The blatant SEC bias of ESPN is nothing new to those of us residing outside of the SEC bubble. Once again they do not disappoint with the release of the Football Power Index (FPI). The FPI is one of the best examples of the SEC bias by ESPN. As pointed out by Tomahawk Nation, there stands a staggering 8 of 14 SEC teams in ranked ahead of #21 FSU. In the top 40 of the latest FPI ranking, 12 of the 14 SEC schools fall inside that range, far more than the closest conference (PAC12 has 8). While the FPI does not have any official bearing on the CFB Playoff rankings, there is unofficial influence over the members of the committee, including the Chair and Arkansas AD Jeff Long.
The FPI ranking formula is virtually a mystery to all outside a few in Bristol, Connecticut. The only information published on how the rankings are calculated is very vague and questionable in accuracy. The only explanations for the ranking system we could find from ESPN are these….
- The previous year’s performance
- “OFFENSE: Offensive efficiency in terms of offense’s contribution to scoring margin on all its plays, adjusted for strength of opposing defenses* faced.
- DEFENSE: Defensive efficiency in terms of defense’s contribution to scoring margin on all its plays, adjusted for strength of opposing offenses* faced.
- SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams efficiency in terms of special teams’ contribution to scoring margin on all its plays, adjusted for strength of opposing special teams* faced.
- OVERALL: Overall net efficiency, summing up adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiencies; a measure of scoring margin per game, adjusted for schedule*.”
- Returning starters, Starting QB return counts most
- Coach changes, positive if last year was poor, negative if prior year was good
- Recruiting rankings
(*It should be noted that because every SEC team is automatically rated as a higher average level of difficulty compared to teams from other conferences, it allows for SEC teams to always be ranked higher regardless of in-game statistics.)
We could write a book on the absurdity of this years FPI alone, however we are going to look at the teams we believe to be the least worthy of the rankings by looking at the metrics ESPN uses.
The SEC vs PW5
Here we can compare some of the FPI metrics among SEC teams and Power 5 teams with similarities. Notice the substantial differences in ranking.
Tennessee – #13
- Moderate improvement
- Tennessee showed some improvement last season, because they actually achieved a winning record (7-6). But does that justify a jump to #13???
- Those 7 wins must have been mighty impressive, and those 6 losses had better been “quality losses” (borrowed the SEC term right there). However that’s not the case. The best win Tennessee had last season was against South Carolina. Yes, 7-6 South Carolina, the same one that was blown out week one by TAMU, and never recovered. The only other power 5 wins were against Iowa (7-6), Kentucky, and Vandy. In terms of losses, there were no games that they should have won, except for maybe Florida. The improvement in stats can be attributed to a weaker conference schedule in 2014.
- No standout players
- Tennessee ranks 14th in the last 4 years in recruiting and has a conference high 18 players with starting experience returning in 2015. However they had no stand out players returning from last year on offense or defense other than WR Pig Howard (698 yards, 5 TDs) and DL Derek Barnett (20.5 TFL).The “18” number is a bit misleading. Tennessee started more games with Justin Worley last year, who accumulated more yards and TDs than Joshua Dobbs, which played in the final 6 games of the year. Dobbs will return this year, however we don’t classify him in the same realm as 13+ game returning starter.
- Neither Offense or Defense is remotely dominant
- Tennessee played 10 games against Power 5 teams in 2014, and averaged 368 yards per game (150 rushing, 218 passing) offensively. These are not dominant, but rather downright pedestrian numbers. Defensively, the Vols allowed an average 396 yards per game (184 rushing, 212passing). The performance is again VERY pedestrian, and overall alarming that they were outgained by an average of 28 yards per game. With their primary competition in the SEC East having poor seasons, these stats reflect that Tennessee still is nowhere near ready to compete on a national level.
- Bottom Line
- We are not saying that a team which has shown improvement on the field does not deserve to benefit the following year from a bump in the preseason ranking. However, going from unranked to top 15 after a 7-6 season without any significant or impressive wins is ridiculous. Tennessee hasn’t won more than 7 games in a season since Phillip Fulmer in 2007, and only twice since then have had winning seasons, 2009 and 2014. The SEC has at least 3 teams every year which are ranked FAR too high preseason, and in 2015 it looks like Tennessee will be in the group.
