IU tops Big Ten experience ranks
Phil Steele sizes up the conference based on returning production
Way back in 2002, at 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 season 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 season's national champ Florida State Seminoles coming in at 78th. 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 Big Ten:
1. Indiana Hoosiers (national rank: No. 3)
The Hoosiers top my Big Ten experience rankings for the second year in a row, with 17 returning starters. It should be noted that since my magazine went to press, quarterback Tre Roberson (1,551 total yards last season) transferred to Illinois State, and their percent of offensive yards returning went from 67 percent (No. 61 in the country) to 56 (No. 84).
IU still welcomes back leading passer Nate Sudfeld and leading rusher Tevin Coleman, and the offensive line has 130 career starts (third most in the country). The defense returns 13 of its top 14 tacklers. Due to their experience, I give the Hoosiers a solid shot at landing just their second bowl game since 1993.
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