Everyone knows the 2016 Texas Longhorns football team is young and, if you've read the multiverse's best Texas and Big 12 preview, you already know that 60 of our 85 scholarship athletes are underclassmen and that many true freshmen will be called upon to play key roles.
However, even with only 25 upperclassmen in the program, if most of the older players are starters, there's no real experience deficit. Not so at Texas.
A quick way to eyeball what I'll term useful seniority is to simply tally up the number of senior starters in a program.
According to Phil Steele's 2016 College Football preview, Texas is at the bottom of the Big 12 in senior starters.
2016 Big 12 senior starters
West Virginia 13
Oklahoma St 10
Kansas St 9
Texas Tech 8
Iowa State 7
Not encouraging. Less encouraging: Texas would also be dead last in the Pac 12, ACC, SEC and 2nd to last in the Big Ten.
Now, Kansas will quickly prove that pure seniority isn't necessarily determinative of total wins. The key word in useful seniority is "useful." A bad 23 year old 5th year senior just isn't that helpful. But when seniority and a baseline level of talent are in confluence, unsexy teams win games. These teams make fewer mistakes, execute from muscle memory, have maximized physical and mental potential and are well suited to handle adversity.
Phil Steele credits Texas with three senior starters as he predicts freshman S Brandon Jones will start the majority of the season. That's debatable, but one might still argue three, given that senior TE Caleb Bluiett will only see the field in certain Longhorn sets. Whether three or four senior starters - Texas is in the bottom 3% of P5 conference teams.
TCU is light on senior starters (6), but they have eleven projected junior starters. Half of them are 4th year juniors. They're a year away from Peak Frog, but this is no team of toddlers.
West Virginia and Oklahoma State represent an interesting extreme on the experience/talent bell curve. Both teams feature 20/22 upperclassmen starters. Are they Florida State level gifted? Not close. But they've got some players. These two teams are your 2016 Longhorn season litmus test and the Big 12's dark horse contenders. Or at least its upset-minded conference kingmakers.
The crucial companion piece to this discussion is framed up in our Year 3 As Charlie Strong Referendum essays. If you want to understand the discussions we'll be having from September through November, you need to establish the proper framework in July and August. Specifically, in understanding the slippery, oft-abused concept of "talent." You'll hear this word thrown around a lot when Texas flashes brilliance (leading to delusional over-enthusiasm - Jerrod Heard, Cal) or in distraught overreaction when we lose to a "less talented" team.
The truth is that folks who opine about talent in the absence of its relationship to a defined system or its interplay with experience don't deserve an opinion. But you'll hear those opinions anyway. Inoculate yourself.
We use the dog park analogy. A 7 month old Great Dane will lose a wrestling match with an adult labrador, even though the Dane is bigger and faster. More "talented." But he's a pup - with all the goofy, lovable awkwardness that entails. He doesn't know any dirty tricks, he's mentally weak and he lacks the coordination to deploy his assets.
So bet on the confident, focused labrador retriever.
And put the freaking house on the Great Dane a year later.