ESPN's FPI certainly doesn't stand for 'Fool-Proof Index'
The Terminator franchise has spawned 6 movies about computers that become self-aware and set out to destroy the human race. But if Skynet was composed of the same computers used to generate ESPN’s Football Power Index, that franchise would have been a single movie lasting about 15 minutes.
Instead of sending Arnold Schwarzenegger back to kill Sarah Connor, the machines only would have been able to create Danny DeVito. Because they’d be dumb enough to think he was really Arnold’s twin.
ESPN’s computers are, to say the least, flawed. Thankfully, that means they pose very little threat to humanity. Or chance of projecting the upcoming college football season.
Programmed in the ’90s?
It also seems possible that the FPI was programmed via floppy disk sometime in the late 1990s, as the computers are quite fond of both Nebraska and Texas.
Fresh off a 5-7 season, the perpetually underachieving Longhorns are projected to have the 5th-best chance of winning the College Football Playoff in the country.
Why that’s the case is anybody’s guess.
Texas doesn’t even have a starting quarterback yet. It may well be redshirt freshman Quinn Ewers, who failed to beat out CJ Stroud for the Ohio State starting job last year. He has yet to prove he’s anything beyond than the next Tate Martell.
Nor does Texas have an overwhelming amount of experience coming back. As of last month, ESPN’s Bill Connelly has the Horns at 51st nationally in terms of returning production. (That figure does rate 3rd in the Big 12, however. So perhaps this is part of the formula that looks favorably upon Texas.)
Most notably, Texas plays Alabama this season. Based on what Nick Saban has done against his former assistants historically, there’s no reason to believe the Horns can win that game. It seems the computer is working on the idea that Texas actually could beat the Tide, and therefore become a CFP contender.
I’m going to go ahead and classify that as a glitch.
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But at least the theory makes sense. It’s a game on the schedule that could bend things in Texas’ favor if everyone on Alabama’s roster has food poisoning or something.
Nerds nab Nebraska as B1G West favorite
The computer loses me entirely by nabbing Nebraska as the favorite to win the Big Ten West. Especially when it has Wisconsin ranked 21st overall compared to Nebraska’s 35th.
And that’s just for starters.
ESPN released their FPI rankings: pic.twitter.com/3YABlailj4
— Saturday Tradition (@Tradition) April 14, 2022
The FPI gives the Cornhuskers a 29.2% chance to win the division, which betters Wisconsin’s 28.9% odds. Iowa (13.9%), Minnesota (13.9%) and Purdue (13%) — all of whom beat the Huskers last year — are given half as much chance as Nebraska.
Yes, it is true that last season has little bearing on 2022. Indiana’s drop-off from 2020 to 2021 is proof of that concept in motion.
But there’s no way in heck I’m buying that Nebraska is almost 3 times as likely to win the West as Purdue. I can’t even foresee the Huskers being favored to beat the Boilermakers in West Lafayette on Oct. 15.
My guess is the computer got a little drunk from the narrow margin of Nebraska’s losses last season. The Huskers lost a remarkable 8 games by a single possession. And they outscored their opponents 335-272 overall.
It seems awfully optimistic to think a drastic turnaround is imminent based on that, though. And as far as I know, computers aren’t supposed to possess emotional traits.
When you look at returning production, Nebraska is 106th nationally. Illinois is the only team in the Big Ten with less production coming back next fall.
And though Scott Frost has certainly made some transfer portal upgrades, guys like linebacker JoJo Domann, center Cam Jurgens and wide receiver Samori Toure leave behind bigger voids than a production percentage can calculate. That trio made everyone around them better.
Texas transfer QB Casey Thompson should provide Nebraska with a steadier hand than the mercurial Adrian Martinez. But his addition raises yet another question about the accuracy of the FPI.
If Thompson’s impact is going to be that significant, wouldn’t Texas be feeling his absence more?
Be optimistic, but not delusional
Though it appears I’m ladling out gallons of Haterade at the Huskers’ expense, let me offer a clarification.
Nebraska is going to be better than the 3-9 record we saw in 2021. I actually see eye-to-eye with the FPI giving the Cornhuskers a 93.5% chance of reaching 6 wins and bowl eligibility. That can even be achieved if Frost finishes below .500 in Big Ten play for the 5th straight season.
But the idea that Frost, at 10-25 in the Big Ten in his career, is going to lead this team to the Big Ten Championship Game in 2022 strikes me as more than a little silly. Nebraska has done nothing to prove it’s capable of this leap.
And if it turns out I’m wrong and the computers are right about Nebraska and Texas?
Time to start worrying. Because then they really might be smart enough to send a Schwarzenegger back in time to destroy us rather than a DeVito.