By Patrick Garbin—Twitter @PGarbinDT
A hot topic for spring practice is Georgia’s offensive line, and its returning experience—or, the lack thereof. Indeed, the 43 career starts the Bulldogs return along their offensive line are the fewest since 2012 (31 career starts), and the second-fewest in the last nine years.
Georgia's Returning O-Line Career Starts
* Does not include a start at tight end.
Still, how significant is an offensive line’s returning experience—in this case, measured in career starts returning? For some so-called experts, rather significant.
For what it’s worth, "the Guru of Formulation and Prognostication," Phil Steele, has always been very high on how many starts an offensive line returns. Also, Colin Cowherd of FOX Sports has claimed, "a returning offensive line equates to wins." And if, as it’s been said, an offense is only as good as its offensive line, and games are won and lost in the trenches, then an experienced offensive line entering a season equating to victories for a team during the season certainly does make sense.
Still, for Georgia over more than the last quarter-century, that hasn’t necessarily been accurate.
Beginning in 1990 and through last season, I discovered the annual returning offensive line starts for the Bulldogs (an average of 64 career starts per year). First off, the top four Georgia teams, and the bottom four:
Top and Bottom UGA Teams in Career O-Line Starts (beg. 1990)
Next, I wanted to see if there was a correlation between a Bulldogs squad’s offensive line starts entering a season and its winning percentage at the end of the campaign. Therefore, I used the trusty correlation coefficient measurement. A few times before, I’ve used/explained this quantity, ranging from -1 to +1, like how there is a strong relationship between Rivals’ team recruiting rankings and how a team performs in terms of their final placement in the AP Poll, a moderate relationship between Georgia’s time of possession and winning percentage, and a near-strong relationship between the average Rivals rating of Georgia’s starters from 2008 through 2015 and the winning percentage of each respective team.
Yet, as far as offensive line career starts and winning percentage, there’s no positive relationship at all. In fact, there’s a moderate negative relationship of -0.318. For instance, take a look at the table above. Georgia's top four seasons of career offensive line starts returning yielded an average record of just 8 wins and 5 losses, whereas the bottom four remarkably wound up with an average record of 11 wins and 2.5 losses.
So, as far as a good indicator over the last 27 years in terms of how a Georgia team will perform, “a returning offensive line” has not necessarily equated to wins for the Bulldogs. In fact, if anything, the opposite has been the case.