ESPN’s FPI Rankings Not High on Vols’ SEC East Chances

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    Photo Credit: Anne Newman/RTI

    ESPN’s Football Power Index loved the Vols last season. But the FPI doesn’t seem to be in Tennessee’s favor nearly as much early into the 2017 cycle.

    ESPN’s FPI, for those of you who have forgotten, 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” according to ESPN’s website. ESPN also adds that their “projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule.”

    Essentially, the FPI is the measure of a team’s pure talent based on simulations and prior results. Last preseason, the FPI had the Vols not only inside the top 10 in the country, but they were ranked inside the top five according to the FPI.

    This season, however, is turning out to be quite a different story.

    The initial FPI rankings had Tennessee ranked No. 20th in the nation. ESPN has updated their rankings, however, and the Vols have moved up one spot to No. 19 in the rankings. But a deeper look at the rankings and projections show that the FPI isn’t particularly high on the Vols in 2017.

    Both Florida and Georgia are ranked ahead of the Vols. Tennessee’s two main SEC East rivals are ranked 15th and 13th respectively, and both are given better chances of winning the division and conference than the Vols.

    Here’s a breakdown of Tennessee’s chances of winning each game of their 2017 regular season according to ESPN’s FPI:

    Georgia Tech – 68.5%
    Indiana State – 98.9%
    @Florida – 37.9%

    UMass – 97.4%
    Georgia – 51.3%
    South Carolina – 75.7%
    @Alabama – 13.5%
    @Kentucky – 60%
    Southern Miss – 96.1%
    @Missouri – 64.3%
    LSU – 40.5%
    Vanderbilt – 81.1%

    The FPI has Tennessee going 9-3 and 5-3 in the SEC in 2017, and those three losses are projected to come at the hands of Florida, Alabama, and LSU. The Georgia game, however, is essentially a toss-up according to the projections and could go either way. The FPI gives the Vols the slight edge at home in that one.

    Tennessee’s two main SEC East opponents, however, are both projected to go 6-2 in the SEC East. Georgia is projected to be 9-3 overall with losses to Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Auburn. The Gators are predicted to finish 9-3 as well with losses to LSU, Georgia, and Florida State. Because of the projected head-to-head win over the Gators, ESPN’s FPI predicts Georgia will win the SEC East and the Vols will finish third despite beating the Bulldogs.

    The FPI gives Georgia a 10.5 percent chance of winning the whole SEC, Florida a 8.3 percent chance, and the Vols a mere 3.7 percent shot of winning the conference. The FPI also gives Georgia just a 0.2 percent chance of winning all of their regular seasons games, and it gives Florida a 0.1 percent chance of doing so. The Vols have a zero percent chance of going 12-0 according to the FPI projections.

    Finishing with a 9-3 record but failing to win the East yet again would be another frustrating way for a season to unfold in the Butch Jones era. But that’s exactly what ESPN’s FPI is predicting as of now.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.