Experience. Every coach wants as much of it on his football team as he can get. And while it probably helps, it’s no guarantee that a school will win. Experience is also probably more important at some positions than others. Georgia’s recent history of outstanding freshman running backs is some evidence of this. The fact that a senior quarterback hasn’t led his team to a national championship since Matt Flynn did it (albeit as a first year starter) in 2007 is more. But all things considered, you’re probably better off with guys who’ve been in the week-to-week battles before checking in all across the lineup.
While it’s certainly not scientific I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at how SEC teams stack up in terms of experience going into 2015. “Experience” means a lot of different things of course, and that’s assuming we only confine ourselves to the gridiron and don’t ask what Jimi Hendrix may have meant. For our purposes I thought it would be worthwhile to look at the number of upperclassman starters on each team. I’m using the best available lists of starters for each team I could find, generally teamRivals.com pages and the preview magazines currently out on newsstands. Let’s concede off the bat that these numbers are probably not 100% accurate heading into fall camp. That being said, I am willing to take the position that the number of juniors and seniors who have secured starting positions is a good talisman for overall team experience. Generally starters in their third, fourth, or fifth seasons of college football are going to be more physically developed, more versed in schemes, and frankly more mentally tough than freshman phenoms, no matter how talented. Those traits tend to help you win a lot of football games.
And if that axiom holds true, the state of Mississippi is in for another exciting year of college football. By my calculations Mississippi State is the most veteran SEC team with a whopping 21 upperclassman starters returning. To be fair, only 6 of them are seniors, but that may well mean that the Bizarro Bulldogs are going to be among the most experienced league teams in 2016 as well when those guys are seniors. The Bulldog offense’s greenest members are QB Dak Prescott and receiver Joe Morrow, both redshirt juniors. There is no offensive starter in Starkville who is not in at least his fourth season in Dan Mullen’s system. The defense will likely start the season with only one sophomore on the field, redshirt sophomore Cedric Jiles. That’s 21 juniors/seniors, who all played on one of the most successful teams in recent school history as sophomores/juniors. Not all of those guys would be starting at LSU or Alabama, but a lot of them would. To repeat, keep an eye on Mississippi State.
For its part Ole Miss returns 19 upperclassman starters, including 10 seniors, off of a successful 2014 squad. None of them is Bo Wallace. That being said, Chad Kelly looks like a suitably reckless replacement. From there things get tight as a lot of teams return a solid set of juniors and seniors including Auburn and South Carolina (17 apiece), and Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Kentucky (16). Georgia checks in as the ninth most experienced squad by this measure with 15 expected upperclassman starters (9 seniors, 6 juniors). Georgia also showcases the limitations of this methodology, as sophomores Nick Chubb, Jeb Blazevich, and Lorenzo Carter are certainly set to be standouts despite their relative youth. All that being said, I’d still feel better if the Bulldog D wasn’t set to start as many as 5 sophomores.
Which schools will be the most wet behind the ears? Texas A&M is the leader in lack of senior leadership with 12 upperclassmen (5 seniors). Vandy isn’t far behind with 13. Both of those are teams coming off disappointing seasons who could really use some veterans. They’re going to have to wait at least another year. Speaking of which, LSU’s recent rash of early NFL defections just continues to come home to roost, as the Bayou Bengals also field only 5 senior starters (9 juniors will take the field with the first unit). And Tennessee, which played tons of freshmen in 2014 enroute to the Vols’ first bowl appearance in years will also have 14 upperclassman starters. The Vols are a sexy pick to make noise in the SEC East this year, and while I think they’ll be better than last season and will give someone (Georgia . . .cough . . .cough) all they can handle in 2015, I still think the Hillfolk are a year away. 2016 sets up as their best chance to make it to the Georgia Dome in quite some time.
We’ll be back later with more Bulldog coverage. Until then . . .