The Wall Street Journal doesn't really "do" college football, but the economic paper of record is settling into what might be called "experience indicators." This time last year, it was the value of returning offensive line starts that caught the WSJ's interest; this year, it wonders just how likely any of those hotshot new starting quarterbacks at Texas, Florida, Notre Dame and Oregon are to take their team to a BCS game, anyway:
... the odds are against it. Over the past 10 years, only 18% of the teams that reached Bowl Championship Series bowls (16 of 88) were quarterbacked by a first-time starter. Defending national-champion Alabama was one — Greg McElroy threw 20 passes before last year—but the Tide were an anomaly. The nine other BCS teams last season were led by experienced quarterbacks. Unless you're vintage USC — whose seven-year BCS streak was unaffected by quarterback inexperience — the mistake-prone nature of green QBs is often too much of a hindrance to overcome.
"Often" here amounts to about 75 percent of the time: Only 28 of 104 quarterbacks in BCS games since the Series began in 1998 (27 percent) have been first-year starters, though with the likes of Chris Weinke, Michael Vick, Rex Grossman, Matt Leinart, Chad Henne, Pat White, Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez among their ranks, it's a pretty accomplished group, and not one that can be very easily typecast. It's also a fairly consistent group from year to year, since at least one new starter has gone on to a big-money game every year except 2001, and there have been at least two rookies every other year except 2004 (Henne) and 2009 (McElroy). In 12 years, seven first-year quarterbacks have showed up in the designated national title game, and five (Tee Martin, Craig Krenzel, Matt Leinart, Matt Flynn and Greg McElroy) have come away with a championship opposite exceptional defenses.
2009 notwithstanding, the pessimism over rookie signal-callers really begins to break down over the last five years: The BCS featured at least three teams with new starters every year from 2005-08, including four in 2005 (Michael Robinson, D.J. Shockley, Drew Weatherford and Pat White), 2007 (Todd Boeckman, Sam Bradford, Matt Flynn and Todd Reesing) and 2008 (Daryll Clark, Tony Pike, Terrelle Pryor and Mark Sanchez). Since '05, the percentage of first-year starters in the BCS rises to 33 percent (16 out of 48), one in three.
To put that in perspective, consider how much less likely teams are to be playing a first-year starter to begin with. By Phil Steele's count, 43 of 120 I-A teams plan to debut new starting quarterbacks this fall, including a handful of teams (Cincinnati, Kansas State, Virginia, Oregon) whose "new" starters actually have multiple starts in their careers. Forty-three of 120 is 36.7 percent -- only 10 percent higher than the ratio of all BCS teams with new starters since the Series began in '98, and practically identical to the ratio over the last five years. A difference of a couple percentage points over several years, encompassing a relatively small sample size, isn't quite enough to count Garrett Gilbert, John Brantley, Dayne Crist and Aaron Murray out of the mix just yet.
As for last year's hypothesis on offensive line starts? It correctly predicted the success of the veteran unit at Texas, but turned out completely wrong about equally experienced fronts sparking turnarounds at Notre Dame, Florida State and Michigan; on the other side, it was right on the impending struggles of Oklahoma's young line, but very wrong on the limitations of alarmingly green groups at Oregon and Alabama. As 'Bama fans will tell you, based on last year's championship offense and the towering expectations for this year's wholly rebuilt defense, sometimes "experience" isn't all it's cracked up to be.