If experience ends up playing a crucial role for the Texas Longhorns in 2016, the outlook is at least a little better than last season, as head coach Charlie Strong's team will enter a critical season as the third-most experienced team in the Big 12, according to the number of returning starts compiled by ESPN:
In 2015, the 'Horns were attempting to recover from losing 10 players to the NFL, including longtime contributors like defensive tackle Malcom Brown, linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, and cornerback Quandre Diggs. After starting the season No. 8 in the conference in returning starts, Texas went on to finish seventh with a 4-5 record.
Was there a correlation between experience and success last season? There's at least some connection -- the two least experienced teams finished No. 8 (Kansas State) and No. 10 (Kansas), with Iowa State (No. 7 in experience) finishing in between.
Oklahoma (No. 5 in experience) and Oklahoma State (No. 6) were the clear outliers, but the emergence of Baker Mayfield at quarterback for the Sooners and quite a bit of luck for the Cowboys helped explain those results. Other schools like Baylor, TCU, and West Virginia clearly benefited, while Texas Tech, a school that struggles to recruit well, did not.
So the Longhorns should have a chance to improve this season based on the experience gained last season, especially along the offensive line, at linebacker, and in the secondary. Dealing with a more experienced Cowboys team on the road could be difficult for Strong's team. The same with the Mountaineers at home.
Where Texas has the most ground to gain against a rival is Baylor, which went from 314 returning starts last season to 223 this season. With the departures of left tackle Spencer Drango, wide receiver Corey Coleman, the entire starting defensive line, and cornerback Xavien Howard, the Bears will be hard-pressed to effectively replace all of those major contributors.