The Volunteers are the overwhelming favorites to win their first SEC East title since 2007, and some media members are even picking Big Orange to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
But what about the computers?
Well, one is quite bullish on Tennessee, too.
ESPN’s Football Power Index favors Tennessee in every single game this fall, giving the Vols a 58.9 percent chance of beating Alabama, a 79.2 percent chance of ending its losing streak to Florida and a 59.3 chance to winning at Texas A&M. ESPN’s advanced metrics also gives the Volunteers a 28.3 percent chance to win the SEC Championship — the second-best odds in the conference — and a 57 percent chance of winning the SEC East.
Overall, Tennessee checks in at No. 5 in ESPN’s FPI rankings, coming in behind only No. 2 LSU in the SEC. The Vols rank ahead of No. 6 Alabama, No. 10 Georgia, No. 14 Texas A&M and No. 18 Florida — four teams on UT’s schedule this fall.
However, Tennessee’s actual projected record is 10-2, as the sum of each game’s win probability gives the Vols just a 4.5 percent chance of winning out.
So what exactly is FPI?
Per ESPN, “The Football Power Index (FPI) is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the rest of the season. FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule. Ratings and projections update daily.”
Essentially, FPI combines a team’s offensive, defensive and special teams efficiencies for an expected margin of victory against an average team. ESPN’s preseason FPI also includes factors like coaching, returning starters and recruiting rankings, so it’s obvious why the model likes Tennessee’s chances this year.
Now, FPI is hardly a perfect statistical model despite stating its purpose as “providing a vehicle to produce unbiased ratings that account for many of the same factors that voters tend to value when producing preseason rankings.” FPI has been criticized in recent years for undervaluing defense, having an SEC-slant and for actually being a poor projection system picking games against the spread (only 47 percent correct in 2015).
Still, ESPN’s FPI is better than arbitrary preseason rankings, and the preseason hype for Tennessee this year appears justified — even by computers.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com