Fall Football Preview: Most Experienced CFB Teams
by Robert Ferringo - 7/17/2009
The Heisman winning quarterback is not what should scare the 2009 Florida Gators' opponents the most. Nor should it be the brilliant, renaissance coach that can lead an assault on your team with the precision of Curtis LeMay. And Florida's adversaries shouldn't be most frightened by the speed, skill and voracious appetite for victory that the Gators bring to the field every Saturday.
No. What should scare Florida's victims this year is their experience.
Florida brings back 18 of 22 starters from the best team in college football in 2008. While every other program in the country was losing three-year starters, inspirational seniors, and pro early entries the Gators were getting bigger, badder, and better. With two national titles in the last three years under their belts its tough to imagine how this team could improve upon its greatness. But the easy answer is to come back and do it all over again.
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The biggest illustration of just how disgusting it is how deep, skilled and experienced this Florida crew is can be found on the defensive side of the ball. The Gators will be trotting out the same 11 starters that smothered Oklahoma's vaunted offense in the 2008-09 National Championship Game. All 11 are back, and the Gators are the only team in the country that can say that. They bring back their Top 20 tacklers and they welcome back the players that contributed 98.9 percent of the team's overall tackles last season, a number that is by far the highest in the country.
In fact, the 74.6 percent of all lettermen returning to Florida represents the 11th highest total of the 65 teams in the BCS Big Six conferences. So the team that was the best last year brings everyone back this season. What do you think is going to happen?
Experience, on its own, is not a total indicator of success on the field. For example, Minnesota (80.0) brought back a higher percentage of its players from last year than did USC (75.3). But which team's players would you rather have?
No, experience is not enough. However, it's definitely one of the key factors that I use to handicap college football teams. The cohesion that comes from experience can sometimes trump skill. And it's almost always a great indicator as to which teams will surpass expectations. For example, in 2007 the Duke Blue Devils went 1-11. However, they returned 17 starters from that team, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball, and posted a solid 3-1 start to the season. In fact, at one point they were 4-3 overall but were a three-point OT loss and another four-point loss away from a 6-1 mark. I attribute a lot of that to experience. And while it might not be an overwhelming example, or even the best example (teams like Utah, Ohio State, Texas, Ball State and Texas Tech all had exceptional years that benefited from a lot of exceptional experience) it just shows that if you pay attention to experience you instantly have a leg up as you enter the season.
Below is a list of 10 of the most experienced college football teams in the country heading into this fall's action. Not all of these schools are destined for big things throughout the next few months but the familiarity and depth that has formed with them is clearly a big asset:
Southern Miss - Last year the Golden Eagles welcomed back the fewest returning starters in Conference USA (10) and now they head into this season with the most returning starters in the country (19). One of the Eagles' main strengths is the fact that they bring back all nine of their starting linemen (five offensive and four defensive).
Toledo - The Rockets have the highest percentage of returning letterman in the country, bringing back nearly 90 percent of last year's team. Toledo will need that experience to rebound from what was, at 3-9, by far its worst season in the last decade. All of this is a huge boon to first year coach Tim Beckman, who takes over after spending the last two years as Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator.
East Carolina - They're baaaaack. The Pirates were responsible for a pair of the biggest upsets in college football last year and now they bring back 16 of 22 starters. That includes seven three-year starters and 12 seniors on the first string. Also, they will again be strong in the trenches with eight of nine offensive and defensive linemen back in the fold.
UAB - Blazers responsible for 98.1 percent of UAB's offense last year are back on campus and that group includes 11 offensive starters back. UAB has 18 starters back, total, and an exceptional 11 of those players are three-year starters. Their top nine linemen are back and the Blazers are one of just nine teams with more than 100 career starts from their o-line.
Stanford - Captain Comeback, Jim Harbaugh, took a one-win team from 2006 and has posted four and five wins in each of his last two years. Now, with 17 starters back - including 11 of the three-year variety - he may be ready to take the next step. The Cards are especially loaded on defense, where they're rolling out seven three-year starters. They have multiple experienced quarterbacks and a lot of extra backups with starting experience.
Pittsburgh - It's easy to focus on the loss of LeSean McCoy from the Panthers and believe that they don't have the guns to take the Big East this year. But other than McCoy, everyone is back for a program that won nine games last year for the first time since 2002. Counting the return of senior linebackers Adam Gunn and Shane Murray to the starting lineup, the Panthers have nine bodies back on the front line with this year's defense. Eight of those 17 starters are three-year first stringers and 12 members of the first team are seniors.
Minnesota - The Gophers are No. 8 in the nation in terms of returning lettermen at 80 percent. Minnesota will be backing 17 returning starters, 12 of which are seniors, from a squad that posted a six-win improvement between 2007's 1-11 club and last year's 7-6 bowl squad.
Auburn - Like Toledo, Auburn is a team that has a load of experience between the lines but is breaking in a new coach and staff. Auburn has 17 starters back including seven seniors and nine three-year starters. Their skill players are particularly well seasoned, with two wideouts, a running back and a tight end entering their third year as Tigers.
Arkansas State - Last year the Sun Belt's Louisiana Cajuns were nearly able to pull a pair of upsets (at Illinois and at Kansas State) behind the talent and experience of an exceptional quarterback-running back combination. Arkansas State will try to replicate that blueprint behind three-year starting quarterback Corey Leonard and four-year starting running back Reggie Arnold. They are two of the 14 senior starters leading the Red Wolves this season.
Ole Miss - With 16 starters back, including stud quarterback Jevon Snead and not counting behemoth defensive end Greg Hardy, the Rebels are well defensed against a letdown year in 2009. The core of last year's 9-4 crew is intact, with eight three-year starters and 13 seniors on the first string this year.
Robert Ferringo is a professional handicapper and you can purchase a full season's package of his football selections for just $25 per week! Click here for details.
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