This time of year the digital pages of the college football corner of the Internet are filled with what people think is going to happen this fall. Very few is written about what we know will happen. That’s for good reason. Predicting individual games and seasons is impossible.

But if you study the numbers, some macro-level trends become clear. My favorite is Phil Steele’s annual experience study. Steele examines the number of returning seniors, the number of seniors on the 2-deep and the numbers of returning yards, tackles and offensive line starts to rank each team’s total experience heading into the season.

Obviously, the more experience (typically) the better.

Here’s how the 10 most experienced teams of the past two seasons fared.

Team 2015 Record 2016 Record Change
Kent State 3-9 3-9 None
Charlotte 2-10 4-8 +2
Tennessee 9-4 9-4 None
BYU 9-4 9-4 None
Eastern Michigan 1-11 7-6 +6
Oklahoma State 10-3 10-3 None
Pittsburgh 8-5 8-5 None
LSU 9-3 8-4 -1
Colorado 4-9 10-4 +6
Central Florida 0-12 6-7 +6
Total +19
Average +1.9
Team 2014 Record 2015 Record Change
Massachusetts 3-9 3-9 None
Appalachian State 7-5 11-2 +4
California 5-7 8-5 +3
Ohio 6-6 8-5 +2
New Mexico State 2-10 3-9 +1
Bowling Green 8-6 10-4 +2
North Carolina 6-7 11-3 +5
Temple 6-6 10-4 +4
Texas Tech 4-8 7-6 +3
Vanderbilt 3-9 4-8 +1
Total +25
Average +2.5

Of the 20 teams to rank in Steele’s top 10 over the past two seasons, 13 increased their year-over-year win total and eight (40 percent) jumped three or more wins. Only one team dropped in wins — and that team fired its head coach in September, then went 6-2 under its new head coach. (Charlotte was excluded from the 2015 list due to moving from an FCS independent to Conference USA.) Overall, the group gained a total of 44 wins from the year prior, a per team average of 2.2 wins per team.

(Of course, no formula is perfect. UTSA’s 2014 squad was far and away the most experienced team over the past three seasons… and that team dropped three wins from the year prior.)

The 10 most experienced teams heading into 2017?

  1. Florida Atlantic
  2. Miami (Ohio)
  3. TCU
  4. Florida International
  5. Memphis
  6. Auburn
  7. NC State
  8. Army
  9. SMU
  10. Texas

Now let’s look at how the least experienced teams from the last two seasons fared, shall we?

Team 2015 Record 2016 Record Change
Ohio State 12-1 11-2 -1
Navy 11-2 9-5 -2
Arizona State 6-7 5-7 -1
Buffalo 5-7 2-10 -3
Akron 8-5 5-7 -3
Louisiana Tech 9-4 9-5 None
Stanford 12-2 10-3 -2
Notre Dame 10-3 4-8 -6
Massachusetts 3-9 2-10 -1
California 8-5 5-7 -3
Total -23
Average -2.3
Team 2014 Record 2015 Record Average
Florida State 13-1 10-3 -3
Boston College 7-6 3-9 -4
Wyoming 4-8 2-10 -2
Florida 7-5 10-4 +3
Alabama 12-2 14-1 +2
Fresno State 6-8 3-9 -3
Oregon State 5-7 2-10 -3
Nevada 7-6 7-6 None
South Alabama 6-7 5-7 -1
Miami (Ohio) 2-10 3-9 +1
Total -10
Average -1

Sixteen of the 20 least experienced teams saw their win totals fall from the year before, with, once again, eight dropping three or more wins. Three teams managed to buck the trend and increase their victory totals despite their lack of experience — but one of those was Bama. Another program that recruits its way out of typical pains of inexperience — Ohio State — dropped a win from 2015 to ’16 only because it reached the CFP and faced Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl instead of Notre Dame.

Overall, these teams lost a total of 33 wins year-over-year, an average of 1.65 per team.

Not that any of these teams were bad necessarily — there’s no shame in falling from 12-2 to 10-3 when losing roughly half your experience from the year prior — but most treaded water or took a step back

The 10 least experienced teams entering 2017 (UAB not included):

  1. Michigan State
  2. Georgia Southern
  3. Michigan
  4. Nebraska
  5. West Virginia
  6. Illinois
  7. Pittsburgh
  8. Utah
  9. Texas A&M
  10. Louisiana Tech

Some of these teams will buck the trend in a good way, and others in a bad way. But statistics say six or seven of the 10 most experienced teams will grow their win totals from 2016 to ’17 — and four will jump by at least three wins. On the other side of that coin, eight teams from the below list will see their records fall, one (Michigan?) will recruit its way out of it and four will fall by at least three wins.

Now can we play the games already?

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National columnist - Zach joined the staff in 2012...and has been attempting to improve Doug and Scott's writing ability ever since (to little avail). Outside of football season, you can find him watching the San Antonio Spurs reading Game of Thrones fan theories.