Revisiting the experience theorem

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While working on today’s dead-tree edition story about the defensive line, a common theme that came up from everyone I talked to – Derek Drummond, A.J. Francis, Travis Ivey and Masengo Kabongo – was that experience isn’t the end-all, be-all some would have you think.

And guess what? In a lot of cases, they’re right.

The problem with any sort of preseason rankings – be it by unit, within a conference or even with a national scope – is at their core, it’s mere guesswork.

You can have a pretty good idea of who will be among the absolute best at something. But after that, it’s a lot more difficult to parse groups that appear to have similar talent levels and accomplishments.

Which is where the experience theorem comes into play for so many analysts:

The greater the number of regulars who return at a certain position for a college team, the less that position will be viewed as a concern.

Really, it’s the one quantifiable thing that anyone could add up and roll with to conjure up an semi-educated guess on how things might play out.

Since Maryland’s defensive line owns 10 career starts, it’s not hard to see why the bunch isn’t getting much praise. No one has any clue who they are.

The major flaw in relying on the experience theorem is that there’s good experience and bad experience.

If you’re Florida State and you have a mature Rodney Hudson returning for his junior year at guard, that’s good experience. The dude can flat-out manhandle defensive linemen.

But let’s say there’s a guy entering his third or fourth year as a starter at any position. And let’s say he’s been a complete waste of space his entire career.

Sure, he’s started two or three dozen games. But if you know he stinks, doesn’t the redshirt freshman hidden behind Door No. 2 seem like an option worth looking at?

The point is, worshipping at the altar of experience only gets you so far. It doesn’t account for either talent or scheme, and both play a crucial role in success.

Which is not to say Drummond and Francis and Kabongo can or will be stars. There’s no way to know how they’ll fare until a game is actually played.

But it works the other way, too, which is why a wait-and-see approach is probably best in trying to figure out how productive that bunch can be.

Patrick Stevens

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