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2019’s projected 130-team college football rankings, from Alabama through UTEP

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Here are the three pieces used to create these projections, along with some more notes at the bottom.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Orange Bowl-Alabama vs Oklahoma Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason S&P+ projections are a simple mix of three factors: recent history, returning production, and recruiting. To come up with 130-team projections for all of FBS, I create projected ratings based on each factor. Here’s how the process works:

  • For recruiting, I create a rating based on these weighted four-year recruiting rankings. The weighting (67 percent this year’s class, 15 percent last year’s, 15 percent the year before that, three percent the year before that) is based on what makes the ratings most predictive.
  • For returning production, I take each team’s returning offensive and defensive production (which are on different scales) and apply projected changes to last year’s ratings. The ranking you see below is not where they rank in returning production but where they would rank after the projected changes are applied to last year’s S&P+ averages. This piece makes up a vast majority of the overall S&P+ projections.
  • For recent history, I’ve found that getting a little weird predicts pretty well. This number isn’t a strict five-year average — last year’s ratings already carry heavy weight from the returning production piece. Instead, what you see below is a projection based solely off of seasons two to five years ago. Recent history doesn’t carry much weight in the projections, but it serves as a reflection of overall program health. We overreact to one year’s performance sometimes.

Enough talk. Here are the preliminary projected S&P+ rankings for 2019.

Projected 2019 S&P+ ratings (as of Feb. 11)

