Returning starters, returning lettermen, key returning players, etc., -- these are all ways we evaluate teams in the preseason. While experience doesn't necessarily equate to "good," it does suggest a team should, at least, improve on what it did the previous season.
Fact is, the very best programs won't typically return the most starters, in large part because those teams recruit guys who often leave early for the NFL.
Still, this table from Phil Steele is interesting. After reviewing several different measures of team experience, he's put together an experience ranking on a scale from one to 100 for all 128 FBS teams.
Here's his explanation:
We still do the exact same chart but now I just list the Senior starters, the rest of the seniors in the two deep and the points accumulated by using the system I used from 2002-2008. In the chart listed below I have now included 4 other factors. The 2nd factor listed in the chart below is the % of lettermen returning. I devised a point system for this and explain it in depth on page 28 of this year’s magazine. Also added was the % of returning offensive yards. I took the total yards passing, rushing and receiving for each team and divided out the yardage of the returning players and the yards returning % listed below is that figure. I did the same with the total tackles from last year and the % of tackles returning. This gives us an idea of the defense’s experience. The final factor is the career starts returning for the offensive line. These players are not included in the stats but are a vital part of the offense.
So, you ask, how does the Pac-12 stack up in terms of experience. Glad you asked (number on left is national ranking):
51. Oregon State
70. Washington State
108. Arizona State
What does this mean?
Well, it's more good news for UCLA. It's more reason to believe the Bruins are going to be in the thick of the Pac-12 and national mix. It also suggests that UCLA versus Oregon is a solid projection for the Pac-12 championship game in December, when a spot in the College Football Playoff could be on the line.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are sure to be some harrumphs from you guys shortly followed by contentions that this is meaningless gobbledigook.
Arizona State is at the bottom because it only welcomes back three starters on defense. Arizona loses a lot of production on offense (RB Ka'Deem Carey and QB B.J. Denker), while Stanford is replacing RB Tyler Gaffney, four O-line starters, many of its top defensive playmakers and lacks senior experience.
Finally, these numbers are probably encouraging for teams trying to climb up from the bottom, such as Cal and Colorado.
Of course, if the Sun Devils end up repeating as South Division champions, then this little chart will be something we can crack wise about at season's end. Hindsight is great that way.
By the way, Arizona, you might note that while everyone is tooling on your supposedly weak nonconference schedule, including the Pac-12 blog, you Wildcats play two of the nation's most experienced teams: No. 1 UTSA and No. 30 Nevada.
Might not want to take those guys too lightly, despite all the outside chirping.