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Numbers Dive: Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh

What do some of the ratings systems think will happen?

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The famous quote about “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” can also be applied to football. We can break down the game to a set of numbers as much as we want, but the actual game that takes place on the field brings all sorts of twists. No predictions or ratings systems will have a 100 percent hit rate.

Still, people much smarter than I have created systems that can pretty accurately predict which team will win a football game. The Tennessee Volunteers are no exception. Not every game is a 50-50 tossup, and we have good reason to believe that various stats will point to which teams can succeed.

Ahead of their Week 2 matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers in Neyland Stadium, we’ve compiled some advanced stats to see how the Volunteers stack up. We’ve listed two highly regarded systems below, as well as a prediction from another. We will be doing this article every week, and seeing the progress—or decline—that happens over the course of the 2021 season.

DISCLAIMER: Since it is only Week 2, many of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. I debated even doing this piece, because ratings systems don’t have enough data this early in the season. Some use data from the previous season until weeks 4-5. Please do not take these as gospel—this is simply to let us track some of the changes as we go throughout the season. The analysis will be light this week, and probably the next couple.

FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)

Tennessee Volunteers

Overall: 64th
Offense: 90th
Defense: 41st

Note that 82% of Tennessee’s team ratings are from preseason projections. The numbers mostly align with what we saw against Bowling Green as well. Tennessee’s offense should have been better, while the defense did their job.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Overall: 50th
Offense: 94th
Defense: 30th

A stunningly similar set of numbers. You can see why the various systems predict this will be a close one.

FPI (Football Power Index)

Tennessee Volunteers

Overall: 51st
Offensive Efficiency: 75th
Defensive Efficiency: 49th
Special Teams Efficiency: 98th

Somewhat similar to the FEI numbers. Interesting wrinkle here is Tennessee’s special teams efficiency ranking. Not entirely sure where that’s from.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Overall: 27th
Offensive Efficiency: 66th
Defensive Efficiency: 14th
Special Teams Efficiency: 65th

Please note that the “overall” number is not directly linked to the efficiency numbers. The “overall” is simply the FPI rank. The efficiencies are a separate component. ESPN is notoriously guarded with how the FPI works, and it’s not clear which numbers are being included with which weighting.


FPI: Pittsburgh, 58.5%

SP+: Pittsburgh, 52% — Projected Score (25-24, Pittsburgh)

FEI: Tennessee, 50.1% — Projected Score (24.8-24.8, Tie)

Talk about a toss-up. The most confident system here is FPI, while the other two are super close. Both Tennessee and Pittsburgh played two of the worst teams in the FBS (Bowling Green and Massachusetts). Each of them thoroughly dismantled their opponent. That also means it’s hard to tell what the actual strengths are, and whether those will carry over to tougher opponents. Anyone will look good against an overmatched team.

Can’t say I’m envious of the ratings systems here. We didn’t learn much about these teams last week, so Saturday’s matchup is setting up to be the first big reveal.