Rk Team Conference Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
Rk Team Conference Recruiting impact Returning production Weighted 5-year Proj. S&P+
1 Alabama SEC 1 1 1 35.4
2 Georgia SEC 2 2 7 30.7
3 Clemson ACC 10 3 3 29.9
4 LSU SEC 3 4 6 25.8
5 Oklahoma Big 12 4 6 5 25.0
6 Florida SEC 6 5 23 24.6
7 Ohio State Big Ten 5 7 2 24.3
8 Auburn SEC 7 9 9 22.6
9 Michigan Big Ten 12 11 12 21.6
10 Mississippi State SEC 22 8 20 21.4
11 Wisconsin Big Ten 28 10 8 20.1
12 Notre Dame Indies 14 14 15 19.1
13 Texas A&M SEC 8 13 24 18.7
14 Penn State Big Ten 11 17 11 18.4
15 Washington Pac-12 18 16 17 17.7
16 Missouri SEC 38 12 39 17.5
17 Utah Pac-12 40 15 27 15.4
18 South Carolina SEC 19 20 46 14.9
19 Miami ACC 23 25 19 13.9
20 Oregon Pac-12 13 26 25 13.8
21 Tennessee SEC 17 28 33 12.9
22 Oklahoma State Big 12 37 23 22 12.8
23 Michigan State Big Ten 27 27 21 12.6
24 Boise State MWC 53 24 30 12.6
25 Iowa Big Ten 39 22 35 12.5
26 Memphis AAC 68 18 44 12.3
27 UCF AAC 62 21 59 11.7
28 Florida State ACC 15 43 4 10.9
29 USC Pac-12 16 38 10 10.7
30 Virginia Tech ACC 26 32 26 10.6
31 Appalachian State Sun Belt 100 19 58 10.4
32 Stanford Pac-12 21 39 13 10.0
33 Minnesota Big Ten 42 31 48 9.5
34 TCU Big 12 30 41 16 9.2
35 Texas Big 12 9 51 37 8.9
36 Washington State Pac-12 61 29 51 8.9
37 Kentucky SEC 33 33 68 8.8
38 West Virginia Big 12 45 34 40 8.6
39 Ole Miss SEC 24 48 18 8.5
40 Baylor Big 12 36 42 31 8.1
41 Virginia ACC 44 37 70 7.9
42 Utah State MWC 97 30 79 7.6
43 Iowa State Big 12 49 40 69 7.2
44 Cincinnati AAC 69 35 77 7.1
45 Nebraska Big Ten 20 58 42 6.6
46 Indiana Big Ten 41 49 49 6.4
47 NC State ACC 32 54 29 6.3
48 Arkansas SEC 25 57 41 6.1
49 Arizona State Pac-12 31 53 54 5.9
50 BYU Indies 75 44 65 5.7
51 Fresno State MWC 93 36 98 5.5
52 Arizona Pac-12 55 45 60 5.4
53 Vanderbilt SEC 57 47 78 5.2
54 San Diego State MWC 86 46 47 4.9
55 Texas Tech Big 12 64 50 53 4.8
56 Syracuse ACC 54 52 73 4.6
57 Northwestern Big Ten 50 56 50 4.2
58 Purdue Big Ten 35 61 83 4.2
59 Pittsburgh ACC 51 63 32 3.8
60 California Pac-12 46 60 64 3.4
61 North Carolina ACC 29 74 38 3.2
62 Wake Forest ACC 60 59 67 3.1
63 UCLA Pac-12 34 68 28 3.1
64 Kansas State Big 12 65 62 34 3.0
65 Duke ACC 48 66 56 2.9
66 Temple AAC 94 55 61 2.2
67 Maryland Big Ten 47 67 80 2.1
68 Colorado Pac-12 43 71 72 1.7
69 Troy Sun Belt 83 64 85 1.4
70 Arkansas State Sun Belt 95 65 71 1.0
71 USF AAC 72 72 52 1.0
72 Boston College ACC 63 75 57 0.7
73 Houston AAC 74 77 43 0.3
74 Southern Miss C-USA 80 69 87 0.0
75 Western Michigan MAC 84 78 66 -0.5
76 Northern Illinois MAC 101 73 81 -0.6
77 Marshall C-USA 76 81 76 -1.2
78 Toledo MAC 71 88 45 -1.3
79 Florida Atlantic C-USA 70 83 88 -1.3
80 Army Indies 103 70 108 -1.4
81 Georgia Southern Sun Belt 110 76 92 -1.5
82 Ohio MAC 99 82 82 -1.9
83 Nevada MWC 92 80 110 -1.9
84 North Texas C-USA 85 79 107 -2.0
85 SMU AAC 73 85 105 -2.2
86 Louisiana Tech C-USA 81 84 75 -2.4
87 Louisville ACC 58 94 14 -2.7
88 Florida International C-USA 78 86 119 -3.3
89 Georgia Tech ACC 52 96 36 -3.5
90 Air Force MWC 111 87 84 -3.5
91 Illinois Big Ten 56 92 86 -3.8
92 Wyoming MWC 104 89 100 -4.7
93 Miami (Ohio) MAC 96 91 99 -4.9
94 Hawaii MWC 102 90 125 -5.5
95 Tulsa AAC 98 93 97 -6.0
96 Eastern Michigan MAC 125 95 112 -6.4
97 Buffalo MAC 112 97 109 -7.0
98 Tulane AAC 89 99 106 -7.2
99 UL-Lafayette Sun Belt 82 101 101 -7.2
100 UNLV MWC 107 98 122 -7.5
101 Western Kentucky C-USA 90 103 63 -8.6
102 Texas State Sun Belt 127 100 127 -8.8
103 UL-Monroe Sun Belt 128 102 118 -8.9
104 Middle Tennessee C-USA 87 104 89 -9.3
105 Oregon State Pac-12 66 105 96 -9.4
106 UAB C-USA 91 106 74 -9.8
107 Kansas Big 12 67 109 121 -12.1
108 Rutgers Big Ten 59 111 95 -12.3
109 Colorado State MWC 79 113 62 -12.8
110 Ball State MAC 116 108 115 -12.9
111 Kent State MAC 105 110 124 -13.7
112 Liberty Indies 130 107 128 -13.8
113 East Carolina AAC 77 116 91 -14.4
114 Georgia State Sun Belt 106 114 114 -15.2
115 New Mexico MWC 121 115 104 -15.3
116 Coastal Carolina Sun Belt 129 112 120 -15.6
117 San Jose State MWC 109 117 116 -16.2
118 Navy AAC 120 119 55 -16.3
119 Old Dominion C-USA 118 120 111 -17.6
120 Charlotte C-USA 123 118 130 -17.8
121 New Mexico State Indies 126 121 123 -17.9
122 Central Michigan MAC 108 122 93 -18.5
123 Bowling Green MAC 113 124 90 -19.4
124 Akron MAC 122 125 103 -19.9
125 Massachusetts Indies 117 126 113 -19.9
126 Rice C-USA 119 123 126 -20.0
127 South Alabama Sun Belt 115 127 102 -20.8
128 UTSA C-USA 88 128 94 -21.7
129 Connecticut AAC 114 129 117 -24.7
130 UTEP C-USA 124 130 129 -28.5

