It’s July 9, which means we’re still deep in the land of power rankings and projections. Phil Steele’s mammoth magazine usually provides some off-season content, but one of the biggest red flags for me personally is how little Tennessee shows up in it at all this year. Stay tuned.
The most fun you can have with these things is projected win totals, both for the expectations conversation and comparing yourself to your peers. ESPN updated their FPI rankings and projected win totals this week, and of note in the SEC:
- 11 wins: Alabama
- 10 wins: Georgia, Texas A&M
- 9 wins: Florida
- 7 wins: Auburn, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Missouri
That’s a lot in the middle. Like, a lot a lot.
Seven teams projected to hit the same number is the most for any power five conference. And the spectrum is a little short of what it actually could be, from Auburn’s 7.2 projected wins to Missouri’s 6.5. These are regular season win totals, so your theoretical seven wins could become eight in one of the SEC’s group of six bowls.
It’s surprisingly balanced, at least to me, for the SEC: four teams from the West, three from the East. And depending on your take of Auburn’s trip to Penn State on September 18, it’s not a projection of seven wins because any of these teams face insurmountable odds in a non-conference game. Kentucky and Ole Miss both play Louisville, LSU opens in the Rose Bowl, Mississippi State hosts NC State, the Vols host Pitt, and Mizzou is at Boston College.
There’s a long-standing joke about parity in the ACC Coastal, and that league does offer the closest comparison in FPI:
- 12 wins: Clemson
- 9 wins: Miami, North Carolina
- 7 wins: Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Louisville, NC State, Virginia
No other league has more than four teams projected to hit the same number. And Tennessee’s other SEC East contemporaries are further down the list: South Carolina at five wins, Vanderbilt at four (and Arkansas at six to round out the league).
I’m sure some of these SEC teams will hit eight wins and some six. But the actual projection is one that Tennessee would take: a 7-5 regular season with a (theoretical) chance to get to eight wins via one of those group of six bowls would represent the best on-paper year one for any Tennessee coach since Fulmer. It continues to appear from a distance that so much of Tennessee’s final record will come down to what they do against the group of teams in this same projection range, which means we’ll get more meaningful action right away with Pitt, Missouri, South Carolina, and Ole Miss all on the schedule in the first seven Saturdays.