Over at The Joe Cribbs Car Wash, Jerry Hinnen linked to this Wall Street Journal piece about the relationship between experience on the offensive line and a team’s success. Jerry waxed enthusiastic about it; me, I’m interested, but maybe not as impressed.
It’s not that I disagree with the general proposition that an experienced offensive line is a good thing. Anybody that’s followed Georgia football this decade can attest to that. It’s just that I’m a bit skeptical about the author’s key to predicting success:
… Last season, eight of the top 10 teams in the final Associated Press poll began the season with at least 65 combined career starts by their offensive linemen, including title-game participants Florida and Oklahoma.
Given that at least half the teams in D-1 football play thirteen-game schedules, that’s not as big a deal as it sounds: 65 combined starts from your linemen means nothing more than that they’ve averaged one year as starters (5 linemen x 13 games = 65 combined starts). In essence, if a school didn’t graduate or lose any of its starting linemen to the pros early and if it didn’t suffer much on the injury front, it’s a lock to achieve that number. Quite frankly, as a key to greatness, that’s a bit underwhelming.
On the other hand, considering how low the bar is being set, there may very well be something to negatively handicapping a team that can’t hit that target. But even with that, I think you have to be careful to avoid painting with too broad a brush. There’s a big difference in my mind between Georgia’s situation last year, with all the chaos that resulted from injuries and a gap in recruiting, and Oklahoma’s this year, which is the result of several experienced starters graduating.
In the case of the Dawgs, Searels had little choice but to juggle talented players with little experience because most hadn’t been in the program very long. On the other hand, Oklahoma will be going through an orderly transition that’s bolstered by the fact that while the new starting linemen won’t have as much starting experience as their predecessors, they likely have plenty of playing experience – one good thing about lots of blowouts on a team’s schedule is that you can garner a fair amount of game time for backups.