- Phil Steele, ESPN Staff Writer
Way back in 2002, in a time before freshmen won Heisman trophies, I based my yearly team experience rankings on returning senior starters and actually penalized teams for having freshman starters. Then Tim Tebow won the Heisman in 2007 and started a trend of underclassmen playing more prominent roles. By 2009, I had to tweak my formula to factor in returning letter winners, percentage of yards and tackles returning, and career offensive line starts returning.
While experience doesn't necessarily trump talent, teams from the Power Five conferences that have ranked in the top 10 of my experience rankings since 2009 have seen their records, on average, improve or stay the same over the previous year 76 percent of the time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, teams that have ranked in the bottom 10 of my experience rankings have seen their records, on average, get weaker or stay the same 78 percent of the time.
It is worth noting that the average experience ranking for teams playing in the national championship game since 2009 is just 49th, with last year's national champ Florida State Seminoles coming in at 78. That makes sense when you consider that most championship contenders lose several starting underclassmen to the NFL draft each year but make up for the losses by bringing in elite recruits.
With that in mind, here are my 2014 experience rankings for the ACC:
1. Syracuse Orange (National rank: No. 17)
Last year, Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer got the Orange to a bowl in their first year in the ACC. This year, they welcome back 15 starters, led by quarterback Terrel Hunt (1,638 pass yards), who is also their leading returning rusher (500 yards). The Orange also bring back six of their top seven receivers and have 78 career starts returning on their offensive line.
On defense, they return five of their top six tacklers. Overall, Syracuse has 76 percent of its lettermen back (No. 18 in country) and also has 16 seniors in its two-deep.
Shafer has stated that his goal for this year's team is getting to eight wins. I think they have a shot despite playing my No. 21 toughest schedule.
1dBrett McMurphy and Adam Rittenberg