Your projected conference leaders

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

You can sort by each category above, but here are the top three projected teams in each conference:

  • AAC: No. 26 Memphis, No. 27 UCF, No. 44 Cincinnati
  • ACC: No. 3 Clemson, No. 19 Miami, No. 28 Florida State
  • Big 12: No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 22 Oklahoma State, No. 34 TCU
  • Big Ten: No. 7 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan, No. 11 Wisconsin
  • Conference USA: No. 74 Southern Miss, No. 77 Marshall, No. 79 FAU
  • MAC: No. 75 WMU, No. 76 NIU, No. 78 Toledo
  • Mountain West: No. 24 Boise State, No. 42 Utah State, No. 51 Fresno State
  • Pac-12: No. 15 Washington, No. 17 Utah, No. 20 Oregon
  • SEC: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia, No. 4 LSU
  • Sun Belt: No. 31 Appalachian State, No. 69 Troy, No. 70 Arkansas State

Projected conference averages

  1. SEC (+18.1, down 0.5 from 2018)
  2. Big Ten (+9.0, up 1.2)
  3. Big 12 (+7.6, down 0.2)
  4. Pac-12 (+7.2, up 1.1)
  5. ACC (+6.6, up 1.3)
  6. AAC (-3.0, same)
  7. MWC (-3.1, down 2.3)
  8. Sun Belt (-6.5, up 1.1)
  9. MAC (-8.9, up 0.4)
  10. Conference USA (-10.3, same)

In January I made revisions to the S&P+ algorithm, discussed here and elsewhere. One of a few tweaks was a conference-wide strength adjustment.

After the ratings are determined, I project previous games based on those ratings, and I track each conference’s average performance versus projection. For the top conference, I found that by the end of the season it was aiming low by two or three points per game per team. For the bottom conference, it was the reverse.

Shifting each team’s rating based on this conference average, and increasing the weight of said adjustment as the season progresses, basically improves against-the-spread performance by about 1 percentage point per season and cuts the average absolute error by somewhere between 0.2 and 0.3 points per game.

That doesn’t seem like much, but look at the Prediction Tracker results and note how much of a difference 1 percent and 0.3 points per game could make to your projective ranking there.

It does, however, mean a fundamental shift in how mid-major teams are judged.

For a given season, shifting each conference team in this manner can mean that the best conference in FBS ends up with quite a few teams near the top. For the 2008 season (as presented in the example above), that means a heavy Big 12 presence. And for 2018, it means that the SEC dominated the ratings as much as any conference ever has — as much as SEC fans like to think their league dominates every year.

In the adjusted S&P+ rankings for 2018, SEC teams occupied six of the top nine spots in the rankings. That’s ... significant ... but transitively, it ties together pretty well. No. 1 Alabama’s only loss came to No. 3 Clemson (with wins over five other top-10 teams); two of No. 2 Georgia’s three losses came to teams in the top five; No. 5 LSU lost only to the No. 1, No. 9, and No. 11 teams while beating No. 7, No. 8, and No. 18; etc.

(This adjustment also means that national champion Clemson now ranks third instead of second. That’s awkward, but again, the conference-level adjustment makes S&P+ more accurately predictive overall. Nothing’s going to fit perfectly with our perceptions.)

So if the SEC was easily the best-graded conference in 2018 — far better than it had in any season since 2014 — and only a couple of league teams are on the bad side of the returning production measure, there’s probably no reason to think it will be projected much lower in 2019. And I would figure “10 teams in the top 21” qualifies as “not projected lower.”

What about unit rankings?

NCAA Football: Auburn at Alabama
Alabama’s Dylan Moses
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the same S&P+ projections, only with projected offensive and defensive ratings included.

