Playing with expectations is a funny thing. When your team is bad, you don’t have to worry about it. The Tennessee Volunteers—for most of the past five years—have not had this issue. The team really hasn’t won enough to aspire to bigger goals.
That’s officially changed. Tennessee is currently 3-0 and ranked 11th in the AP poll, and is the clear favorite over the visiting Florida Gators, ranked 20th in the same poll. That’s right, the team who has lost 16 of the last 17 in the series is now the obvious favorite to win the game. So not only does Tennessee have the pressure of a good season to live up to—they’ve got the more unique pressure of winning a game they just don’t win very often.
How did we get here? Why is Tennessee the darling of the ratings systems, and why are they so confident about the Volunteers in this game? We go in depth below, and try to explain what exactly the systems are seeing. We conclude with the projections...and Tennessee fans will want to sit down for this one.
FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)
Overall: 14th (Last Week: 16th)
Offense: 6th (Last Week: 8th)
Defense: 36th (Last Week: 36th)
Largely unchanged after a dominating victory over an inferior opponent.
FEI is the most bullish of the ratings systems with respect to Florida. It’s decently high on their defensive efficiency, and not as critical of their offense. The eye test would seem to match up with its evaluation of the defense. The Gators are overall solid on that side of the ball, especially in the starting units. They’ve got genuine draft prospects in defensive end Brenton Cox Jr., linebacker Ventrell Miller (status questionable for the game), and defensive tackle Gervon Dexter.
But the issues arise when they have to start using their depth. They simply don’t have many players behind the starters who have proven competent. Despite a supposedly strong front seven, the Gators were gashed by USF to the tune of 286 yards and 6.2 yards per carry. Much of that can be attributed to the loss of Ventrell Miller—but again, if the absence of one player causes that much of a drop off, the problem is with the depth.
FPI (Football Power Index)
Overall: 8th (Last Week: 7th)
Offensive Efficiency: 13th (Last Week: 23rd)
Defensive Efficiency: 20th (Last Week: 17th)
Special Teams Efficiency: 84th (Last Week: 63rd)
Both FEI and FPI gave Tennessee’s offensive efficiency a small bump after last week. By and large, we know what Tennessee’s offense is going to do and what it will look like against most of its opponents. Hendon Hooker as the starter gives a certain floor for the offense.
Offensive Efficiency: 86th
Defensive Efficiency: 58th
Special Teams Efficiency: 67th
Yikes. If FEI is the most bullish, FPI is the most bearish. The Gators have dropped considerably after a close victory against USF.
Much of it is due to the complete sputtering of Florida’s offense, which has been attributed to the play of quarterback Anthony Richardson. Richardson looked like the next big thing after a huge win over Utah in week 1. He was then completely shut down against Kentucky the very next week en route to a 26-16 loss. Most expected him to get back on track against South Florida.
It never happened. He looked extremely vulnerable and simply could not do much against a USF Bulls team that is downright bad. Richardson has yet to throw a touchdown pass this season (to his own team, at least).
Tennessee’s staff should be taking copious notes from the last two weeks. The way to beat Florida is to contain Richardson/the run game and dare him to make great passes. He has been unable to do that through three weeks.
Football Outsiders Line Stats
These numbers will start appearing after week 4.
FPI: Tennessee, 87.4%
SP+: Tennessee, 76% — Projected Score (38-25, Tennessee)
FEI: Tennessee, 70% — Projected Score (32.9-26, Tennessee)
This is the biggest Tennessee lean going into a Florida game in years. None of the ratings systems are giving Florida more than a 30% chance of victory. When was the last time this happened?