TAMU – #8
- Downward trend
- Texas A&M started off 2014 strong by throttling South Carolina. After that, the Aggies fell on their face, ending with an 8-5 record and in hindsight, no impressive wins. South Carolina was #9 when the season started, however they lost 5 more games after TAMU, ending with a 7-6 record. Auburn was #3 at the time of the TAMU victory, however dropped 3 more games and finished 8-5. Every above average team TAMU faced, they lost. Even losing to Mizzou (you know the SEC East champ that lost handily to Indiana). Their defense showed very little improvement, while the offense went into full reverse.
- Still no defense
- 505 yards allowed average vs Power 5 competition. Enough said.
- Bottom Line
- Texas A&M return 15 starters, 8 Offense and 7 Defense, and are ranked #11 in the past 4 years for recruiting. With this team, unless there is a do-it-all Manziel under center, they will struggle. And so far, the good recruiting over 4 years has done nothing to help this awful defense, so don’t expect a miracle turn around.
- Texas A&M started last season ranked #9 in the AP poll, even though they had lost their 2 best (and only) offensive weapons in QB Johnny Manziel and WR Mike Evans, and their defense showed no signs leading toward improvement. TAMU was grossly overrated last season, which helped mediocre teams like Ole Miss and Miss St make unprecedented leaps up the rankings to #1. It appears the same is to be said again about TAMU in 2015.
Arkansas – #10
- Last year wasn’t really all that impressive
- After starting off rough, Arkansas’ defense and offense clicked and improved by mid-season which led to them ending with a winning season. However, who did they really beat in the second half of the season to justify a #10 ranking this year? The answer is LSU and Ole Miss, 2 mediocre teams. LSU finished 8-5, lost their bowl game, and started the season squeaking our a 4 point win over the eventual big 10 runner-up Wisconsin (remember when Wisconsin was EASILY shut out 59-0 in the Big 10 championship). Ole Miss had a few marquee wins, all in conference, and ended the season getting CRUSHED by TCU. They only managing 6 points in garbage time, and their heralded “Landshark” defense was exposed to be a fraud of the SEC biased media, allowing 42 points and 423 yards.
- Bottom Line
- Last season Arkansas showed statistical improvement over Power 5 opponents offensively and defensively and obtained its first winning season since 2011. This year they return 15 starters, and rank 26th in a 4 year average recruitment ranking. However this is not reason enough to put Arkansas at 10 preseason. How about they prove themselves, allow them to climb the polls like everyone else rather than just getting the benefit of the doubt.
Alabama – #2
- Offense still isn’t proven & loses its best player
- Lane Kiffin took over as offensive coordinator and increased production, an average of 30 yards per game increase. However when looking at Power 5 competition, there was 2 point per game average decrease, and against power 5 competition, there was a 10 yard per game decrease and 3 point per game decrease. The rushing game took a big step backwards, and the passing game showed a minimal increase in production. The vast majority of the passing game was due to Amari Cooper (45% receiving yards, 50% passing TDs). With his departure to the NFL, in addition to only 4 returning starters on offense (1RB, 1WR/TE, 2OL), Kiffin will be challenged with operating the offense at a high level without an elite weapon to carry the offense and losing 5 of the top 7 all-purpose yard leaders.
- Defensively, there was a significant drop-off with allowing 52 more total yards per game average.
- Cant beat elite OOC Competition
- Alabama has lost to the last 4 top 5 opponents it has faced. The past 2 bowl games they entered as heavy favorites against lower ranked teams, and were crushed by both. The current year’s schedule, they only face one 1 PW 5 out of conference, Wisconsin who will likely be a middle of the road Big10 team this year.
- Bottom Line
- Alabama has been a good team year in and year out since 2008. However, they have not been an elite team every year, including the past 2. They return only 11 players, 4 offense and 7 defense, but rank #1 in recruiting over a 4 year average. Lane Kiffins offense is still unproven, and the young talent is not likely to make up for a 1700 yard receiver. With a drop off on both defense and offense, the loss of the cornerstone of the offense, and an expert con-artist as an OC, there is no justification to place Alabama at #2 other than “because its Alabama”.
The FPI is a clear indicator of the bias which ESPN has toward the Southeastern Conference, and the recent rankings show this trend of promotion and overhype will continue into this season. The poll is one of the many methods in which ESPN attempts to sway the public and even the CFB Playoff. Committee. The committee was even caught using one of the murky metrics of the ESPN ranking called “Game Control”, which led to Long doing a dance to explain why it wasn’t the ESPN metric. In politics there is an adage, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” The same applies to Long and ESPN, the more they attempt to explain why there is no SEC bias, the more apparent it becomes there really is. With week 1 a little more than a month away, be prepared to witness more proof and more denial.