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ASU Football: Sun Devils rank near bottom of returning experience

Arizona State comes up short in Pac-12 and national rankings of returning experience.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

A constant of collegiate athletics is turnover. Athletic directors and coaches are almost always looking for a bigger job to jump to, and players only have four years of eligibility to make their mark. So with constant recycling of players and coaches, it's hard to build a team of battle-tested vets.

Arizona State was able achieve such a feat last year, as its experience on both sides of the ball propelled it to a Pac-12 South title. Seniors such as Will Sutton and Marion Grice anchored the offense and defense, and Arizona State had  pieces in tight end Chris Coyle and safety Alden Darby that had major collegiate experience.

Coming into the 2014 season, things are a little different in Tempe. Arizona State loses eight of its defensive starters from 2013 and while they maintain the two biggest pieces of the offense in quarterback Taylor Kelly and wide receiver Jaelen Strong, the Sun Devils are fairly baby-faced on the offensive end too.

In an article by Phil Steele on his College Football Preview site, he combined various statistics and crunched some numbers on his way to compiling a list of the most and least experienced teams in college football. UTSA is tops on the list, and defending SEC champion and national runner up Auburn comes in at  No. 6. Where the list gets interesting is No. 24, where the Pac-12 makes its first appearance. The program with the most experience in the conference is UCLA, the team widely picked to knock the Sun Devils off their Pac-12 South perch. The Bruins return elite quarterback Brett Hundley, who would have been a high draft pick if he declared for the draft, and have an offensive line that has made a collective 88 starts.

The Sun Devils, meanwhile, come on the 108th spot on the list. They take the torch from Cal as the team in the conference with the least returning experience and are near the bottom of the national rankings. Arizona State only starts six seniors, and the Sun Devil offensive line has only made 62 starts collectively in their time in Tempe. The drop to last in the Pac-12 and 108th in the country is a steep fall from where Arizona State was last year, as they were ranked third in the conference and 26th in the nation going into 2013.

While their placing on this list may strike some as concerning, perspective is key when looking at preseason evaluations of a team. The team that won the national championship last year, Florida State, came in at No. 78 last year and started a freshman at quarterback en route to hoisting the crystal ball. Stanford, who beat the Sun Devils twice last season on their way to the Rose Bowl, was ranked at No. 51 in Steele's 2013 edition of the list. University of Central Florida came in 100th last year, and ended up beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, who was ranked at No. 108, the same spot that the Sun Devils occupy in 2014.

So what it all means, is that it does not mean too much. Nationally powerful programs like Arizona State, LSU, and Notre Dame are closer to the bottom of the list than they are to the top. No one is worried about how Alabama (107th on Steele's list) or Ohio State (109th) are going to fare, as the perennial contenders are able to recruit top-end talent.

Still, it's disconcerning for Sun Devil fans to see their chief opponent for the division crown sit so high. Hundley, an experienced offensive line, and a Bruins squad familiar with one another may cause fits for the maroon and gold, and all it means is that the defending Pac-12 South champions better be prepared to showcase some new role players.