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August 7, 2012

Significance of "Returning Experience"

How significant is it that Georgia evidently
ranks in the top one-fourth in the SEC
and country in returning experience?
If you've been reading my blog for most any length of time, you're likely aware of my interest in, although some may consider it more like my infatuation with, Phil Steele's rankings, statistics, formulas, etc.  So, please excuse the following rambling regarding another college football formula of Phil's which recently caught my attention returning experience.

For several years, Steele has calculated each FBS team's "experience" entering the season.  With the Bulldogs returning 9 starters on defense and 7 on offense, one would believe Georgia is rather experienced; nevertheless, Steele's complicated formula considers much more than merely starters coming back.  His returning experience is calculated by a team's number of senior starters, seniors in the two deep, % of lettermen returning, % of offensive yards returning, % of tackles made returning, and the career starts returning in the offensive line.

For the Bulldogs, Steele determines that there are 10 senior starters, 1 other senior in the two deep, 73% of lettermen returning, 89% of offensive yards returning, 88% of tackles returning, and 31 career offensive line starts, yielding 68.4 total experience points for 2012 (don't ask how that total was actually calculated), ranking 3rd in the SEC and 30th in the nation.  

Entering the 2012 season, the conference rankings according to experience points:

Tennessee (78.8)
Ole Miss (70.3)
GEORGIA (68.4)
Missouri (65.1)
Vanderbilt (64.6)
Florida (63.6)
Arkansas (63.6)
South Carolina (59.4)
LSU (58.9)
Alabama (58.5)
Texas A&M (55.3)
Kentucky (54.1)
Auburn (53.7)
Miss. State (52.0)

On the determination of a team's returning experience, my initial thought was that it matters more what specific players are returning rather than what number of players are returning.  However, Steele seems to have this covered – to some degree – by factoring in returning yardage, tackles, and offensive line starts. 

Therefore, I decided to find out if the amount of team "experience," according to Steele, entering a season was indicative of the team's success by season's end.  In other words, based on past results, should Tennessee, whose 78.8 total experience points not only rank 1st in the SEC but also 1st in the entire FBS, expect to improve upon its 5-7 record from a year ago in 2012?  Likewise, will Miss. State's overall record likely worsen from 7-6 in 2011 because of its paltry 52 experience points?

Of the 36 different squads in the SEC from 2009 through 2011, the most experienced entering a season was Arkansas in 2010 with 80 points; the Hogs improved two games with a 10-3 overall record from 8-5 in 2009.  The least experienced team, by far, was Auburn entering last year (just 25 points), and sure enough, the Tigers were 5½ games worse at 8-5 from their 14-0 campaign in 2010.

In accordance to their specific range in experience points, below is what SEC teams averaged from 2009 to 2011 in terms of increase/decrease of overall record from the year before:   

72 and higher:  1.64-game increase
66 to 71:          1.07-game increase
60 to 65:          0.71-game increase
52 to 59:          0.25-game decrease
51 and lower:   2.36-game decrease

Makes sense...  the higher the experience points, the more likely an improved record will result from the year before.  While the lower the returning experience, SEC teams, on average, have a greater chance of enduring a decline in overall record.

There certainly have been exceptions.  In 2009, Alabama returned just 58 experience points from its 12-2 team from '08; however, the Crimson Tide would finish a perfect 14-0 and capture a national championship.  In 2010, Georgia's experience was 68 the same number of points as this year but instead of improving upon an 8-5 record from the year before, the Bulldogs' overall record actually decreased two games to 6-7.

Speaking of the 2010 Bulldogs, fourteen conference teams entered their seasons from 2009 to 2011 with 67 experience points or higher, and only TWO Miss. State last year and Georgia in 2010 actually had a decrease in overall record. 

Obviously there are many other factors besides returning experience which may determine if a team will improve its overall mark or have a decline in record, including schedule difficulty, emerging freshmen, injuries, while some teams like Alabama and LSU are seemingly always outstanding regardless of their experience.  However, based on the results over the last three seasons, there seems to be a correlation between a substantial amount of returning experience and an improved record by season's end, and vice versa.

Based on Georgia's relatively high experience of 68, should the Bulldog Nation expect an improvement from a 10-4 record a year ago? 

In my opinion, likely yes that is, if Georgia was like most programs in the conference.  However, over the last several years take 2010 for example the unpredictable Bulldogs have been like a box of chocolates, and we all know what Forrest Gump said about it... 

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