Phil Steele just released his 2015 Spring Football Guide. There wasn't a whole to glean from it but I found it interesting that the Red Raiders return 17 starters this fall, which is tied with Baylor for the most in the Big 12. 9 starters return on offense and 8 on defense for the Red Raiders. While he didn't list the actual players returning, I took my best shot to match up Steele's numbers to actual players.
Devin Lauderdale - Jr.
Jakeem Grant - Sr.
Reginald Davis - Jr.
Le'Raven Clark - Sr.
Alfredo Morales - Sr.
Jared Kaster - Sr.
Baylen Brown - Jr.
Pat Mahomes - So.
DeAndre Washington - Sr.
Branden Jackson - Sr.
Demetrius Alston - Sr.
Rika Levi - Sr.
Pete Robertson - Sr.
Justin Nelson - Jr.
JJ Gaines - Sr.
Keenon Ward - Jr.
Nigel Bethel - So.
Maybe I am like most Red Raiders fans and am looking for reasons to be optimistic after an abysmal season last year, but returning 17 of 22 starters gives me hope for a better season right out of the gate. My hope rests on 4 things:
1) Another year of coaching.
2) Another year of strength and conditioning.
3) Another year of experience.
4) 10 of the 17 returning starters are seniors.
I don't think it is a reach to expect better results based on who's returning. In fact, all things being equal, I would like to think the Red Raiders could improve their record more than other teams in the conference because they are returning more starters. This is where the coaches earn their money. Yes, recruiting has a big part to do with it but if players don't improve once they arrive on campus then recruiting is almost pointless.
Here's how the rest of the Big 12's returning starters by team:
Baylor 17 (8 offensive/9 defensive): The Big 12 Champs, like the Red Raiders, return 17 starters. Scary to think they may be better than last year. QB will be the big question mark for this team.
Iowa State 13 (7 offensive/6 defensive): Iowa State will have another tough season. They return several starters on each side of the ball, but they were a bad football team from the outset. I do predict they beat Kansas next season though.
Kansas 8 (4 offensive/4 defensive): The 2nd worst team in the Big 12 last season has to replace the most starters heading into the fall. I don't see much improvement from them this year.
Kansas State 12 (6 offensive/6 defensive): Count on Bill Snyder to roll out some JUCO guys and be competitive as always. The guy is the most underrated coach in college football.
Oklahoma 13 (7 offensive/6 defensive): Lots of changes took place in Norman this offseason. I will be interested to see how things go there in the fall. Their big question is also at the QB position.
Oklahoma State 16 (8 offensive/8 defensive): I see lots of folks predicting down year for the Cowboys. I think they will be middle of the Big 12 road like last season. They return lots of starters, so like Tech you would think that will help them.
TCU 15 (10 offensive/5 defensive): The Horned Frogs return the most starters on offense which is a scary thought for the Big 12 defenses. They will be replacing half of their defense, but Patterson will always roll out a good defense.
Texas 13 (8 offensive/5 defensive): Charlie Strong's second year will probably not be much easier. He has a lot of holes to fill on defense and a QB situation to work out.
West Virginia 14 (6 offensive/8 defensive): A surprisingly better 2014 for the Mountaineers will probably lead to higher expectations in Morganton. They lose some offensive firepower that will be really though to replace though.