As several people on TV, radio, and the internet have mentioned repeatedly, several key contributors from MSU's football team last year are gone. In his list of returning starters, Phil Steele ranks MSU as the 121st most experienced team in FBS, which would be last in the SEC. Looking at how many starters a team returns can give you the basic idea of how much experience is returning to a team, but it is far from perfect. It may not take into account players who started for a few games instead of the majority of the season. Also, it certainly doesn't tell you how many of the starters a team lost were average players, and how many of the starters were exceptional players. The ranking system he wrote about today ranked MSU as the 36th most experienced team next year, and it has some advantages over his previous ranking.
Steele calls this ranking the "Two Deep Class Breakdown". It is calculated with factors such as
- the percentage of lettermen returning
- the percentage of tackles returning
- the percentage of yards returning
- the percentage of offensive line starts returning
- his older system
He used a points system to give teams more credit for having senior starters than junior or sophomore starters. There are more details here. According to this ranking system, MSU is tied with Ole Miss at 36th in the country, and more importantly, tied for first in the SEC West. Auburn is the closest at 71st.
It is a subjective ranking system, but it has much more detail than simply ranking how many starters are returning to a team. There are some flaws to the ranking, but the guy covers 128 teams, so there is only so much research he has time to do. Another writer for this site, Prediction? Pain, used some statistics that I would like to have seen in Steele's rankings, such as sacks and tackles for loss. It would be interesting to see some returning offensive line stats such as pancake blocks and sacks allowed, and to see some special teams statistics. Also, I'm not sure Steele should count seniors more than juniors, because some of the best players in college football don't stay for their senior season. The biggest takeaway from Steele's experience ranking system is that MSU might not be as inexperienced as everyone else thinks, and that should make Bulldog fans feel better about next season.