Why is Texas preseason Top 10 in this college football power index system?

The Longhorns return a lot of starters and have a new quarterback, but ESPN's FPI seems broken

Photo of Matt Young
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian calls a play from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State in Austin, Texas, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian calls a play from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State in Austin, Texas, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A preseason college football ranking system has lofty expectations for the University of Texas. The Longhorns’ ranking eyes being too big for their stomachs is nothing new, but the preseason Football Power Index released Thursday morning has gone even further than usual.

Texas, fresh off a 5-7 season that included five straight losses, is ranked No. 6 in the country by ESPN’s FPI, which debuted in 2013 and is based on projected results and simulations of games on each team’s schedule.

To be fair, the FPI, which is updated daily during the season, is not necessarily a ranking system but is supposed to project which teams would beat other teams on a neutral field by determining predicted points each unit – offense, defense and special teams – can be expected to put up. So, by this measure, the Longhorns would be favored to beat every team in the country on a neutral field except for the FPI’s Top 5, which is: Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson and Notre Dame.

Obviously, it’s nearly impossible in April to accurately predict how many points a team’s offense is going to be able to score. So, according to ESPN, these preseason predictions “are made up entirely of data from previous seasons, such as returning starters, past performance, recruiting rankings and coaching tenure.”

The Longhorns, who have finished a season in the Top 10 just once in the past 12 years, certainly don’t have much impressive data from previous seasons or past performance, but they had to impress the analytical system with their wealth of returning starters and recruiting rankings.

Going into his second year as head coach, Steve Sarkisian signed the No. 5 recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports, behind Texas A&M, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.

Texas returns loads of starters on both sides of the ball, including skill position players Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson at running back and Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington at receiver. They also likely will have Quinn Ewers at quarterback after the former No. 1 recruit in the country transferred from Ohio State after just one season with the Buckeyes.

On defense, the Longhorns return almost their entire starting defensive line and linebackers and have defensive backs Anthony Cook and D’Shawn Jamison back.

Of course, those players were on the same team that lost to 2-10 Kansas last season.

Based on the talent that stuck around Austin, according to this computer model, Texas has a 41% chance to win the Big 12, which is well ahead of next-best Oklahoma's 27% chance, and a 21% chance to make the College Football Playoff.

Texas will get tested early when Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the FPI, heads to Austin for the second game of the season. Big 12 foes Oklahoma (ranked 8th in FPI), Oklahoma State (13) and Baylor (19) also are on the schedule.

Notably, Texas A&M, which signed one of the best classes in the history of recruiting rankings and went 8-4 last season, is ranked No. 14 by the FPI.

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