How Important is Experience?
Over the weekend, NFL fans saw two young quarterbacks lead their team to the Super Bowl. The experience of guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers did not provide enough of an edge to push their teams over the top. In college, we often consider in the offseason how many returning starters each team will have. There's certainly some benefit to bringing back a veteran player, but how important might that be in 2013 in the Big Ten?
Phil Steele has provided his list of returning starters for every team in the FBS. If experience trumped everything else, then we'd expect to see Indiana beat Minnesota in the Big Ten championship game next season. Realistically, no one is expecting to see either team reach that game. Clearly, there are a lot of other important factors in winning and losing.
Still, it's worth a look at who's got what coming back. By his count, the Huskers will bring back 13 starters. Here's how NU's schedule for 2013 looks in terms of opposing FBS teams' experience for comparison:
Team Returning Starters
Southern Miss 13
Michigan State 15
@Penn State 13
Most of the opposition is within a game of the Huskers in terms of returning starters. Both Northwestern and Michigan State must come to Lincoln, which makes that two-player advantage somewhat less impressive. Minnesota has the greatest edge and yet you still expect the Huskers to go into that game as prohibitive favorites.
The other thing to consider is that all returning starters are probably not created equal. Michigan State suffered some pretty big losses in running back Le'Veon Bell, tight end Dion Sims, and defensive end William Gholston. Likewise, Minnesota seems likely to miss playmaker MarQueis Gray and cornerback/return man Troy Stoudermire. Penn State's loss of quarterback Matt McGloin seems pretty huge even if the number of returning starters overall is the same as NU's. Likewise, Husker fans can thank their lucky stars that UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin and tight end Joseph Fauria won't be back.
You also have to consider the value that an impact newcomer can bring. LaVonte David wasn't a returning starter in 2010. He turned out to be awfully good though.
In the end, these numbers don't appear to be terribly meaningful for Nebraska in 2013 except perhaps for the seven starters to replace on the Husker defense. After the way 2012 ended, maybe starting over there won't be all bad.