Alabama Football: Predicting SEC power shifts next fall

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Alabama Football fans might be surprised and pleased to see the first ESPN FPI ranking for the 2021 season. For those not accustomed to the FPI, it is an algorithm used by ESPN to predict game outcomes. Every game played during the season adjusts future predictions. Its accuracy is designed to improve throughout the season. So there will be many changes in the FPI as the season progresses.

Until then, Alabama football fans can enjoy pondering ESPN’s early projections. ESPN enhances its FPI ranking by the Alabama Crimson Tide at No.1. As every Alabama football fan knows, anything lower would be a joke.

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Based on the current FPI, the Crimson Tide will play six Top 20 opponents next season, plus two more inside the Top 29. Another Top 10 opponent might be Georgia in an SEC Championship matchup.

Fans of other teams, particularly those from other conferences, will ignore the Crimson Tide’s rigorous schedule and instead focus on three ‘other’ games. The New Mexico State Aggies will visit Tuscaloosa in November. The FPI has the Aggies as No. 130, signifying them the worst FBS team. Another Alabama football opponent, Southern Mississippi is not much higher at No. 112. The Tide’s other schedule negative is a game against the FCS Mercer Bears.

After an all-SEC, past regular season, the three weak opponents will not satisfy anyone. To no avail, Nick Saban has frequently lobbied for more SEC games in the regular season and no FCS games.

What is most interesting about the current FPI is how it ranks seven other Crimson Tide opponents. Not surprisingly, the Texas A&M Aggies at No. 6 are the Tide’s highest-ranked, regular-season opponent. The next-highest is a big surprise; Mississippi State at No. 8.

The Bulldogs should be better in Mike Leach’s second season in Starkville. But, a Top 8 team would be a massive jump from a 4-7, 2020 season. Mississippi State started out impressively last season, knocking off LSU in Baton Rouge. No follower of college football then understood how bad the Bengal Tigers and the Bulldogs would be in 2020. LSU collapsed while Leach’s team lost seven of its next eight games. They closed with upsets over Missouri and Tulsa; the second win being over an overrated ranked team.

The Crimson Tide travels to Starkville in mid-October. Perhaps, the Bulldogs will surprise and offer the Tide one of its toughest games.

Other current FPI, Top 20 teams on the Tide’s SEC schedule are Florida at No. 14; Auburn at No. 16 and LSU at No. 18. Miami is ranked almost as high as LSU at No. 20. Ole Miss is No. 22; Arkansas is No. 29 and Tennesee is No. 48.

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At this early point, the FPI matters little. Of two things, Alabama football fans can be sure – the ESPN rankings will change dramatically as the season plays out AND the start of the season cannot get here soon enough.