SEC teams crowd top of preseason FPI

Want a better preseason poll? ESPN Stats & Information has it covered with automated preseason ratings for all 128 FBS teams. The ratings are designed to predict how strong each team will be this coming season based on offense, defense and special teams. It's basically a preseason version of last year's Football Power Index (FPI).

The methodology uses historical data such as a team's past few years of performance, number of returnees (players and head coach) and recruiting to come up with expected points added (EPA) on offense, defense and special teams. Overall, it tells us a lot about how teams can be expected to perform the next season. The overall preseason FPI scores represent how much better or worse a team would be against an average FBS opponent on a neutral field.

Here's a breakdown of each SEC team and where it ranks overall.

3. Auburn

Preseason FPI: 24.3; 2013 FPI: 22.8

Last season's national runner-up is trending in the right direction thanks to some improvement on defense. The Tigers' offense is actually projected to take a slight step back with an EPA of 15 points per game better than average, but that's still a terrific number and it ranks third in the nation and best in the SEC.

4. Alabama

Preseason FPI: 24.1; 2013 FPI: 25.4

With some key losses on offense, the Crimson Tide are forecasted to take a step back next from last year's 15.64 points per game over the average team to 10.9 points over the average this fall. The defense and special teams, however, should hold steady in 2014.

9. South Carolina

Preseason FPI: 19.8; 2013 FPI: 16.1

The Gamecocks' defense, overrated last season, is actually predicted to be ranked higher in 2014 without Jadeveon Clowney intimidating opponents. With quarterback Dylan Thompson replacing Connor Shaw, the offense is where South Carolina should drop -- from 17.24 points per game over the average in 2013 to 11.3 this year.

10. Texas A&M

Preseason FPI: 19.6; 2013 FPI: 14.6

Obviously Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans did a lot of damage in 2013, but the Aggies offense is still ranked No. 7 in our preseason EPA. The biggest improvement for A&M should come on defense, where it ranked a putrid 3.97 points per game below average last year and is estimated at 7.2 points per game above the average this season, which ranks a healthy 24th among FBS teams.

12. Georgia

Preseason FPI: 19.5; 2013 FPI: 14.9

With some key losses such as QB Aaron Murray on offense, it's no surprise the Bulldogs are expected to fall back a bit from their lofty 17.38 PPG (No. 7 in the FBS) to an 8.5 PPG above average, which still ranks No. 15. The ratings really think Georgia's defense is going to mature into a beast, however. That unit, which was 0.11 PPG below average last season is estimated to be 10.1 PPG above average this year.

14. LSU

Preseason FPI: 18.2; 2013 FPI: 16.3

Last year, the Tigers' offense was humming. It tied with Alabama, ranking 11th in the nation with an EPA of 15.64 points per game over average. Take Zach Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill out of the equation (but keep in mind some terrific recruits coming in) and the forecast for this preseason is 7.4 points per game over average, or 20th in the FBS. Defense and special teams should improve, though.

17. Mississippi State

Preseason FPI: 17.4; 2013 FPI: 10.2

The overall FPI envisions a sizable jump for the Bulldogs from 33rd in 2013 to 17th this preseason. MSU's offense will stay about the same, but real gains are forecasted on defense and especially on special teams, where Mississippi State had an EPA of 2.37 below average last year and is predicted to jump to 0.5 above the average this year.

20. Ole Miss

Preseason FPI: 15.4; 2013 FPI: 10.2

The Rebels are projected to make a similar leap in the overall rankings, up 12 spots from No. 32 last year. Mississippi's offense is estimated to take a step back from 9.01 points per game above the average to an EPA of 5.2 this year, but the defense should improve. It's projected to climb 12 spots to No. 11 in the FBS.

22. Florida

Preseason FPI: 15.0; 2013 FPI: 5.9

The Gators' defense and special teams weren't the problem in 2013, so any improvement on offense should pay off big in 2014. Florida was 2.52 points below the average offense last season, which ranked No. 97. Our preseason forecast pegs Florida at 1.1 PPG above average, which results in a big jump from No. 45 overall last year to No. 22 this fall.

30. Missouri

Preseason FPI: 11.3; 2013 FPI: 17.8

The SEC East champs aren't getting much love in the preseason rankings, and our Stats & Info model is no different. Chalk it up to some big losses in offensive personnel, where Mizzou was 15.27 points per game over the average last year; the Tigers are projected to have an EPA of 4.2 this year. Special teams are the only area that's forecasted to improve for the Tigers in 2014.

45. Arkansas

Preseason FPI: 7.4; 2013 FPI: -3.7

It can't get much worse than the misery of 2013 for the Hogs, so our models project a healthy rebound in 2014. Arkansas' defense was a terrible 5.86 points below the average last season and is projected to return to normal at plus-2.9 PPG this fall.

51. Tennessee

Preseason FPI: 6.5; 2013 FPI: 5.2

The long, slow rebuild continues as Tennessee finished last season ranked No. 51 in overall FPI and finds itself in the exact same spot in our preseason rankings. A closer look at the numbers shows some solid improvement on defense, while the offense takes a slight step back. Baby steps on Rocky Top.

54. Kentucky

Preseason FPI: 5.0; 2013 FPI: -4.4

Like Tennessee, the Wildcats have a long way to go in their rebuilding plan. The good news is that Mark Stoops is having a decided impact on recruiting. Our forecast shows a big improvement on the way for the Kentucky defense, which ranked a whopping 8.22 PPG below the average and checks in at plus-0.8 this preseason.

69. Vanderbilt

Preseason FPI: 0.8; 2013 FPI: 5.6

A sharp drop in respectability is anticipated for the Commodores after head coach James Franklin left for Penn State. Vanderbilt ranked No. 48 overall last season and falls to No. 69 in these projections. It's a sobering reminder of how much Franklin did to lift the program, as offense, defense and special teams are predicted to drop.