There had to be a Stoops effect.
It's no surprise that in the third iteration of ESPN's college football 2017 Preseason FPI, released Wednesday, Oklahoma's chances of winning the Big 12 take a slight hit because of the June retirement of head coach Bob Stoops, who had been at the helm of the program since 1999.
Although they remain the largest favorite to win a Power 5 conference, the Sooners' chances of securing the Big 12 title dropped from 77.5 percent to 72.3 percent. If that 5.2 percent drop feels small for losing a coach with a track record like Stoops -- who led the Sooners to double-digit wins in 14 of his 18 seasons -- keep in mind that Oklahoma will have the same players on the field, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, that it had when Stoops was presiding over the team in the spring and its title chances were established. Mayfield was 2016's top-ranked college quarterback in QBR.
FPI, which measures team strength and then simulates the season 10,000 times to project outcomes, cannot fully capture Stoops' value because the effects of his departure, which could include recruiting, may take years to be fully realized.
Nonetheless, the change in Oklahoma's odds comes from the model's recognition that a head coach with 18 years of experience has been replaced by one (Lincoln Riley) with zero years of experience.
Riley's team enters the season with an exceptional chance to play in the Big 12 title game thanks to being prohibitive favorites in a conference in which the top two teams in the conference standings -- rather than division winners -- square off for the championship. Oklahoma's chances of reaching that Big 12 championship game dropped from 92.8 percent to 90 percent in this FPI update.
In FPI as a whole, Oklahoma dropped 1.69 points down to a 22.79 rating, meaning that the Sooners are 22.79 points better than the average FBS team on a neutral field. That dip in FPI by Oklahoma caused it and Florida State to swap the third and fourth overall ranks in the system while costing the Sooners .23 projected wins in the upcoming season.
Strong-er in Tampa?
Charlie Strong couldn't put together a winning season in his three years at Texas, but FPI sees him posting one of the highest win totals in the FBS this year. Despite an FPI ranking of 47, South Florida cracks the top 10 in most projected wins (counting a potential conference championship game but not a possible bowl game) in 2017 at 9.7.
There are two big reasons for such a projection. First, the Bulls have a much easier schedule (102nd in the FBS) relative to top-ranked and similarly ranked schools. Additionally, because South Florida has a 61.1 percent chance of winning the American Athletic Conference's East division, it has a high likelihood of playing an extra game, the conference championship. That is the fifth-highest odds for any FBS team to win its division (among those that play in conferences with divisions).
Other schools with notably high win totals relative to their FPI include Memphis (ranked 43rd in FPI, 9.28 projected wins), Appalachian State (70th, 8.82) and Toledo (62nd, 8.76).
Gators treading water
Florida has landed a new quarterback, but as of now, its FPI remains virtually unchanged. The Gators hauled in graduate transfer Malik Zaire from Notre Dame this offseason, and he is expected to compete for the starting quarterback job with redshirt junior Luke Del Rio, redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, and true freshman Jake Allen. Because the Gators have a quarterback on the roster with starting experience -- Del Rio posted a 40.2 QBR over six games last season -- that supersedes the fact that they received a transfer quarterback in the FPI model.
There's no question that Florida needs whatever help it can get on offense. The Gators are coming off of a season in which ESPN ranked their offense 84th in efficiency among FBS schools. FPI is optimistic about improvement on that side of the ball, as it sees the Gators as having the 45th-ranked offense in the FBS right now. That the Gators are returning eight offensive starters, plus Del Rio if he wins the job, contributes to that ranking.
Thanks mostly to a defense that FPI considers sixth best in college football, Florida ranks 14th in FPI (the Gators moved up one spot in this version due to other teams' movement) with a 14.66 rating.
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