Numbers game

Numbers can be misleading. Noting that Vanderbilt's 21 returning starters for 2004 included promising junior quarterback Jay Cutler, I told anyone who would listen that Cutler was going to be a star and Vandy was going to be the surprise team of college football.

Well, I was half right. Cutler turned out to be a first-round NFL Draft pick but the Commodores were NOT the surprise team of 2004. They were the same old 'Dores, going 2-9 overall and 1-7 in Southeastern Conference play. The return of 21 starters sounded like a bigger deal than it was.

That taught me a lesson: Being heavily influenced by numbers is dangerous. Teams with an imposing number of starters/lettermen returning don't always win, as Vandy proved conclusively in '04.

Still, teams who return a lot of key players should be at least as good as they were the previous year. So, here's a look at the lettermen back and lettermen lost at each of the 12 SEC schools this fall:

Alabama: 48 lettermen returning, 16 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB John Parker Wilson, WR DJ Hall, C Antoine Caldwell, CB Simeon Castille, LB Prince Hall. Key losses: RB Kenneth Darby, FB Le'Ron McClain, DT Jeremy Clark, CB Ramzee Robinson

Arkansas: 48 lettermen returning, 21 lettermen lost. Key returnees: RB Darren McFadden, RB Felix Jones, WR Marcus Monk, QB Casey Dick, G Jonathan Luigs. Key losses: DE Jamaal Anderson, DB Chris Houston, OT Tony Ugoh, LB Sam Olajubutu, DT Keith Jackson

Auburn: 51 lettermen returning, 23 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Brandon Cox, DE Quentin Groves, WR Rod Smith, OT King Dunlap. Key losses: RB Kenny Irons, G Ben Grubbs, DB David Irons, PK John Vaughn, P Kody Bliss

Florida: 38 lettermen returning, 25 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Tim Tebow, WR Percy Harvin, WR Andre Caldwell, DE Derrick Harvey. Key losses: S Reggie Nelson, DE Jarvis Moss, DT Ray McDonald, DT Marcus Thomas, WR Dallas Baker, QB Chris Leak, LB Brandon Siler, LB Earl Everett

Georgia: 45 lettermen returning, 24 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Kregg Lumpkin, WR Sean Bailey, WR Mohamed Massaquoi. Key losses: CB Paul Oliver, DE Charles Johnson, DE Quentin Moses, LB Tony Taylor, TE Martrez Milner, P Gordon Ely-Kelso

Kentucky: 60 lettermen returning, 20, lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Andre Woodson, RB Rafael Little, WR Keenan Burton, LB Wesley Woodyard, TE Jacob Tamme, WR Dicky Lyons. Key losses: G Trai Williams, G Michael Aitcheson

LSU: 46 lettermen returning, 21 lettermen lost. Key returnees: DT Glenn Dorsey, WR Early Doucet, LB Ali Highsmith, QB Matt Flynn, RB Jacob Hester. Key losses: S LaRon Landry, QB JaMarcus Russell, WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Craig Davis

Ole Miss: 47 lettermen returning, 17 lettermen lost. Key returnees: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, OT Michael Oher, TE Robert Lane. Key losses: LB Patrick Willis, LB Rory Johnson, CB Trumaine McBride

Mississippi State: 43 lettermen returning, 22 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Michael Henig, TB Anthony Dixon, S Derek Pegues, WR Tony Burks. Key losses: LB Quinton Culberson, DT Deljuan Robinson, DB Jeramie Johnson

South Carolina: 54 lettermen returning: 12 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Blake Mitchell, RB Cory Boyd, WR Kenny McKinley, LB Jasper Brinkley, K Ryan Succop. Key losses: WR Sidney Rice, CB Fred Bennett, QB/WR Syvelle Newton

Tennessee: 45 lettermen returning, 25 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Erik Ainge, S Jonathan Hefney, LB Jerod Mayo, DE Xavier Mitchell, RB Arian Foster, P Britton Colquitt, TE Chris Brown, TE Brad Cottam. Key losses: WR Robert Meachem, DT Justin Harrell, G Arron Sears, DT Turk McBride, CB Jonathan Wade, PK James Wilhoit

Vanderbilt: 53 lettermen returning, 12 lettermen lost. Key returnees: QB Chris Nickson, WR Earl Bennett, LB Jonathan Goff, RB Cassen Jackson-Garrison. Key losses: WR Marlon White, LB Kevin Joyce

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