Spring football practice has already begun, at least for David Cutcliffe’s Duke Blue Devils, so why not unveil ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index (FPI) for the 2017 season?
Anything to make the offseason go by a little faster.
The FPI rankings may change some before the start of the season, but they’re a starting point.
We’ll look a little closer today at three teams that might be overvalued in the preseason FPI and three teams that might be a little undervalued.
Getting star quarterback Baker Mayfield back for another season was a huge coup for the Sooners, who finished last season on a 10-game winning streak. Mayfield’s playmaking ability will give Oklahoma a shot in every game, but No. 3 seems a bit high for a couple of different reasons. The schedule, which includes a trip to Ohio State in Week 2, is challenging. Gone are running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine and receiver Dede Westbrook, who among them combined for 39 touchdowns, along with leading tackler Jordan Evans on defense. Speaking of defense, the Sooners still need to prove they can play the elite defense that it takes to win a national championship. They tied for 68th nationally a year ago in scoring defense (28.8 points per game) and were 82nd in total defense (432 yards per game). Lastly, the Sooners haven’t been at their best in recent years when expectations have been at their highest. We’ll see if they can buck that trend.
The last time the Tigers started a season this high in any ranking, they barely finished above .500. Auburn was No. 6 in the 2015 AP preseason poll, but lost four of its first eight games, finished 2-6 in SEC play and just barely squeezed into a bowl game. Just like Oklahoma, nobody’s suggesting Auburn will crash and burn next season. Even with the loss of Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, the defensive line is still loaded with talent, and Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham should solve the Tigers’ recent quarterback woes. That said, I’m just not sold on Auburn being among the best five teams in the country, especially when it’s all said and done. Keep in mind, they have to go to Clemson the second week of the season and also have three straight SEC road games against LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M during the middle part of the schedule.
I don’t think Notre Dame is a top-20 team. Brian Kelly didn’t forget how to coach overnight, and the Irish will be improved from last year’s 4-8 debacle. But eight wins sounds a lot more realistic than 10 or more wins. Several key players on offense are gone, including quarterbacks DeShone Kizer (early NFL draft entry) and Malik Zaire (transfer). While the defense should be better under first-year coordinator Mike Elko, it might take more than a year to fix everything in South Bend, particularly with a schedule that features 11 of 12 teams that played in bowl games a year ago.
When last seen on a football field, the Cowboys were carving up Colorado for a 38-8 victory in the Valero Alamo Bowl. We probably put too much stock in how a team finished the previous season when predicting its fortunes for that next season, but Oklahoma State has the look of a legit Big 12 championship contender in 2017. For starters, quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington both decided to return to school after weighing their NFL draft options. There won’t be many, if any, better pass-catch combos in the country next season. The Cowboys’ entire receiving corps is outstanding, and Justice Hill returns at running back after rushing for more than 1,000 yards last season. The schedule isn’t easy, but at least the toughest Big 12 games appear to be at home. Mike Gundy’s program has been perennially underrated, but don’t be surprised if the Cowboys win 10 or more games in 2017 for the fourth time in the last five years.
Where’s the love for the Mountaineers? They won 10 games last season, and with Florida transfer Will Grier eligible and stepping in at quarterback, they could be even more potent on offense next season. Tony Gibson did a tremendous job of putting some bite into the West Virginia defense last season. There was an edge on that side of the ball that had been missing. He has a rebuild on his hands in 2017 with so many key members of that defense moving on, but Gibson has established an identity. Plus, coach Dana Holgorsen can’t wait to turn Grier loose in the Mountaineers’ offense. His supporting cast on offense is equally electric with the likes of running back Justin Crawford returning. West Virginia might be forced to win a few shootouts until some of the newer faces on defense come into their own in 2017, but this is a team that will finish a lot closer to 25 than it will 53.
The Spartans had been a model of consistency under Mark Dantonio, which is what made last season’s 3-9 finish so shocking. If you look closer, though, Michigan State wasn’t as bad as the record might indicate. The Spartans lost several close games and played both Michigan and Ohio State tough late in the season. Dantonio has been too good of a coach and has built too solid of a program for the Spartans to be languishing in the latter 50s of any ranking. There’s talent in the defensive line, and it’s hard to believe that a Dantonio-coached team will make as many mistakes as the 2016 team did. There’s a reason he’d won three Big Ten titles and engineered five 11-win seasons in the seven seasons prior to last year. The key will be getting better play at quarterback, although it will help to have a proven runner like LJ Scott in the backfield. Maybe it’s a stretch to think that Michigan State will add another Big Ten championship trophy to its collection in 2017, but Sparty will bounce back in a big way.