One of the interesting things in the Phil Steele annual magazine is the "experience chart", a tool with which Steele measures the experiences of the starters and key backups for each team. Steele unveiled the "by class" chart June 3rd. The measure looks only at starters and key backups, collectively known as the two-deep. SR starters get 3 points, SR backups 2.5, JR starters 2, JR backups 1.5, SO starters 1, SO backups .5, FR starters -1, and FR backups -0.5. We can argue about the values assigned to each, but as long as it is consistent throughout then it's worth a look. In particular, I question whether a senior backup is worth more than a JR starter, and I also have an issue with the measure being unable to differentiate Redshirt Freshmen from true freshmen. Certainly, however, Steele's list is better than most because it actually accounts for the starters and their immediate backups. Since football is a collision sport with many injuries, experienced backups are very important.
I'm sure you're thinking "Bud, we've heard this every year for the last 10 years. They always say FSU is a young team." They might say it, but anyone who took the time to look came to the conclusion that FSU was not a young team last season. Not at all. In fact, I pointed out many times that the 2009 squad was very veteran (particularly on defense). That Bobby Bowden repeatedly used the excuse to justify his continued employment shouldn't matter. Remember he also said that there was nothing wrong with Jeff Bowden. FSU fans might be tired of hearing they have a young team, but just because they have heard it before when it wasn't true, doesn't mean it is not true this time. Just look.
And that's really the only way to mess up when compiling a list like this. You have to look at the players and not guess. So that's what I'll do here.
FSU checks in at 98th in the country (120 teams) in experience, with a score of 56. In the ACC, Only Maryland is less experienced, with a score of 51. In reverse order, Wake Forest and VTech have 56 points, Maryland checks in with 57 points, Duke and NC State are tied with 58 experience points, Clemson and Georgia Tech have 60 experience points a piece, Then there's a huge jump to Miami with 67 experience points, Boston College and Carolina are tied for the conference lead with 70.
But I wondered if that total of 56 experience points was correct. Steele lists FSU as having 6 SR Starters, 1 SR Backup, 10 Junior Starters, 7 JR Backups, 5 SO Starters, 8 SO Backups, 1 FR starter, and 6 Freshmen Backups. Sadly, I have the depth chart committed to memory and I quickly realized those numbers were not correct. The problem was that Steele didn't have the depth chart quite right. That's an easy enough fix.
The discrepancies amongst the starters come in three main areas. First, Steele lists Taiwan Easterling as a starter at wide receiver. If Easterling plays football, and many expect him to leave for professional baseball, he would be a starter. But if he doesn't FSU will likely be start Lonnie Pryor, a second tailback, at fullback (though he won't play like a traditional fullback). He's a sophomore where Easterling is a Junior. Second, Steele lists Everett Dawkins as a starter at defensive end, but Dawkins is playing (and likely starting) at defensive tackle, moving the of-injured Moses McCray to a reserve role. Brandon Jenkins is the starter at defensive end, not Dawkins. Third, Steele lists true freshman Jeff Luc as the starter at strongside linebacker. Luc, while very highly touted, is a backup at middle linebacker. Nigel Carr, the Junior from Jacksonville who has absolutely blown up this off-season (adding 9 lbs in the last 50 days!) is the starter at the strong side. Finally, FSU's cornerback situation is very much undetermined, but that's because FSU has four capable cornerbacks in the mix and will add a fifth come July via JUCO player.
So in re-calculating the formula, I fixed the depth chart with the players whom I know are penciled in to start, and then calculated a range using the oldest possible options at WR (no fullback) and cornerback, as well as the youngest possible combo (fullback, not WR), with the youngest corners. I also fixed some of the backups (Steele assumes highly touted freshmen will jump similarly talented freshmen- now sophomores, from a year ago).
What I found is that FSU is not the youngest team in the ACC. They are the second youngest, with a range of 52.5 to 54.5. In all scenarios, FSU is younger than what Steele projected. FSU has a projected 7 SRs (5 starters), 13 JRs (10 starters), 18 SOs (6 starters), and 6 freshmen (1 starter) in the two-deep.
Conclusion: FSU is one of the 20 youngest teams in the country.
I also decided to break down the offense and defense. The offense, which was fairly young but very good last year, checks in with 3 seniors, 9 juniors, 8 sophomores, and 2 freshmen, for a total of 30 experience points. The defense, which was extremely experienced (and awful) last season, is much younger this season with only 24 experience points (median, could be as few as 22.5 or as many as 25), with 4 seniors, 4 juniors, 10 sophomores, and 4 freshmen.
Certainly how old a team is won't perfectly reflect how well it will play. But it sure doesn't hurt for a team to have some age on it. But a team cannot be young forever; in 2011 FSU projects to have one of the most experienced teams in the ACC.
Update: it appears that Steele also flubbed his evaluation of Michigan's experience.