If you had to reduce the common perception of their 2011 prospects to soundbites, I think it would be to describe Georgia as a program whose coach is on the hot seat and Tennessee as a program that’s a least a year away from being a serious contender in the SEC East. (For the latest confirmation of those, see Edward Aschoff’s and Chris Low’s picks for most likely conference upsets this season.) One implication from that is the Vols’ talent base is markedly greener than Georgia’s; because his team is much less experienced, no one is expecting that Dooley’s team’s won-loss record should be as good as Richt’s. (Before you go there, “should” isn’t the same thing as “will”.)
But is that really the case? Two charts from Phil Steele seem to show that the experience gap between the two isn’t as great as the conventional wisdom makes it sound.
The first is his Combined Experience Chart. Steele looks at the quality of each team’s returning seniors through a number of prisms and assigns a total which he labels “experience points”. The 2011 numbers range from a high of SMU’s 90.5 to Auburn’s low of 25.4. Georgia’s score is 60.8; Tennessee’s is 58.9. That’s a gap of less than two points, which hardly seems that significant. (Put it this way: the gap between Georgia and South Carolina, a team the pundits believe Georgia should compete with this season, is almost six points.)
If you want to look at something more than just seniors, there’s a more broad-based measurement to compare in Steele’s breakdown of starters by class. You can read his method at the link, but again, he ranks teams by points ranging from a high of 94 (Air Force) to a low of 38 (Auburn, once again). Georgia and Tennessee find themselves scored even more closely by this metric, as Georgia (54) has only one point more than UT (53) does. (South Carolina, for comparison’s sake, scored a 58.)
Now you can argue that the difference in perception is justified by a talent gap more than an experience gap, but I’m not sure how being “still a year away” fits in with that, as Tennessee’s incoming class isn’t considered more talented than Georgia’s. So my question is simple: is Dooley getting something of a pass on this, or are people expecting more out of Richt than is justified?