With more and more underclassmen playing each year in college football and coming in much more ready to play, the idea of putting too much emphasis on how good a team will be simply because of how many returning starters they have, but it is still about as good of a gauge as we have in college football. Even when you have programs like USC, Oregon and Stanford that just seem to reload, having a lot of returning starters is generally a good sign for success.
So who in the Pac-12 has the most and the least returning starters going into 2013?
Arizona (5 offense, 11 defense)
The Wildcats return essentially every starter from their 2012, but that might not necessarily be the best thing as the Wildcats had one of the worst defenses in the nation across the board that surrendered 500 yards per game. There are some playmakers on defense that will help though in steady linebackers Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers and a crop of defensive backs.
But with Arizona we know that it is all about the offense and the Wildcats return their best player in running back Ka'Deem Carey and a few offensive linemen, lead by monster tackle Fabbians Ebbele and solid starts Chris Putton and Mickey Baucus.
Washington (9 offense, 7 defense)
Husky fans have long pointed to 2013 as their potential breakout year under Steve Sarkisian largely due to the fact the team would return a huge amount of skilled starters including a senior quarterback in Keith Price. While their goals may not be as lofty as they had been due to a largely returning offensive line that struggled, the Huskies hopes are largely pinned on their three junior offensive superstars in running back Bishop Sankey, receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The Huskies also return the majority of their starters on defense too. Anchored by defensive tackles Danny Shelton, the Huskies defense is littered with returns who are good players including future superstar sophomore linebacker Shaq Thompson.
Oregon (8 offense, 7 defense)
The rest of the conference should be scared by the fact that Ducks return 15 starters on a time that only lost one game last season in overtime and pretty much dominated in every other game. The offensive line returns three All-Pac-12 level starters in Hroniss Grasu, Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone and the backfield is cobra deadly with Marcus Mariota and De'Anthony Thomas coming back.
The Ducks have some holes in their front seven with only three starters returning, but they might boast the best defensive backfield in the conference with all four starters coming back including All-American candidate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and standouts Terrance Mitchell, Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson.
Washington State (7 offense, 8 defense)
It seems like the Cougars return a ton of starters every year but they fall by the wayside due to regression, injury or off-the-field stuff, but if they are truly headed in the right direction under Mike Leach then they should see some improvement with this kind of experience coming back. The Cougars return almost all of their linemen from last season, but they were most ineffective last year, so not much excitement up there. The real excitement on offense is at receiver where the Cougars have a bevy of young receivers who were productive in 2012 including Dominique Williams, Gabe Marks, Isiah Myers, Brett Bartalone and Bobby Ratliff.
The Cougars also return a boatload of experience on defense that wasn't as bad as it seemed last season, particularly against the run. The two most exciting players up front might both be sophomores in defensive tackle Xavier Cooper and linebacker Darryl Monroe while senior safety Deone Bucannon brings leadership to the back four.
Arizona State (6 offense, 8 defense)
The Sun Devils lose almost all of their experience at receiver and some up front on the line, but they have a good chunk of offensive firepower returning in junior quarterback Taylor Kelly, senior tight end Chris Coyle and senior running back Marion Grice.
The defense is what will likely be ASU's calling card in 2013 though as they return a huge amount of talent led by returning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, senior defensive tackle Will Sutton. Sutton isn't the only talented returning starter though as the linebacker unit features Carl Bradford and Chris Young and the defensive backs Alden Darby and Irashon Orabor.
Colorado (7 offense, 7 defense)
This is definitely another case of a team returning a lot of starters, but them being players that didn't perform well in 2012. The Buffs are pretty balanced with returning experience on each side and their offensive strength probably lies in the return of junior receiver Paul Richardson and sophomores Nelson Spruce and Tyler McCulloch. Throw in sophomore running back Christian Powell and the Buffs do actually have some good experience returning at skill positions.
There aren't quite as many bright spots on defense though, where the Buffs were even more atrocious in 2012. There is some hope though in the defensive backfield where cornerbacks Kenneth Crawley and Greg Henderson return.
Oregon State (7 offense, 7 defense)
The Beavers return a great amount of experience from a team that had one of their best seasons in years. Whether Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz wins the starting quarterback job, both started last year and have standout skill players in Storm Woods and Brandin Cooks to help them along with a very skilled and experienced offensive line led by Isaac Seumalo, Michael Philipp and Grant Enger.
The defense isn't quite as strong in returners as the offense, but junior defensive end Scott Crichton is one of the best in the country and senior cornerback Rashaad Reynolds holds down the fort in the back.
Stanford (6 offense, 8 defense)
Some teams may return more starters than the Cardinal, but none return more talented starters than Stanford. They are a little thin on returners at skill positions other than emerging sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan but it's up front where it matters and the Cardinal bring back three All-Pac-12 linemen in David Yankey, Cameron Fleming and Kevin Danser along with Khaliel Wilkes.
The defense has some scary talent returning. Up front, Henry Anderson and Bed Gardner return at the ends while the all linebackers return including standouts Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. The defensive backs are just as strong too with Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards coming back.
USC (7 offense, 7 defense)
Despite all of the negativity around the program at the moment, the Trojans have more than enough returning starters and talent to win the Pac-12 South. The offense may be a question mark at quarterback but four starters return along the offensive line and all-world receiver Marqise Lee.
The defense is very strong with experience up front. Junior defensive end Morgan Breslin might be the best in the Pac-12 and he's joined by Leonard Williams and George Uko. It looks like the Trojans will only start two linebackers, so Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson will be filling the spots while returning star Dion Bailey moves to safety.
UCLA (6 offense, 5 defense)
The Bruins actually return a somewhat small amount of starters for a team that most have pegged to win their division. Obviously quarterback Brett Hundley is the centerpiece on offense, but the only other real All-Pac-12 returning player on the offense is guard Xavier Su'a-Filo.
Interestingly, even though they return more starters on offense, the defense looks like it might be stronger, primarily because it is anchored by All-American candidate linebacker Anthony Barr and emerge star Eric Kendricks. Senior defensive lineman Cassius Marsh also helps up front, but the back four are a major question mark.
Cal (3 offense, 6 defense)
It's kind of scary that the Bears only return three starters on offense, given how poor their offense was last year, but then again, maybe a fresh start is just what they need to jump start it with Sonny Dykes coming on as coach. The only real standout coming back on offense is junior running back Brendan Bigelow that has the best big play ability of any back in the conference.
The defense is a little bit more encouraging and the Bears usually had sneaky good defenses under Jeff Tedford, so maybe that will carry over. Senior defensive tackle DeAndre Coleman is a big plug up the middle and junior linebackers Nick Forbes and Chris McCain are both underrated players who can rush the passer.
Utah (5 offense, 4 defense)
It's never good when you are a team like Utah in 2012 that has a veteran team, but has a losing season. The Utes were dreadful on offense and lose their best player in John White, solid receiver DeVonte Christopher and some starters up front. The Utes bring back sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Poutasi, but there isn't much to get excited about on that side of the ball.
The defense has some more experienced talent returning than the offense and even though they lost Star Lotulelei and the Kruger brothers up front they return good ends in Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard. They also have good returning starters at linebacker in Brian Blechen and safety Eric Rowe.