It's been 21 years since Tennessee finished in the AP top five. It had almost been that long since the Vols had beaten Alabama, too, but Saturday's thrilling 52-49 win in Knoxville is allowing UT fans to dream big again. The advanced stats, meanwhile, are backing up the dreams.
In this week's SP+ rankings, the Vols jumped to fifth. If they finish there, it would be their best ranking since 1999. This being a predictive ranking and not a measure of résumés, they are still behind Bama overall (though the gap is closing quickly). But considering they are now given at least 71% win probability in five of their final six regular-season games, the odds of a huge season -- first 10-win season since 2007? first 11-win season since 2001? first 12-win season since 1998? -- are only increasing.
Below are this week's SP+ rankings. What is SP+? In a single sentence, it's a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency. I created the system at Football Outsiders in 2008, and as my experience with both college football and its stats has grown, I have made quite a few tweaks to the system.
SP+ is indeed intended to be predictive and forward-facing. It is not a résumé ranking that gives credit for big wins or particularly brave scheduling -- no good predictive system is. It is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football. If you're lucky or unimpressive in a win, your rating will probably fall. If you're strong and unlucky in a loss, it will probably rise.