The preseason AP Poll and other prominent ranking systems aren't out yet, although Ohio State figures to have a lofty initial ranking. One system that did just come out is ESPN's FPI, or Football Power Index projections, and the first batch of rankings have the defending national champs, well, number one. Some of the selections a few slots below Ohio State though, look a little suspicious.
Here's how ESPN defines the FPI thusly:
The Football Power Index (FPI) is a measure of team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. FPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule. Ratings and projections update daily.
The Buckeyes have an early FPI rating of 25.5, which would place the Buckeyes well over three touchdowns better than an average FBS team, in this case, Iowa. Given how much of the roster Ohio State is returning from last year's championship squad, along with their elite level of recruiting, that doesn't seem especially unreasonable. Ohio State could probably beat Iowa by about 25 points if they played this season.
The curious thing isn't so much where Ohio State is though, it's who is ranked highly below them. Only one other Big Ten team makes the FPI top 25, with Michigan State clocking in at 14, behind Arkansas, Tennessee, UCLA and others. The next highest ranked Big Ten team is Michigan, at 33, even though little of their play last year would give cause for such optimism. The highest ranked team in the Big Ten West is Wisconsin, all the way down at 39, behind Florida, Virginia Tech, UNC, Cal, Utah, and others.
Okay, fine. But the FPI also has SEC squads in 8 of the top 17 slots, and 11 of the top 31. We won't argue that Auburn or Alabama deserve to be rated highly, but LSU at five, Texas A&M at eight, Arkansas at 10, Florida at 23, and Vanderbilt at 51 (ahead of Minnesota, Washington, Duke and others) seems mighty suspicious. These SEC schools do, after all, have to play each other.
We're not suggesting that ESPN deliberately rigged these rankings to promote the SEC or anything, despite what you may hear on Twitter. Instead, we think that perhaps ESPN may want to look at rejiggering how the FPI is calculating strength of schedule, or the weight they give it. The early season projections from other media experts don't paint quite as rosy a picture for the SEC.
The season will sort out the mushy middle soon enough, and we can check back to see how right or wrong they were, but one thing is for sure. The Buckeyes should be near the very top of the list.