It’s only February, but it’s already time for some extremely early preseason polls to start coming. And the first of which is ESPN’s Football Power Index rankings.
And according to the FPI, the Vols are the No. 20 team in the nation before spring practices have even begun.
If you’re unfamiliar with ESPN’s FPI, ESPN describes it themselves as “an automated ranking intended to measure team strength going forward. It is not a ranking of who will have the highest win total (which is dependent on schedule) or who is most likely to make the College Football Playoff.”
But that’s not all. The rankings are created by an intricate formula that involves “the last four seasons of performance on offense, defense and special teams, with the most recent season counting most; information on offensive and defensive returning starters, with special consideration given to a team returning its starting quarterback or gaining a transfer quarterback with experience; a four-year average recruiting ranking of four systems (ESPN, Scouts, Rivals and Phil Steele); and head coaching tenure. These four components interact and are assigned different weights depending on the team to produce preseason FPI.”
Essentially, the FPI is a measure purely of a team’s talent, past performance, and potential for the upcoming season. And according this preseason’s FPI, the Vols are the 20th-best team in the country.
Ohio State comes in at No. 1, and Alabama falls just behind them at No. 2. The Vols are the 6th-ranked SEC team in the FPI, trailing Alabama, Auburn (5), LSU (6), Georgia (13), and Florida (15).
This time last season was a completely different story for the Vols. ESPN’s FPI had the Vols ranked in the top five in the country, trailing only LSU in the SEC and finishing just ahead of Alabama in the initial rankings.
Tennessee would begin the 2016 season a consensus top-10 school in the other major polls, and ESPN’s FPI continued to put the Vols among the top schools in the country. But the Vols, of course, failed to live up to those expectations and finished a disappointing 9-4 on the season.
The expectations aren’t nearly as high for Tennessee this season, but the FPI still believes the Vols are a very talented team that should compete for an SEC East title.