My colleague Houston Kress recently took a fantastic look at Tennessee’s favorable (for once) schedule this season. His piece prompted me to think back to ESPN’s Football Power Index projections for the Vols.
The FPI look at teams through data such as returning starters, efficiency in all three phases of the game from the prior season, recruiting rankings, attrition and more. You may recall the Vols were ranked 14th in the FPI back in February and finished No. 34 in last year’s final FPI.
ESPN’s recently updated FPI has the Vols at 13th, up one spot, and gives Tennessee a 13.4% chance to win the conference – that’s a better percentage than Alabama (12.9%) and behind only Georgia (25.5%) and LSU (14.4%).
Also of interest, the FPI, which is based on 10,000 simulations of the season, has Tennessee favored, though narrowly in several cases, in 11 of 12 games in 2015.
According to ESPN’s projections, the Alabama game unsurprisingly ranks as the toughest on the schedule – the Vols are given just a 31.9% chance to win in Tuscaloosa. The next toughest game on the schedule comes when 6th ranked Georgia travels to Neyland – the Vols are slight (51%) favorites in that one. Arkansas (54.2%), at Florida (58.4%), Oklahoma (58.9%) and at Missouri (60.1%) also have fairly close margins.
That should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to early Vegas lines. At last check, critical early games against Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas and Georgia saw the Vols favored by a combined five points. That stretch of coin flip games may very well decide Tennessee’s season.
Tennessee’s schedule, with games against No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Georgia, No. 10 Arkansas, No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 26 Missouri, No. 23 Florida and No. 40 South Carolina, ranks 19th nationally per the FPI.
Though the FPI has the Vols favored in 11 games, it only gives them a .3% chance to go undefeated thanks, in large part, to the aforementioned narrow margins. Full season projections have the Vols averaging 8.6 wins and 3.7 losses – basically this formula says the Vols should go 9-3 or 8-4 in 2015 and that would mark significant improvement for a program that’s just 64-61 over the last decade.
While many national and regional analysts continue to hype Tennessee in the coming months, know that data, which isn’t subject to the sway of social media, also projects Tennessee to have a breakout season.
The hype is here, folks. It’s real. And it’s justified.