Projected 2019 Off. and Def. S&P+ rankings

Team Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Off. S&P+ Rk Proj. Def. S&P+ Rk
Team Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Off. S&P+ Rk Proj. Def. S&P+ Rk
Alabama 35.4 1 51.2 2 15.8 10
Georgia 30.7 2 43.9 4 13.2 6
Clemson 29.9 3 45.2 3 15.2 8
LSU 25.8 4 38.1 15 12.3 1
Oklahoma 25.0 5 51.5 1 26.5 56
Florida 24.6 6 40.9 8 16.3 11
Ohio State 24.3 7 41.3 6 17.0 14
Auburn 22.6 8 35.9 24 13.3 7
Michigan 21.6 9 38.2 14 16.6 13
Mississippi State 21.4 10 33.8 32 12.4 2
Wisconsin 20.1 11 42.6 5 22.5 33
Notre Dame 19.1 12 34.5 29 15.4 9
Texas A&M 18.7 13 40.9 9 22.2 32
Penn State 18.4 14 31.4 51 13.0 4
Washington 17.7 15 35.8 25 18.2 16
Missouri 17.5 16 39.0 12 21.5 29
Utah 15.4 17 35.3 27 19.9 20
South Carolina 14.9 18 38.0 16 23.1 36
Miami 13.9 19 30.3 60 16.4 12
Oregon 13.8 20 37.5 18 23.7 40
Tennessee 12.9 21 38.7 13 25.7 49
Oklahoma State 12.8 22 41.0 7 28.2 69
Michigan State 12.6 23 25.1 96 12.5 3
Boise State 12.6 24 33.0 41 20.4 22
Iowa 12.5 25 31.8 48 19.3 18
Memphis 12.3 26 40.5 10 28.3 70
UCF 11.7 27 37.7 17 26.0 51
Florida State 10.9 28 28.9 72 18.0 15
USC 10.7 29 35.8 26 25.1 45
Virginia Tech 10.6 30 33.4 36 22.8 35
Appalachian State 10.4 31 32.0 46 21.5 30
Stanford 10.0 32 33.4 37 23.4 39
Minnesota 9.5 33 32.2 45 22.7 34
TCU 9.2 34 28.4 78 19.2 17
Texas 8.9 35 36.2 23 27.3 67
Washington State 8.9 36 37.3 20 28.4 71
Kentucky 8.8 37 29.9 63 21.1 27
West Virginia 8.6 38 37.4 19 28.8 77
Ole Miss 8.5 39 37.1 21 28.6 73
Baylor 8.1 40 34.2 31 26.1 52
Virginia 7.9 41 28.6 75 20.7 23
Utah State 7.6 42 31.8 47 24.2 44
Iowa State 7.2 43 28.1 80 20.9 26
Cincinnati 7.1 44 29.1 71 22.0 31
Nebraska 6.6 45 33.7 35 27.1 64
Indiana 6.4 46 33.0 40 26.6 59
NC State 6.3 47 30.2 61 23.9 41
Arkansas 6.1 48 31.3 52 25.2 46
Arizona State 5.9 49 32.7 43 26.7 60
BYU 5.7 50 29.8 66 24.1 43
Fresno State 5.5 51 26.8 87 21.2 28
Arizona 5.4 52 31.7 49 26.2 55
Vanderbilt 5.2 53 36.9 22 31.7 91
San Diego State 4.9 54 25.7 92 20.9 25
Texas Tech 4.8 55 35.2 28 30.4 83
Syracuse 4.6 56 30.7 59 26.1 54
Northwestern 4.2 57 24.3 100 20.0 21
Purdue 4.2 58 32.9 42 28.7 74
Pittsburgh 3.8 59 29.9 65 26.1 53
California 3.4 60 16.5 125 13.1 5
North Carolina 3.2 61 34.3 30 31.1 88
Wake Forest 3.1 62 29.9 64 26.7 61
UCLA 3.1 63 31.5 50 28.4 72
Kansas State 3.0 64 28.5 76 25.5 48
Duke 2.9 65 26.2 89 23.3 38
