If you’re a Vol fan looking for the rosy side of projections for Tennessee’s upcoming 2019 football season, then the win/loss projections for the Vols in ESPN’s Football Power Index are perfect for you.
According to ESPN’s FPI, the Vols are 50 percent favorites or better in nine of their 12 regular season games for the upcoming 2019 college football season. The FPI projects the Vols to lose their road contests against Florida and Alabama and a home game against Georgia, but it predicts that UT will be favorites in every other game they play.
The FPI highly values the returning production and recruiting rankings for a team. Because the Vols are one of the more overall experienced teams in 2019 and have had good recruiting rankings the last few years, the FPI has Tennessee currently ranked 15th in its preseason projections.
“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,” ESPN’s site says about the FPI and how it’s calculated. “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.”
But the preseason poll is a little different since no games have been played yet.
The preseason rankings use “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.”
Tennessee’s score of 14.0 on the FPI actually has them tied with Michigan State at No. 14 overall, but the Spartans are projected to have a slightly better overall record, placing them just ahead of UT in the actual standings.
Per the FPI projections for the Vols’ 2019 season, Tennessee is heavily favored in all four of their non-conference games. The Vols are given a 94 percent chance or better to win their match-ups with Georgia State, UTC, and UAB and have an 81.4 percent chance of defeating BYU in the second game of the season.
The FPI has the Vols starting out 0-2 in SEC play with losses to Florida (31.0 percent) and Georgia (33.4 percent) but bouncing back against Mississippi State. The FPI gives Tennessee a 55.4 percent shot of beating the Bulldogs.
Tennessee’s lowest winning percentage chance is unsurprisingly against Alabama on the road. ESPN’s FPI gives the Vols only an 11.6 percent shot at beating the Tide in Tuscaloosa.
After that, though, the Vols are favored by the FPI in every remaining game on their schedule.
The biggest toss-up games on UT’s schedule according to the FPI are against Missouri on the road, against Mississippi State at home, against Kentucky on the road, and against South Carolina at home. The FPI gives the Vols just a 50.4 percent chance of beating Missouri in Columbia, and it gives Tennessee a 55.4 percent shot at taking down Mississippi State in Knoxville as previously mentioned. The Vols are favored by a 61.4 percent margin against Kentucky in Lexington and are given a 63.0 percent chance of beating South Carolina at home.
According to the FPI rankings, only six of Tennessee’s 2019 opponents are ranked in the top 20 of the FPI (Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Missouri). Tennessee’s other six opponents are all ranked outside the top 40 of the FPI.
Overall, the FPI has a projected win/loss record for Tennessee of 7.6 and 4.5. That means that even though the projections have the Vols as favorites in nine games, the actual results of one or two of those contests aren’t wins in the FPI simulations.
Tennessee is given a 2.0 percent chance of winning the SEC in 2019. The FPI gives the Vols a flat out zero percent shot of going undefeated this upcoming season.
Last season, the Vols began the year ranked just outside the top 50 of the FPI and then finished at No. 65 in the rankings at the end of the season after going 5-7 in Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as head coach.
Since Tennessee joined the SEC in 1933, there have only been four times in school history that a coach took a team with a losing record one season and then won eight or more games the next season like the FPI is projecting for the Vols this year. Doug Dickey did so in 1965 when he helped the Vols to an 8-1-2 record after going 4-5-1 the previous season, and Johnny Majors did it twice. Majors’ 1981 squad went 8-4 after a 5-6 season the previous year, and his 1989 team earned an 11-1 mark after the 1988 team went 5-6. The most recent head coach to do it was Phillip Fulmer when he helped the Vols get to 9-4 in 2006 after a 5-6 season in 2005.
Both Majors and and Fulmer made those leaps later in their coaching careers, though. Only Dickey did it early on, making that major improvement from his first to his second season as a head coach.
If Pruitt can help guide the Vols to the kind of season that ESPN’s FPI predicts, then he’ll be the first Vol head coach since Dickey to go from a losing season in his first year at UT to an eight-win or better season in his second year.
For Vol fans, just getting back to a bowl game would be good news after Tennessee has missed out on postseason play the last two seasons and six times out of the last 11 years. But if Tennessee can somehow make this big of a jump in just one year, then Knoxville will have something to truly cheer about.