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Tennessee Football’s Analytical Ranking Goes Hand-in-Hand With Early Power Ranking

Tennessee Football James Pearce
Tennessee EDGE James Pearce Jr. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.

With spring football right around the corner, experts in the industry are looking around at the college football landscape to get an idea of how the top teams in the country are looking coming out of the transfer portal free-for-all and heading into the spring season.

Considering Nick Saban’s retirement from the sport, Jim Harbaugh’s venture to the NFL, and more than one thousand players on the move in the transfer portal, teams all over the country will aim to get a leg up on the competition heading into the new-look 2024 season.

Texas and Oklahoma are set to join the SEC while UCLA, Southern California, Oregon, and Washington all make the jump to the new coast-to-coast Big Ten conference.

From a Tennessee perspective, though? There’s a buzz in the air walking around Knoxville. The Tennessee fanbase is fired up with spring on the horizon as the Vols’ basketball team maintains a Top 10 ranking, the fight against the NCAA continues to unfold, and there’s a chance to see more of quarterback Nico Iamaleava just right around the corner.

Iamaleava will be one of the most talked-about names from the Tennessee football team after recording four total touchdowns in his starting debut against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. Despite being a freshman in his first start, Iamaleava looked comfortable and collected running Tennessee’s up-tempo offense and kept his composure behind a banged-up offensive line at the end of the season.

With Iamaleava at the helm, ESPN’s Mark Schlabach slotted Tennessee at No. 16 in his way-too-early Top 25 rankings on Tuesday.

From an analytical perspective, Tennessee falls at just about the exact same spot.

Tennessee lands at No. 15 in Bill Connelly’s pre-spring SP+ rankings for ESPN on Wednesday.

More from RTI: See Tennessee Football’s Over/Under Win Total Ahead Of 2024 Season

As we’ve broken down in the past, Connelly’s SP+ rankings are not used for television or publication purposes and mainly serve as a “tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. It is a predictive measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football, not a résumé ranking,” according to Connelly.

The three primary factors that Connelly based his data input on are 1. returning production, 2. recent recruiting, and 3. recent history.

Tennessee boasts the 22nd-ranked offensive SP+ rating, the 13th-ranked defensive SP+ ranking, and the 52nd-ranked special teams SP+ ranking.

While Schlabach has Tennessee as the eighth highest-ranked team in the conference in his list, the analytics see Tennessee as the ninth highest-rated team from the SEC. The SP+ projections are far higher on Texas A&M and new head coach Mike Elko than Schlabach, who still has the Aggies at a respectable No. 25 on his list.

SEC Teams in Bill Connelly’s SP+ Rankings (& Where Schlabach Listed in His Power Rankings):

1. Georgia Bulldogs (1)
4. Texas Longhorns (4)
6. Alabama Crimson Tide (9)
8. Ole Miss Rebels (6)
10. LSU Tigers (12)
11. Missouri Tigers (7)
13. Texas A&M Aggies (25)
14. Oklahoma Sooners (14)
15. Tennessee Volunteers (16)
31. Auburn Tigers (NR)
33. Florida Gators (NR)
40. Kentucky Wildcats (23)
42. South Carolina Gamecocks (NR)
56. Arkansas Razorbacks (NR)
74. Mississippi State Bulldogs (NR)
105. Vanderbilt Commodores (NR)

While Tennessee lands in the middle of the pack in the way-too-early rankings, the Vols have a pretty good line of attack in the fall. Yes, Tennessee will have to play Alabama and Georgia, but the Vols also get some favorable matchups throughout the season. Tennessee might not be up with the contenders throughout the preseason and the build to the fall but will have an opportunity to earn their position on the field later this year.

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