Vols Have 5th Toughest Schedule in Nation Per Football Outsiders

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Tennessee has played one of the toughest schedules in the country year in and year out. That’s just part of the territory when it comes to playing in the SEC. But many have viewed this season’s schedule as one that is a little easier compared to ones over the last few years.

    But according to one popular analytical website, it’s not.

    Football Outsiders is one of the more popular analytical sites around, and they believe Tennessee’s 2017 schedule is one of the toughest in the country. According to their Fremeau Efficiency Index (more on that in a minute), the Vols have the fifth-toughest schedule in all of college football. They also have Tennessee ranked as the No. 25 team in the country.

    So how did Football Outsiders come to that conclusion? Here’s how they describe their FEI:

    The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) is a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Preseason projected ratings are a function of five-year program ratings, recent recruiting success, and returning offensive and defensive experience. Strength of schedule (SOS) ratings are a function of the projected FEI ratings of a given team’s schedule of opponents and the location (home/away/neutral) of each game, representing the average number of losses an elite team (two standard deviations better than average) would have against the schedule.

    Essentially, what that all boils down to is this: The FEI takes into account a team’s efficiency on offense/defense and weighs it against their competition. So a team performing well against a highly-ranked FBS school will get more credit than if they performed well against an FCS school, for example. Their preseason rankings are based on a team’s ratings over the last five years, their recent recruiting success, and the team’s returning offensive and defensive players. Their strength of schedule is determined by taking into account the projected FEI ratings of each team’s opponents, the location of each game, and is also judged by how well they believe an “elite team” would fare against it too.

    Tennessee’s FEI score is .98 to start the season. That actually has them tied with No. 24 Miami. But the Vols’ strength of schedule comes in at No. 5 in the ratings, and it’s clear from Football Outsiders’ ratings that they believe the SEC is still the toughest conference to play in for 2017. The four teams ahead of the Vols are all SEC teams (Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and LSU).

    The Vols’ 2017 schedule has tough opponents just like every season. But many have thought this year would line up better compared to last year’s schedule because there’s no four game gauntlet in October like last season. But the FEI seems to think differently.

    According to the FEI, the Vols will play six teams inside their top 30 in the ratings. Of those six teams, three are inside the top 10, and four are inside the top 15. Tennessee’s first opponent of the year, Georgia Tech, comes in right behind the Vols at No. 26 in the ratings.

    All in all, eight of Tennessee’s 12 regular season opponents are ranked inside the top 50 of the FEI.

    Here’s how all of Tennessee’s FBS opponents rank in the FEI preseason rankings:

    1st – Alabama

    7th – Georgia

    9th – LSU

    14th – Florida

    26th – Georgia Tech

    30th – South Carolina

    39th – Vanderbilt

    49th – Missouri

    59th – Kentucky

    95th – Southern Miss

    109th – UMass

    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.