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Rutgers Football: ESPN's FPI Ranks RU last in the Big Ten

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ESPN has unveiled their Football Power Index rankings for the upcoming season and it will be updated daily.  Here is the criteria that determines the FPI per ESPN:

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 Big Ten Blog on ESPN posted a more detailed explanation:

As a refresher, preseason FPI is a rating based on a number of factors that have been found to be predictive for the coming season (previous years’ efficiencies, returning starters, recruiting rankings and coaching tenure).

A more thorough explanation can be found here.

So how did the Big Ten fare overall and more importantly, how did Rutgers rank?  It's reasonable to think that the Big Ten fared well in the FPI rankings.  For Rutgers, I was thinking somewhere between 8th and 11th overall in the conference.  To quote the great Lee Corso, "Not so fast my friends".

Team FPI Rank
Ohio State 1
Michigan State 15
Michigan 30
Wisconsin 36
Nebraska 45
Minnesota 49
Iowa 54
Illinois 56
Northwestern 57
Purdue 61
Maryland 66
Indiana 71
Rutgers 79

Rutgers is ranked dead last in the Big Ten.  At the end of the day, the Football Power Index by ESPN means nothing. In fact, it's just another media projection that reconfirms the Rutgers football program is still not respected.  It projects Rutgers record at 4.8 wins and 7.2 losses.  This is not breaking news by any means, but these particular rankings are seasoned with a little extra insanity.  Of course, Rutgers has questions regarding the starting quarterback and offensive line, as well as the need for the defensive to improve from last season.  Those are legitimate factors yet to be answered.  However, we return the best wide receiver in the Big Ten, arguably the deepest running back group in the conference, an always solid to great special teams and a defense that has nowhere to go but up this season.  I understand there is a formula behind these rankings, but having Rutgers behind Illinois, Indiana, Maryland and Northwestern is questionable.  Ranking Rutgers behind Purdue is inexplicable and it makes me think the computer is broken.

Regarding the Big Ten, under any criteria Ohio State deserves to start ranked #1, which they are in the FPI. However, it doesn't take long for this to go off the rails regarding the Big Ten rankings.  Michigan State finished last season ranked #5 in the country, with their only two losses coming against the two teams to play in the national championship.  They return thirteen starters including quarterback Connor Cook.  They did lose defensive mastermind Pat Narduzzi as their coordinator, but the system is safe under the direction of head coach Mark Dantonio.  So how do they end up 15th in the FPI?

It is because of the SEC, the same conference ESPN dedicated an entire network of programming for.  Was this newly created FPI designed to be an infomercial for this new network?  Based on the FPI results as of now, I vote yes.  The Big Ten has three teams in the top 30.  That's right, three compared to the SEC, which has ten!!!  And Mississippi State is ranked 33rd, ahead of the next ranked Big Ten team.  The issue as I see it, is strength of schedule.  We don't know the percentage that it is factored in the overall FPI, but because so many SEC teams are ranked in the top 30, their strength of schedule is markedly higher than that of the Big Ten.   The FPI has Auburn's projected record at 7.3 wins and 4.8 losses.  Yet their FPI ranking is #18, mostly due to their strength of schedule being ranked 8th. Their out of conference schedule includes San Jose State, Jacksonville State, Idaho and Louisville.  A pretty lousy slate except for Louisville who is only ranked #43 in the FPI.   However, in their conference they play Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M, all ranked in the top ten of the FPI.  They also play Arkansas who is #13.

Looking further into the Big Ten, Michigan at #30 and the third highest rated FPI in the conference makes me wonder if name brand wasn't a secret category.  Illinois as the ninth highest rated Big Ten team and Purdue eleventh makes me wonder if ESPN made this list to infuriate fan bases like ours.  Nebraska and Minnesota seem to be ranked too low in the mid-forties.  If anything, these rankings will be fun and interesting to track throughout the season.  Hopefully, it's just another media poll that Rutgers will prove wrong in the end!

For the full list of FPI rankings click here.