An experienced and talented team can often run on auto-pilot.
A team without experience simply has a greater chance of failure at each position on each play due to lack of physical maturity, time in the system (and on the field) and mental maturity.
For example, Larry Coker's first Miami teams were experienced and talented. He took them to a national championship in his first season after Butch Davis left, but after that they slowly fell apart and Coker was eventually fired. In other words experienced talent won the national championship for Miami, not Coker.
It's simply harder to win with an inexperienced squad, and you need experience for both depth and front line capability. So why can't you win with just a talented team, "Gee, they have so much talent." There's a reason astute observers of sport (okay, you don't have to be that astute) usually use the caveat "young talent."
Talent as it's normally used within sports is really describing potential based on innate ability. Now, potential is nice, but isn't the same as current ability level or demonstrated ability level. Remember ability can be either innate or developed (born vs. built.)
Take LSU this past year. Matt Flynn, a 5th year senior took them to the title. Flynn doesn't have as much talent as Ryan Perrilloux, but that's talent as defined by potential. LSU wouldn't have won a championship with Flynn as a sophomore or a junior, but as a 5th year senior he had the physical development, mental development and system experience to guide them to a national championship. It's fair to say that LSU wouldn't have won without Flynn as a 5th year senior and certainly wouldn't have won with the "more talented" Ryan Perrilloux quarterbacking their offense. Perrilloux was the number one rated quarterback in the country two years ago (the one before Clausen.)
Everyone knows who Jacob Hester is... now, but it took him four years to develop into a key player in a national championship run.
So, what's your point, you ask?
Without Flynn and Hester having four and five years to develop, LSU probably doesn't win the title.
You need numbers and potential in the upper classes, because that's where your highest probability of reaching potential will reside. Overall development differs by position and by player, but on the whole upper class leadership and experience are essential pieces of good teams and most players need time in a system to develop their potential.
In really good teams, the "bones" of the team are usually in the junior, senior and 5th year classes, which allows the spectacular younger "talent" to break through and develop faster by playing next to experienced players.
Here's a quip on Bo Pelini and LSU:
It also helps that a defense with 11 seniors and juniors on the two-deep depth chart is entering its third season under Pelini. With seniors such as defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Blue Ribbon's national preseason defensive player of the year; linebacker Ali Highsmith; strong safety Craig Steltz; and cornerback Chevis Jackson, the Tigers aren't short on experience or leadership.
"We're so much further ahead than we were before," Pelini said. "There wasn't as much of a sense of urgency to put in a bunch of stuff in the spring. We have ideas and we tweak things and we added a few things, but it goes in pretty easy now because most of the guys understand the system and the terminology better."
So, a couple of things here.
1. Individual development is important.
2. Team development, having a team with a number of seasoned players in the system for a period of time, is important.
This applies to Notre Dame how?
Well, Notre Dame has very little support in the upper level classes to surround the talent that's bubbling up underneath. The Irish don't yet have the players to develop enough Flynns to lead the team from above. It's a legacy from Willingham that is just starting to wash out, remember he recruited the majority of the seniors on this team which made up two of the worst back to back classes in Notre Dame history (if not the worst two.) By my count the only kids recruited by Weis who weren't in the pipeline already were Steve Quinn, Darrell Hand and Pat Kuntz . Those are our senior and 5th year kids.
If your kids haven't physically developed yet (as Weis claims is the case with the OL last year,) you can't get off square one.
It will be interesting to watch Justin Brown this year. It took him four years to see the field, now he might have the chance to evolve into a very good player. The fact is that the longer any kid is in the system the higher the probability he'll reach his potential. Each less year in the system, the less chance he'll play to his potential. So a player might be talented, but just not had enough time to physically and mentally develop.
I looked back at the impact by class from 2006 and found that most starters on top teams were in the senior class, followed by almost equal amounts from the junior and 5th year classes (which falls here due to graduation.) No surprise, there. It takes kids time to develop physically and mentally. Sophomores had the next greatest team impact and freshmen on good teams rarely made an impact (surprisingly little.)
So your "Talent" equation, based on starter ratios of good teams, approximates the impact you should expect from any given universe of recruits. It looks something like this:
Good teams have 8 seniors, 5 juniors, 4 5th year seniors, 4 sophomores and one freshmen starting. That might be a little off as I don't have the analysis with me, but it's fairly close. The other key point here is that the sophomores and freshmen who do play are usually beating out the upperclassmen, which means they're ready to go. That's best case scenario.
In sum, when thinking in terms of playing ability, it's twice as important to have a good senior class than a sophomore class and many times as important to have a good senior class than a freshmen class. And that's simply because there's a higher probability players will reach their potential by their senior year than by their sophomore year.
So when you read some simpleton trying to extrapolate expectations based on "talent" it's important to ask what someone means by that. Are we really just talking about potential or a realistic expectation of ability to perform given innate ability and experience or demonstrated ability on the field?
In reality there are a lot of pieces that make up talent:
Innate Ability + Physical Development + Mental Development + Coaching Development + Development within a Team (are you surrounded by good players) + social factors + ?
And almost all of those pieces can be improved markedly by more time, which is why senior dominated teams usually play well and also why teams usually redshirt as many players as possible (which is where the phrase "true freshmen" comes from.)
Qualitatively speaking, wide receivers and running backs seem to reach their potential the fastest and are usually near their potential by their Junior years (though guys like Reggie Brooks and Ryan Grant needed more time.)
Offensive Lineman aren't often at the top of their games until their Senior or 5th years. Some develop sooner like Jeff Faine, but many others just take a lot of physical and mental seasoning (like Dan Santucci) before they arrive and contribute at a really high level.
Quarterbacks, generally, seem to take until their Junior years before they can play at a high level and until their Senior or 5th years before they play at a championship level.
Defensive Linemen seem to need longer than linebackers and defensive backs to develop and reach their potential.
I'm sure there are ratios for the above, but the bottom line still looks similar to last year.
Most "Seniors" on other teams are really 5th year kids and "Juniors" are red-shirt Seniors. Most good teams red-shirt the majority of their freshmen because they understand that it's going to take time for players to develop. If the best young players reach their potential sooner or there's a great need, they'll see the field earlier. It's great to have a Percy Harvin as an option (when a kid is so good you have to play him.) It's not great to have to play a Percy Harvin before his time based on need. See Notre Dame last season. Some might say that's an excuse, others might say it's reality, either way it's an indisputable factor.
Notre Dame, again, is still severely lacking in senior and 5th year talent (last year it was Junior, Senior and 5th year talent,) but the level of players coming up underneath and their extensive early experience will likely shift the growth curve for the younger guys.
If that happens, we could be surprised by the performance of the Irish in 08.