Josh Dobbs, Josh Smith

Starter continuity in the SEC

Every year when I am deep in the throes of the final sprint for the Gameday on Rocky Top magazine, my subconscious bombards me with new questions that I’d love to know the answers to but don’t have the time or space to address in the magazine. One of those questions this year concerns the degree to which starter continuity impacts a team.

We’ve been using games played and started as sort of a rough proxy for experience for a couple of years now, but we’ve not really looked very closely at the issue from the standpoint of team continuity. As I started doing so, I quickly realized that these are deep waters, so with this post, we’re just wading in to see if the water’s warm.

I looked at every SEC team and pulled out every player who started every game for his team last season. The data is at the end of the post, but here are a few quickie questions and tentative answers.

How many guys should a team expect to start every game each season?

The answer to this question is depressingly low, but not altogether unexpected for a collision sport like football. Here’s the summary from the 2017 season:

  • 11 — Ole Miss
  • 10 — South Carolina
  • 9 — Florida, Alabama, Arkansas
  • 8 — Georgia, Missouri, Vanderbilt, LSU, Mississippi State
  • 7 — Kentucky, Auburn
  • 5 — Tennessee
  • 2 — Texas A&M

Based solely on last year’s data, a team can reasonably expect only 7-9 guys to start every game. Even under the best of circumstances, half of the guys who take the first snap of the season on offense or defense are going down, one way or another.

Ole Miss led the SEC last fall with 11 guys starting every game, but the majority of the teams were bunched right around eight players going wire-to-wire as starters. As you’d expect, Tennessee didn’t fare well with only five, but A&M was even less fortunate with only two.

Does starter continuity correlate to winning?

Somewhat surprisingly, early returns on this question look like, “Nope.” Ole Miss had the best starter continuity last fall but finished with a 6-6 (3-5) record. The Aggies had the fewest number of guys starting every game, and they finished better than the Rebels with a record of 7-6 (4-4). The two SEC teams that played for the national championship were right in the middle of the pack, no better than teams like Vanderbilt and Arkansas, who finished toward the bottom of the league.

If overall starter continuity matters at all, it matters much less than things like overall team talent, player development, and coaching. That’s not shocking, but finding that it might not matter at all is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.

Are certain position groups more important to starter continuity?

Hmm. Maybe? Here’s the position group breakdown.

  • OL — 29
  • DBs — 21
  • DL — 20
  • LBs — 15
  • QBs — 7
  • RBs — 6
  • WRs — 5
  • TEs — 5

Just going by the rough numbers, it looks like there’s not much to see here. But when you start looking closer at the positions and the teams’ records and conference standings, you start to get the feeling that starter continuity at quarterback may matter, and it may matter a lot.

The SEC’s top teams all had the same starting quarterbacks for nearly the entire season. Jalen Hurts started every game for national champion Alabama, as did Jarrett Stidham for SEC West Division Champ Auburn. SEC Champ Georgia’s Jake Fromm didn’t start every game, but he only missed it by a portion of one quarter, as Jacob Eason started the first game but went down on the second offensive possession. Fromm took over at that point and went the distance as the starter. Georgia also played more games than any other team (15), so it’s essentially as close to starting every game as a guy can get without actually doing it. (As an aside, Florida played only 11 games to Georgia’s 15.)

The other SEC teams at the top of their division standings also had their starting quarterbacks the entire way: Jake Bentley for South Carolina, Stephen Johnson for Kentucky, Drew Lock for Missouri, and Danny Etling for LSU. We’ll keep an eye on that this fall.

Here’s the data, ordered by division standings:

SEC EAST

Georgia (8) (13-2, 7-1)

Aaron Davis DB
J.R. Reed DB
Dominick Sanders DB
Roquan Smith LB
Lamont Gaillard OL
Andrew Thomas OL
Isaiah Wynn OL
Nick Chubb RB

South Carolina (10) (9-4, 5-3)

Jamarcus King DB
Chris Lammons DB
Taylor Stallworth DL
D.J. Wonnum DL
T.J. Brunson LB
Skai Moore LB
Alan Knott OL
Jake Bentley QB
Hayden Hurst TE
Bryan Edwards WR

Kentucky (7) (7-6, 4-4)

Mike Edwards DB
Adrian Middleton DL
Courtney Love LB
Kyle Meadows OL
Logan Stenberg OL
Stephen Johnson QB
Benny Snell RB

Missouri (8) (7-6, 4-4)

Marcell Frazier DL
Jordan Harold DL
Cale Garrett LB
Terez Hall LB
Paul Adams OL
Trystan Castillo OL
Tre’Vour Simms OL
Drew Lock QB

Florida (9) (4-7, 3-5)

Duke Dawson DB
Chauncey Gardiner DB
Marco Wilson DB
Taven Bryan DL
Khairi Clark DL
David Reese LB
Martez Ivey OL
Jawaan Taylor OL
C’Yontai Lewis TE

Vanderbilt (8) (5-7, 1-7)

Ladarius Wiley DB
Joejuan Williams DB
Nifae Lealao DL
Bruno Reagan OL
Justin Skule OL
Kyle Shurmur QB
Ralph Webb RB
Charles Wright RB

Tennessee (5) (4-8, 0-8)

Micah Abernathy DB
Nigel Warrior DB
Kendal Vickers DL
Trey Smith OL
Ethan Wolf TE

SEC WEST

Auburn (7) (10-4, 7-1)

Stephen Roberts DB
Derrick Brown DL
Dontavius Russell DL
Jeff Holland LB
Austin Golson OL
Braden Smith OL
Jarrett Stidham QB

Alabama (9) (13-1, 7-1)

Anthony Averett DB
Ronnie Harrison DB
Da’Ron Payne DL
Bradley Bozeman OL
Jonah Williams OL
Matt Womack OL
Jalen Hurts QB
Damien Harris RB
Calvin Ridley WR

LSU (8) (9-4, 6-2)

Andraez Williams DB
Greg Gilmore DL
Christian LaCouture DL
Devin White LB
Garrett Brumfield OL
William Clapp OL
Danny Etling QB
Foster Moreau TE

Mississippi State (8) (9-4, 4-4)

Jeffery Simmons DL
Gerri Green LB
Montez Sweat LB
Deion Calhoun OL
Elgton Jenkins OL
Stewart Reese OL
Darryl Williams OL
Farrod Green TE

Texas A&M (2) (7-6, 4-4)

Kingsley Keke DL
Otaro Alaka LB

Ole Miss (11) (6-6, 3-5)

A.J. Moore DB
Josiah Coatney DL
Marquis Haynes DL
Demarquis Gates LB
Greg Little OL
Javon Patterson OL
Rod Taylor OL
Jordan Wilkins RB
A.J. Brown WR
Damarkus Lodge WR
D.K. Metcalf WR

Arkansas (9) (4-8, 1-7)

Josh Liddell DB
Santos Ramirez DB
Henre’ Toliver DB
Bijhon Jackson DL
T.J. Smith DL
Dre Greenlaw LB
De’Jon Harris LB
Hjalte Froholdt OL
Johnny Gibson Jr. OL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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