ESPN released their football power index preseason Top 25 rankings on Monday and the list certainly has some surprises.
The biggest surprise on the list, arguably, is the fact that Josh Heupel and the Tennessee Volunteers are not ranked. There are nine SEC teams listed in the Top 25:
ESPN FPI Preseason Top 25
14. Texas A&M
17. Ole Miss
24. Mississippi State
25. Florida Gators
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The list, overall, is a head-scratcher. Let’s start by looking at Tennessee, though. Tennessee finished the season third in the SEC East with a 7-6 overall record and a 4-4 record in conference play. The Vols built solid momentum throughout the season by taking care of business against South Carolina and Missouri, competing with Ole Miss to the wire, and finding a win against ranked Kentucky under the lights in Lexington.
While Tennessee won’t return the majority of the offensive production from last season, the Vols will bring back the biggest piece to their puzzle – quarterback Hendon Hooker. In just one year together, Heupel helped turn Hooker into the SEC’s most efficient quarterback.
In fact, Heupel flipped Tennessee’s overall offense from 102nd in the country to ninth in the country in just one season.
From a coaching perspective, the Vols are in as good of shape as any program in the SEC. The Vols retained their entire staff this offseason minus wide receivers coach Kodi Burns. Tennessee, however, was able to replace Burns internally with Kelsey Pope, showing the stability that is present on Rocky Top.
With all of the success that Heupel and Tennessee had in their inaugural season together, it’s hard to believe the Vols won’t be fighting for Top 25 relevancy throughout the 2022 season.
Looking at the rest of the SEC and who is higher than Tennessee, both LSU and Florida are bringing in totally new coaching staffs. Clearly, a coaching staff doesn’t need more than one year to learn how to hit the .500 mark, but putting LSU as high as No. 11 and Florida as high as No. 25 seems like a stretch.
In addition, Arkansas is another team that is surprisingly not on the list. Out of the four SEC West teams that went 4-4 in conference play last year (Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State), the Razorbacks had the best overall record at 9-4. While the Aggies have been loading up with a considerable amount of talent, it’s actually Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks that have built more consistent momentum on the field over the last two seasons.
Nine SEC teams in the ESPN FPI Preseason Top 25.
More than any other conference 💪 pic.twitter.com/CCS7tseb2Q
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 14, 2022
In a recent set of tweets from Matrix Analytical, cofounder Adam McClintock posted his own college football analytical power rankings heading out of spring ball. In that list, the Vols checked at the No. 15 spot, which was good for seventh among SEC teams.
ESPN’s full preseason Top 25 is as follows:
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Ohio State Buckeyes
- Georgia Bulldogs
- Clemson Tigers
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Texas Longhorns
- Michigan Wolverines
- Oklahoma Sooners
- Pittsburgh Panthers
- Auburn Tigers
- LSU Tigers
- Penn State Nittany Lions
- Oklahoma State Cowboys
- Texas A&M Aggies
- Utah Utes
- Michigan State Spartans
- Ole Miss Rebels
- Miami Hurricanes
- Baylor Bears
- Kentucky Wildcats
- Wisconsin Badgers
- North Carolina Tar Heels
- Oregon Ducks
- Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Florida Gators
Tennessee will face six teams in the ESPN FPI preseason Top 25 next season. The Vols will take on No. 9 Pittsburgh, No. 25 Florida, No. 11 LSU, No. 1 Alabama, No. 20 Kentucky, and No. 3 Georgia.