Temple 2.2 66 27.6 83 25.4 47
Maryland 2.1 67 29.2 69 27.2 65
Colorado 1.7 68 28.7 73 27.0 62
Troy 1.4 69 25.3 94 23.9 42
Arkansas State 1.0 70 27.6 82 26.6 58
USF 1.0 71 32.4 44 31.4 90
Boston College 0.7 72 27.7 81 27.0 63
Houston 0.3 73 40.0 11 39.7 118
Southern Miss 0.0 74 20.8 116 20.8 24
Western Michigan -0.5 75 33.2 39 33.7 100
Northern Illinois -0.6 76 18.9 120 19.5 19
Marshall -1.2 77 22.1 111 23.2 37
Toledo -1.3 78 33.8 33 35.0 107
Florida Atlantic -1.3 79 30.0 62 31.3 89
Army -1.4 80 31.1 55 32.5 94
Georgia Southern -1.5 81 29.2 70 30.7 85
Ohio -1.9 82 33.7 34 35.6 109
Nevada -1.9 83 28.5 77 30.5 84
North Texas -2.0 84 31.2 53 33.3 98
SMU -2.2 85 24.9 97 27.2 66
Louisiana Tech -2.4 86 24.1 101 26.6 57
Louisville -2.7 87 26.9 86 29.6 78
Florida International -3.3 88 29.7 67 33.0 97
Georgia Tech -3.5 89 30.9 57 34.4 102
Air Force -3.5 90 28.7 74 32.2 92
Illinois -3.8 91 31.1 54 34.9 106
Wyoming -4.7 92 23.0 107 27.6 68
Miami (Ohio) -4.9 93 25.1 95 30.0 82
Hawaii -5.5 94 30.9 58 36.3 110
Tulsa -6.0 95 24.0 103 30.0 80
Eastern Michigan -6.4 96 23.2 106 29.7 79
Buffalo -7.0 97 26.7 88 33.7 99
Tulane -7.2 98 21.5 112 28.7 75
UL-Lafayette -7.2 99 30.9 56 38.1 114
UNLV -7.5 100 33.3 38 40.7 121
Western Kentucky -8.6 101 21.4 114 30.0 81
Texas State -8.8 102 17.1 124 25.8 50
UL-Monroe -8.9 103 25.9 91 34.8 105
Middle Tennessee -9.3 104 21.5 113 30.8 86
Oregon State -9.4 105 29.3 68 38.7 116
UAB -9.8 106 19.0 119 28.8 76
Kansas -12.1 107 20.4 117 32.5 96
Rutgers -12.3 108 18.7 121 31.0 87
Colorado State -12.8 109 24.1 102 36.8 112
Ball State -12.9 110 23.5 105 36.4 111
Kent State -13.7 111 24.6 99 38.3 115
Liberty -13.8 112 27.5 84 41.3 123
East Carolina -14.4 113 20.1 118 34.5 104
Georgia State -15.2 114 26.1 90 41.3 122
New Mexico -15.3 115 23.9 104 39.1 117
Coastal Carolina -15.6 116 28.4 79 44.0 127
San Jose State -16.2 117 18.2 122 34.4 103
Navy -16.3 118 25.6 93 41.9 125
Old Dominion -17.6 119 22.2 110 39.7 119
Charlotte -17.8 120 14.6 126 32.5 95
New Mexico State -17.9 121 22.5 108 40.4 120
Central Michigan -18.5 122 13.7 128 32.2 93
Bowling Green -19.4 123 27.5 85 46.9 130
Akron -19.9 124 14.4 127 34.3 101
Massachusetts -19.9 125 24.7 98 44.7 128
Rice -20.0 126 18.0 123 38.0 113
South Alabama -20.8 127 22.5 109 43.3 126
UTSA -21.7 128 13.5 129 35.2 108
Connecticut -24.7 129 21.0 115 45.7 129
UTEP -28.5 130 12.8 130 41.3 124

