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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

July 5, 2010 at 10:47 AM

Looking at Washington’s O-line experience

Okay, we’re back after the holidays and should be able to keep up a semi-regular pace on here this week, though I’m planning to take most of the weekends off from here to the start of the season.
Anyway, in putting together the position rankings in Friday’s blog post and rating UW’s OL as eighth among its nine position groupings, I remembered this blog entry from Phil Steele in June and briefly hesitated.
Steele, as you can see, helpfully calculated the number of returning combined career starts for every offensive line in the country, and UW finished well — Steele has UW at 29th in the nation with 88.
That also ranks second in the Pac-10. Here’s the list for the Pac-10:
1, UCLA, 92
2, Washington, 88
3 (tie), Oregon and Washington State, 85
5, Oregon State 74
6, Arizona, 71
7, Cal, 70
8, Stanford, 66
9, USC, 59
10, Arizona State, 47
I’ve seen various theories floated on what is the threshold number at which you can expect an OL to have success in the following season — this story here notes that in 2008, eight of the final AP Top 20 each entered the season with an OL that had at least 65 combined starts. I’ve seen stories other years that used 75 as a magic number.
Whatever the case, UW is safely over each barrier — and obviously, the general idea is that the more experienced OL, the better.
Maybe most tellingly, UW has a much more experienced OL than a year ago, however you quantify it — and what is actually one of the most experienced in its history.
Heading into the 2009 season UW had 67 combined starts. However, just four players had career starts and only three had more than one — and Ben Ossai’s 32 were about half of the total.
This year, UW has eight players back who have started at least one game, and the total starts are spread around a little more evenly — Ryan Tolar (31) and Cody Habben (27) led the way — meaning there is a little more overall depth.
Also, as far as I can tell, this is UW’s most experienced OL in terms of returning combined starts since I started covering the team regularly in 1997.
One of the caveats is that one of the other most experienced OLs of that period was the 2008 group that had 72 entering the season. But that season went so wrong in so many ways I’m not sure I’d really use that one to argue against the value of this stat.
What are probably the two best OLs in that time — and probably the two best of the post-Don James era — were the 2000 and 1997 groups. But neither had this many combined returning starts entering the season.
The 2000 team had 74, almost all coming from the trio of Kyle Benn (12), Elliot Silvers (23) and Chad Ward (32) — easy to forget now that Matt Fraize and Wes Call were essentially first-year starters with little real prior experience.
And the 1997 team had just 47, almost all coming from Benji Olson (22), Tony Coats (10) and Olin Kreutz (12). In fact, worth remembering that Kreutz only started two seasons at UW before leaving early following the 1997 season despite being one of the most acclaimed OL recruits of his time — he was a reserve as a true freshman in 1995, something to keep in mind when projecting this year’s crop of incoming OLs.
And the 88 starts of this year’s group blows out of the water the number of combined starts of what might be the most celebtrated OL in school history — the 1991 national title team. That group had just 40 combined starts entering the season with tackle Kris Rongen and guard Pete Kaligis having each never before started a game and Lincoln Kennedy having started just four. Only center Ed Cunningham and tackle Siupeli Malamala were returning starters on the OL in 1991.
So experience isn’t necessarily everything. But few would argue it’s ever a bad thing.

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