Kentucky Football: ESPN Preseason Formula Rank UK 54th

Andy Lyons

ESPN's Football Power Index ranks UK 54th in the preseason. Let's quickly break down the index's methodology, and then see what it all means.

With 98 days until the kickoff of the college football season, ESPN released their preseason Football Power Index (FPI). The formula currently projects Kentucky football to be the 54th best team in the country. For comparison's sake, Kentucky finished the 2013 season ranked 79th in the FPI. Like much of the conventional wisdom, ESPN's formula believes Kentucky will play a better brand of football this season. How will this translate on the field?

Methodology

Before we answer that question, I'm going to briefly explain the FPI's methodology. Here's ESPN's explanation if you want to read the whole thing.

  • First, the FPI takes into account previous seasons performances. FPI considers that an aggregate boost for UK because only six total starters were lost, and all of the coaching staff returns.
  • Second, recruiting classes are factored in. I'm not sure that's an effective variable if ESPN also includes the last signing class. Freshman rarely contribute in football. That could be skewing UK higher than it should.
  • Not mentioned is how their 2013 preseason FPI ended up matching the final results of the 2013 season.

Comparing UK 2014 to UK 2013

2013
Rank OFFENSE DEFENSE SPECIAL TMS FPI
79 3.53 -8.22 0.11 -4.4
2014
Rank OFFENSE DEFENSE SPECIAL TMS FPI
54 3.6 0.8 0.5 0.5

First, what do these numbers represent? It's easy. Let's take the 2013 numbers: Offensive efficiency is rated 3.53 and this means that against a perfectly average defense, UK's offense would add 3.53 points to the final scoring margin of the game. Likewise, if UK's defense played against a perfectly average offense, they would subtract 8.22 points to the final scoring margin. And so on.

The 2014 preseason FPI believes UK football will be better across the board. In theory this sounds correct but probably not the way they portray. The 2014 offense will probably be 4.0-4.5 in 2014 given the return of four offensive linemen, likely stronger quarterback play, deep backfield, and the return of all notable skill players. An explanation for the modest increase could be that UK's defense isn't expected to give the offense strong field position regularly but that's a WAG.

The defense lost its best player at middle linebacker, and both starting defensive tackles. The performance at the spring game wasn't encouraging. The worst case would be -7.0 points, while the best case may be 0.0 points if the JUCO transfers pan out, and the vanilla spring game scheming and execution were an aberration.

I don't even know how they are grading special teams, because I'm not sure how you can project returning starters on a typically fluid platoon piece of a team. Also, UK graduated their place-kicker.

Comparing UK To The 2014 Schedule

Comparing UK's rankings to this season's opponents certainly supports the conventional wisdom/group think that Kentucky will win 3-5 games; however, it also hints Kentucky has a chance at a 6 win season:

Kentucky 54th

Tennessee Martin (N/A FCS school)

Ohio (106th)

@ Florida (22nd)

Vanderbilt (69th)

South Carolina (9th)

LA-Monroe (111th)

@ LSU (14th)

Mississippie State (17th)

@ Missouri (30th)

Georgia (12th)

@ Tennessee (51st)

@ Louisville (50th)

Conclusion

While possible, for UK to get to six wins this season everything will have to break the right away. UK will have to avoid injuries while its opponents won't. UK will need to take care of business in the games its favored in, and discover a new found resilience to win tough road games. Untested underclassmen will have to at least prove reliable if not natural play-makers. It's unknown if UK is capable of doing even two out of those three things.

None of that even considers if ESPN's methodology is sound. How FPI weighs different variables, factor in strength of competition, etc. was not immediately apparent to me. Football Outsiders is at least more transparent.

It's too far in the future to know if UofL is only four slots better than UK, for example. Many would scoff at that notion. FPI may also oversimplify their methodology. A returning starter definitely does not automatically equate success, for example. I'm also not clear on how special teams is ranked, or if UK's stellar 2014 signing class is artificially boosting the overall numbers.

The preseason FPI exists to facilitate discussion and drive web traffic. In any case, ESPN's preseason FPI has been officially logged and noted. We will come back to it after the season to compare it with the actual results. That way when the report gets published in May 2015 we'll have an idea of whether we should even bother writing 750 words on it or not.

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