ESPN released their first cut at the 2017 Football Power Index earlier this week, and it’s fairly similar to what they released in January. The formula, to my knowledge, is based on returning stats, team talent, schedule, and other factors. Anyway, Tennessee ranks 19th.
Probably more surprising is Tennessee being sandwiched between two teams who combined for a 10-15 record in 2016: TCU (6-7) and Notre Dame (4-8). ESPN ranks the Vols as the third-best SEC East team, behind Georgia (13th) and Florida (15th).
Why does this matter? Well, for starters, FPI is actually good at predicting games, ranking in the 75th percentile nationally and beating the opening Vegas line for predictive power. Also, they’ve got Tennessee pegged at about 8-4.
FPI only has Tennessee projected to lose in three games – Florida (37.9% odds of winning), Alabama (13.5%), and LSU (40.5%). However, it gets to 8-4 by adding up all the others. Collectively, Tennessee’s record across all games has an average of 7.85-4.15, with a projected SEC record of 4.24-3.76. That would mean Tennessee’s third straight 8-4 season despite an easier schedule.
Most notably, FPI projects six games where Tennessee has a win likelihood between 38% and 69%. These are toss-up games: Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and LSU. Like it or not, but teams generally win about half of toss-up games unless they’re Clemson (19-3 in games decided by 7 points or less since 2011).
Basically, how you’d take this is up to the fan. 8-4 shouldn’t be acceptable with a schedule that’s relatively light – your expectations should be 9-3 or greater. But nothing shown so far has given fans the ability to expect this. Anyway, it’s up to you: are you willing to accept a loss to Kentucky or Missouri if it means a win over Florida or Georgia?