 (DL and LBs summing to 7 and 4 DBs). However, things get a little foggy for the offense. You'd expect it to also be the typical 11 here with the "standard" numbers being 1 QB, 2 RB/FB, 2 WR, 1 TE, and 5 OL. However, there are some teams with 4 returning at WR/TE, which means Steele may have expanded to account for spread offenses and how frequently WRs sub out. However-however, I don't see any FBS team with 2 returning starters at RB/FB, so maybe he cut down on that position? This means the max number for offense is probably 11 or 12, making the max number of total starters 24 or 25.
From Table 1, we see two teams are tied for fewest returning starters: Oregon State and Washington. For OSU, this can be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, experience can pay off on the field and potentially even offer up leadership during the transition from Coach Mike Riley to Gary Andersen. On the other hand, with Andersen installing his new system, it may help to have fresh faces who may be more receptive than guys who are entrenched in Riley's routines. For Washington, this low number isn't a surprise. Why the hell would you want to return to that crappy school in that crappy state?
On the flip side of things, we see UCLA is leading the Pac with 20 returning starters. With Steele's methodology allowing for a maximum of 24 or 25 starters, this is pretty huge for them. By returning 10 offensive starters, the transition at QB from Brett Hundley to any of their newbie QBs will be eased immensely.
Moving down the list, we have ASU. Their defense played pretty average by most Pac-12 metrics last season, but with so many returning starters on that side of the ball, I'd bet on that experience translating into a formidable team in 2015. Just in time for us to resume play against them. Is it too late to switch our regular season–finale opponent to Colorado?
Speaking of us, look who's next—it's us! If you're on this site, then odds are you're already aware that 2015 is a critical year for the Golden Bears with players getting more acclimated to our system and with so many experienced players. Offensively, the only positions where we're missing returners are at FB, WR/TE, and OL. When we take a look at these positions more closely, it becomes a little less worrisome. We don't return a starting FB because we don't really have a starting FB... We lose the productive and reliable Chris Harper at receiver, but we should have enough depth to be pretty comfortable there. Thus, the biggest cause for concern would be inexperience along the OL. We have to hope that whichever five guys emerge at this position can jell together and form a cohesive group of defense-mauling monsters. They will be expected to improve upon last year's performance, where they were rather adept at opening running lanes for our backs and allowed the third-fewest sacks in the conference.
The Buffaloes are in a pretty similar boat as us, as their fans are hinging their rebuilding hopes on returning a pretty large number of starters. A bit further down the list is USC, with 15 returning starters. Still, even with scholarship reductions potentially affecting their depth, I don't think any of us would be surprised to see them effortlessly reload with five-star guys at all of those positions. At this point, the Oregon dynasty has developed to the point where I expect the same of them despite only have 14 returning starters and, to a lesser extent, Stanfurd who will be looking to replace 12 starters.
Is this the year for Sonny Dykes with so many returning starters? Which teams do you think will be unfazed by having to find new starters?