For the last two weeks, college football statistician and analyst Phil Steele has been rolling out different lists charting the experience level of every FBS program. He’s tabulated the career starts of each team’s offensive linemen, their returning offensive production from last season, returning tacklers from last season, and analyzed their two-deep depth charts.
Now it’s time to combine all that data into one big chart to figure out just how experienced each team’s overall roster really is.
Steele released his Team Experience Chart, which combines the factors listed above into one clean numerical value that shows how experienced a team’s entire roster is.
“I conclude the series by combining the five factors into my final ranking,” Steele writes. “I then devised a formula that factors all 5 into the total points equation and then turned the point total into a number from 100 to 0. A (100) would be a team with 25 seniors (NCAA scholarship limit) in the two deep and every yard and tackle returning and 120+ career starts on the offensive line. A (0) would be a team with no experience and 0 seniors in the two deep.”
And with that formula, the Vols are considered the 48th-most experienced team in the FBS in 2017. That puts them smack dab in the middle of the SEC, ranking them seventh in the conference in total experience.
According to Steele’s data, the Vols scored a 63.5 in total experience points. Steele projects the Vols will have 10 senior starters and seven more seniors in the two-deep depth chart, and the Vols return 77.9 percent of their lettermen from last season. Tennessee’s offensive line has a combined 111 starts to their credit, and the Vols return 75 percent of their tackles from last year. The one area that brings the Vols down the most is on offense where they only return 25.7 percent of their offensive yards from last season.
Auburn ranks No. 1 in the SEC and No. 6 overall on the chart. They are followed by Georgia (12th), Missouri (19th), Kentucky (20th), South Carolina (26th), and Vanderbilt (37th) before reaching the Vols. The least experienced SEC team in 2017 according to Steele’s calculations is Texas A&M (121st).
Last June, the Vols checked in at No. 3 on Steele’s Team Experience Chart with a score of 76.9 experience points. The Vols didn’t have much in the way of senior starters or seniors in the two-deep (only six senior starters and five seniors in the two-deep by Steele’s projections), but they returned 78.1 percent of their lettermen, 63.2 percent of their tackles from 2015, 91 percent of their offensive yards from 2015, and their offensive linemen had a combined 71 starts.
Tennessee placed 58th in the experience chart in 2015 and 123rd in 2014. Surprisingly enough, the Vols had the same ranking (48th) in 2013, Butch Jones’ first season as Tennessee’s head coach.
The Vols may not be as inexperienced overall as they were in Butch Jones’ second and third season, but there’s still a significant drop-off in terms of overall experience from 2016 to now. Tennessee has a veteran offensive line and return a number of productive defensive players who found playing time thanks to injury last season. But breaking in a new quarterback will be the biggest adjustment, and aside from starters John Kelly, Jauan Jennings, and Ethan Wolf, not much is known about the depth at running back, wide receiver, and tight end.
Experience isn’t always everything, but it helps to have it in key areas. And Vol fans are hoping the 2017 Vols have enough in some spots to overcome it in others.