- Phil Steele, ESPN Staff Writer
Every year in my college football preview magazine, I rank every team in the country according to their returning experience for the upcoming season. Several factors are considered, including the number of upperclassmen starters and the percentage of yards, tackles and lettermen returning. I also include career starts returning for the offensive line, which is arguably one of the most important units on the entire team.
While returning experience is one of the major factors in how I evaluate teams in the preseason, some teams can buck the trend with talented incoming freshmen and junior college players, and with an advantageous schedule and/or superior coaching. But experience matters. Last season, seven of my top 10 most experienced teams went to a bowl, while six of the bottom eight least experienced teams saw their record drop from the previous year.
Most experienced teams
There are many reasons why I rank the Longhorns higher than any other preseason publication does this season, and their returning experience is one of them. Texas ranks No. 1 in the country, according to my experience formula, returning 19 starters and getting back 81.5 percent of its lettermen (No. 8 in the country). They also welcome back 92.3 percent of their offensive yards (No. 8), from their top two quarterbacks, top four rushers and five of their top six leading receivers. On defense, they return 83.3 percent of their tackles (No. 12), plus defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks, both of whom missed a majority of last season. Arguably, the most important factor is the 124 career starts returning on the offensive line, which ranks No. 1 in the country with all five starters back. Those five are upperclassmen, and remember, last season Alabama rode its experienced offensive line all the way to a national championship. Finally, Texas is playing in a very inexperienced Big 12 this fall -- no other team ranks in my top 40 with regard to experience, and seven of the 10 teams rank No. 109 or lower. Add it all up and the experienced Longhorns will be back in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009.
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