Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Are you experienced?

Having never been the proactive, think-ahead, organized type, I don't have my copy of Phil Steele waiting in my mailbox, unfortunately. So as one of the rabble that will have to wait until it pops up on newsstands in a week or so, I'm currently having to make do with Steele's new daily blog posts.

Fortunately, those posts have been unsurprisingly thought-provoking, particularly Steele's breakdown of various experience metrics. He started with percentage of 2008 tackles returning to the roster, moved on to percentage of yards returning, percentage of lettermen returning, and then a more traditional straight experience-on-the-two-deep analysis. Combine that with the Wall Street Journal's offensive line starts info and that should give us a pretty comprehensive idea of how much experience a given team has coming into this fall.

So how does Auburn fare? How does the SEC stack up? To answer that I thought it would be useful to filter out the rest of the country (useless filler, really) and reduce the rankings in each category to just the SEC which gives you the following:

TACKLES RETURNING

1. Florida (98.9 %)
6. Alabama (85.1)
10. Vanderbilt (80.7)
16. Arkansas (79.4)
25. LSU (74.4)
36. Georgia (70.2)
53. Auburn (67.7)
60. Ole Miss (60.7)
99. Tennessee (55.4)
102. South Carolina (54.3)
103. Kentucky (53.7)
112. Mississippi St. (46.6)

YARDS RETURNING

16. Ole Miss (88.7)
19. Kentucky (86.9)
20. LSU (86.7)
41. Auburn (79.5)
49. Mississippi St. (45.9)
51. Florida (75.8)
70. Tennessee (67.0)
78. Arkansas (59.5)
84. Vanderbilt (55.2)
99. Alabama (42.1)
104. South Carolina (39.5)
112. Georgia (28.5)

LETTERMEN RETURNING

2. Alabama (83.3)
23. Vanderbilt (75.4)
28. Florida (74.6)
29. Arkansas (74.6)
35. Ole Miss (73.9)
37. LSU (73.4)
68. Auburn (69.1)
71. Georgia (69.0)
73. Kentucky (68.5)
103. Tennessee (64.3)
114. Mississippi St. (58.8)
115. South Carolina (58.8)

TWO-DEEP EXPERIENCE*

17. Kentucky
22. Florida
22. Ole Miss
39. Auburn
45. Vanderbilt
54. Alabama
74. LSU
90. Georgia
96. Arkansas
103. Tennessee
109. South Carolina
111. Mississippi St.

OFFENSIVE LINE STARTS

No national rank here, sorry. Number of starts in parentheses.)

1. Georgia (99)
2. Kentucky (83)
3. Tennessee (80)
4. LSU (79)
5. Vanderbilt (73)
6. South Carolina (71)
7. Ole Miss (68)
8. Mississippi St. (63)
9. Auburn (57)
10. Florida (51)
11. Alabama (50)
12. Arkansas (43)

So, what conclusions can we draw?

For Auburn: First, there's not much in the way of extremes here: 4th in two metrics, 7th in two more, and then a slightly-outlying 9th in the offensive line.

Which is to say: Auburn's not going to be crippled from a lack of experience, save for some potential trouble on the offensive line. But the Tigers also aren't going to overwhelm anyone with their veteran savvy, either. We've enjoyed thinking of 2009 Auburn as a more-experienced-than-average team, and looking at the depth chart metric, there's something to that. But if Auburn has more juniors and seniors to rely on than most of the conference, that doesn't take into account that

1. as the lettermen percentage indicates, there's not a lot of depth behind those upperclassmen as of yet

2. Auburn lost a fair amount of production from what was, obviously, already a weak team last season

On the defensive side of that production angle, I was surprised a team that returns both safeties, two linebackers, its most productive defensive lineman, and two of the three starters at corner fared so poorly in the tackles returning metric, but look: 5 of last year's top 12 tacklers are gone. (Did you know Chris Evans was last year's third-leading tackler?) I'd like to think Auburn won't suffer much of a drop-off with The Toro taking over for the Evans/Johnson combination, and there's reason to think Mike Blanc could have a big year in the middle--he finished last season with just one fewer tackle than Tez Doolittle in substantially less playing time. But that's all easier said than done, and until we see Auburn's new defenders prove it on the field, we have to recognize that there might be some growing pains.

Offensively, that's a lot of yards coming back ... but you also might think a unit that returns all but one of its skill position starters would rank a little bit higher than in the 40s nationally. Too bad that one lost starter was the leading receiver by a wide margin, and that several of the backups--Brad Lester, Robert Dunn, even Chris Slaughter--were relatively major contributors. Top that off with the fact that even if most of Auburn's yards are back, their total yardage numbers last year were so anemic that that counts for less than it would on most rosters. And then, oh yeah, Auburn lost two multi-year starters off the offensive line and will likely start a player at right tackle who has yet to start a game in three years on the roster.

So all of that is to say: Auburn's experience levels are not a negative. Too many starters back, too many upperclassmen. (And, of course, I think some of the losses will be more than compensated for by some of the newcomers.) But it's also just plain inaccurate to say "eight starters back on offense; seven or eight starters back on defense. We're good to go." (Not that anybody is saying that, I guess.)

For the SEC: Oh goodness, South Carolina: 102nd or worse in all four of Steele's metrics? And still only barely in the top half of the league along the offensive line? This is not going to end well.

For all of the (justified) Florida hype, it'll be interesting to see if a team as green along the offensive line as the Gators are can reach the same heights they did last year, even with the ridiculous level of experience across the defense. The second-biggest worry here for Florida--the loss of Harvin, as shown in the yards metric--also comes on the offensive side of the ball. They do of course have the player that might very well cement himself as the greatest college football player of all time by the end of the year, but still--if the Gators have any hiccups, here's to betting they'll show up because the revamped line and Harvin-less backfield force Tebow to air it out more than Meyer would like.

I wouldn't want to play Alabama late in the season. The guess here is that as ferocious as that defense is going to be, the lack of returning offensive talent--either on the line or at the skill positions--is going to cause some problems early on. But with that many lettermen back and (*sigh*) so much fresh talent arriving, I'd also guess the Tide will figure things out by the end of the year. Dammit.

Georgia will be an excellent test of how important offensive line experience really is; the Dawgs don't rank higher than sixth in any other metric here.

Ole Miss and LSU look pretty similar here, don't they? The Rebels are older, the Bayou Bengals are a little bit more seasoned on defense and along the o-line, but it's still more-or-less a draw. Meaning I'll take the team with Miles, Crowton, and Chavis coaching it over the one with Nutt, Tyrone Nix, and ... um ... let me look it up ... "Kent Austin."

HT: Blutarsky.

*Steele tallies this using a "points" system in which senior starters count for so much, another senior on the two-deep counts for so much, and on down through subtractions for freshmen. So that's why no percentages.

2 comments:

Sullivan013 said...

Interesting discussion.; However, like all statistics, it is in need of perspective and context. Are we looking at meaningless numbers? How does this type of analysis relate to the 2008 season final standings? 2007? since 2000?

How did Auburn fare in 2004? 2005? 2008?

Answer hazy. Try later.

Sullivan013

Jerry Hinnen said...

An excellent question, Sully, and one I don't have a ready answer for. I don't think these kinds of multi-faceted breakdowns have been available before. That's part of the reason to look at it, though--we'll find out this fall how close a correlation we can really make.