Longhorns High on Returning OL Starts

When gamblers look to project a team's record for the next season, they have a variety of statistics that they look at.

Last spring, we took a look at one of those statistics — turnover margin. The theory there is simple: teams that enjoy a huge turnover margin one year aren't as likely to have that big a margin the next year. The inverse also applies. If a team is 6-6, but was last in the country in turnover margin, that's a squad that has a chance to win more games the next year because it's likely that said team won't lose that margin as badly (if at all) the next season.

But another stat to look at, and one that is often cited by magazines like Phil Steele, is career offensive line starts returning. Offensive line, perhaps more than any other position, is largely about continuity. Players must make rapid-fire decisions about who to block and how to block them, and it makes sense that a line that is used to working together typically makes those decisions more fluidly. Even beyond an individual's ability to recognize a certain blitz or alignment, it's valuable in terms of knowing exactly how the guy next to him is going to handle that same situation.

With that said, here's what Texas — returning, of course, all five starters from 2012 — is looking at in 2013:

Mason Walters — 38 starts

Trey Hopkins — 29 starts

Dominic Espinosa — 26 starts

Josh Cochran — 20 starts

Donald Hawkins — 11 starts

Total — 124 starts

Of course, that number is worthless without a reference point. So, thanks to Phil Steele, here's the number of offensive line starts each team returned in 2012 (counted in May):

1) Ball State — 115 starts

2) NC State — 112

T-3) West Virginia — 105

T-3) Tennessee — 105

5) LSU — 104

6) FIU — 103

7) Oklahoma — 102

8) Kent State — 101

9) Ohio — 98

T-10) Alabama — 95

T-10) Texas A&M — 95

T-10) Eastern Michigan — 95

T-59) Texas — 63

So Texas figures to have, if not the most experienced line in 2013, then at least one of the most experienced groups. And while Steele doesn't indicate whether he's just looking at the starting five, it's worth mentioning that even if Texas makes a few changes, the Longhorns will still sit in an outstanding spot.

Texas is looking to potentially replace at least one of its linemen (if not more), and though that wouldn't affect the number of returning starts on the team, it would certainly affect the number in the starting lineup. The two most likely to be replaced — one of the tackles (should Texas get Desmond Harrison Monday) and Espinosa at center — would still leave the Longhorns as one of the most experienced lines in college football.

Let's say that the two bounced out are Espinosa and Cochran (because he's the more experienced tackle). That would still leave the Longhorns with 78 returning starts in the starting lineup, a total that would have tied Texas with Bowling Green for the No. 25 spot in 2012.

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