Justin Houston is one of just four Bulldog starters returning on defense in 2010. Should this few number of returning starters be a concern? (Photo: GeorgiaDogs.com)
I've noticed mentioned in some early, preseason previews for 2010 a repeated and seemingly alarming observation regarding Georgia's defense: it only returns four starters from last season.
If you're a Dawg fan, should that fact alone be of concern?
A college football team's number of returning starters is a fundamental component of most preseason predictions and rankings. Maybe it's a reason why Georgia is ranked rather low, if at all, in the preseason national rankings for the upcoming year.
Vegas will also put heavy stock into the number of returning starters in setting their season-opening lines. This is one reason why many professional gamblers, taking much more into consideration when analyzing teams, are more successful earlier in the season than later.
First off, the fact the Bulldogs return only four starters on defense is somewhat misleading.
Besides the four starters, Georgia returns six reserve defenders from a year ago, who combined for 11 starts in 2009 and 30 in their careers at Georgia. Forecasting how the Bulldogs will perform defensively in 2010 is further complicated with the arrival of a new defensive coordinator, who is installing a new defensive scheme while hopefully instilling a new attitude.
For Georgia in 2010, what starters are returning, the returning "experience," and the overall potential of its defense should be what is considered.
Although you would think the number of returning starters for most college football teams would be of at least some significance. For Georgia, historically, I wanted to find out just how significant, if at all.
I found the number of returning defensive starters for the Bulldogs the past 38 seasons (1973-2010). I decided to begin with 1973 since this was the season after which freshmen were eligible to play varsity football.
Georgia's four returnees on defense is historically low, considering the returning average over the past 38 years is approximately six (5.89), including nearly the same exact average (5.90) during the Coach Richt regime.
Including the upcoming 2010 campaign, the Bulldogs returned four defensive starters or less from the year before entering six of the 38 seasons: 1975 (2), 1978 (3), 1981 (4), 1989 (4), 2007 (3), 2010 (4).
Notably, two of Georgia's most-acclaimed defenses of all time, the 1975 "Junkyard Dogs" and the unit of 1981, returned four or fewer starters. Both defenses yielded less points and yards per game than the previous seasons. The Junkyard Dogs also forced more turnovers and had a better record than the 1974 squad.
I would think if a defense returned four or less starters from the year before, for the most part, it would allow more yards and points the next season, force less turnovers, and its team's record would decline. However, this is certainly not the case overall with Bulldog defenses since 1973.
In the five seasons prior to 2010 when Georgia's defense returned four or less starters, the Bulldogs actually allowed less points than the year before four times and less yardage in three of the five seasons. Additionally, Georgia twice forced more turnovers and twice improved upon its record from the previous season.
Conversely, the Bulldogs have returned eight defensive starters or more from the year before also entering six seasons: 1976 (8), 1980 (8), 1982 (8), 1991 (10), 2008 (8), 2009 (8). Notice Georgia had eight returning starters in both 2008 and 2009 and we surely remember how those two defensive units performed in many of its games.
In these six seasons, the Bulldogs actually allowed more points and forced less turnovers than the year before in half of them. Additionally, Georgia had a worse record in two seasons and twice allowed more yardage than the previous year.
So, in conclusion, should Bulldogs fans be concerned that Georgia returns only four starters on defense for this upcoming season? If the best predictor of the future is the past, not at all.