Easily the most interesting tidbit to me here: Alabama’s defense projects 10th overall ... and just fifth in the SEC. After a down year by Bama standards (the Tide were seventh in Def. S&P+), Nick Saban’s squad now has to again replace most of its difference-makers. It’s easy to assume a rebound — Bama hadn’t finished lower than fourth in Def. S&P+ since 2010 and had finished first for four years running — but Saban will need quite a few new starters to play like All-Americans. Lord knows it’s happened before.

(Even with this merely awesome, but not historically amazing, defense, Bama still ranks an easy first overall thanks to an offense that is as loaded at the skill positions as any Bama offense ever has been.)

Stats vs. conventional wisdom

It’s pretty clear at the end of one season who will be picked atop the rankings for the next. In most Way Too Early Top 25s for 2019, Clemson is a virtually unanimous No. 1, Alabama a unanimous No. 2, and Georgia a unanimous No. 3. Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Notre Dame make up spots 4-6 in some order, and some combination of Florida, Texas, LSU, Michigan, and Oregon rounds out the top 10.

Texas A&M, Washington, and Penn State are is most top-15s, and Utah, Wisconsin, Iowa State, and Northwestern are in or near the top 20.

S&P+ doesn’t disagree much at the top, even if there’s a slightly different order (Clemson’s third).

It thinks more highly of LSU (fourth versus a consensus of about ninth), and it doesn’t punish Auburn for always having a ridiculous schedule — the Tigers are projected eighth as opposed to the Way Too Early consensus of something around 23rd. It values another set of SEC Tigers (Missouri) more highly, too, and it’s more bullish on a couple of Big Ten teams as well (Wisconsin and Michigan State).

As a whole, though, advanced stats are a lot more useful in judging who’s overvalued than who’s undervalued.

S&P+ didn’t think highly of Northwestern (68th in 2018) or Syracuse (40th) despite nice win totals, and it doesn’t see much reason to change its mind in 2019 — when the Wildcats are projected 57th, the Orange 56th.

It also suggests we tap the brakes on Nebraska. The Huskers are projected 45th but are receiving plenty of top-25 votes from the humans.

Perhaps the most noteworthy disagreement between humans and this computer:

Texas is 35th???

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Georgia vs Texas
Tom Herman
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, Tom Herman’s Houston Cougars enjoyed a magical run. They went 13-1, rolled to the AAC title, and beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl. The numbers were unimpressed. UH ranked just 53rd in (the updated version of) S&P+, looking more like a 10-4 team on paper and propped up by five points per game of good turnovers luck.

In Houston’s 2016 preview, I wrote this:

Houston is going to be good. In 2016, something like a 9-3 record would be considered disappointing. This scenario plays out a lot in this sport, and it shouldn’t a surprise that it’s what the skeptical S&P+ ratings are projecting.

Houston improved to 39th in S&P+ ... and went 9-3. You can defy the numbers once, but it’s really hard to do it twice in a row.

Herman’s team might have something familiar going on heading into 2019.

In 2018, another Herman team defied both expectation and statistics. In his second year at Texas, his Longhorns ranked 32nd in S&P+ and, per second-order wins, had the look of an eight-win team. For every strong performance (namely, wins over Oklahoma and Georgia), there was a dud or near-disaster — a loss to Maryland, near-losses to Tulsa, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, etc. Against anyone but the top teams, they did the bare minimum; it bit them once and nearly did so many other times.

Still, they won 10 games, finishing with a win over a depleted but talented UGA in the Sugar Bowl. From that point forward, they were all but guaranteed to find a spot in everyone’s preseason top 10.

The final piece of the puzzle for Herman in Austin might not be filling in holes on the two-deep. It will be figuring out how to field a team that plays every game like the Sugar Bowl.

S&P+ doesn’t tend to trust teams that perform so inconsistently. Plus, Texas must replace a higher percentage of last year’s production than any other power conference team.

The Horns bring back quarterback Sam Ehlinger and receiver Collin Johnson as headliners, plus the fruits of successful recruiting.

They do not, however, return their leading rusher (Tre Watson), leading receiver (Lil’Jordan Humphrey), three honorable mention all-conference offensive linemen, their top three tacklers on the defensive line, their top two linebackers, and three of their top five defensive backs, including corner Kris Boyd, who led the team in havoc plays (tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed).

Herman has signed two straight dynamite classes, and his Horns have what appears to be a manageable schedule for a top-10 team, if they can get by LSU at home. But they’ve got a lot of churn to overcome, and they used a lot of good fortune last year.

S&P+ is going to project them to win about seven games. A Herman team has defied stats a couple of times now, but they haven’t yet done it back-to-back.

OK, there might be one more team that stands out:

Tennessee is 21st???

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia
Tennessee’s Josh Palmer (84) and Ty Chandler (8)
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Pruitt’s Vols might have more going for them than we realized.

  • For starters, Pruitt has recruited well. According to the 247Sports Composite, he inked the No. 21 class in FBS in 2018, then one-upped himself and signed the No. 12 class this year, despite what we’ll politely call a lack of proof on the field. Granted, recruiting has never been a problem in Knoxville, but ...
  • The Vols were crazy-young in 2018. They return more of last year’s production than any P5 team, and it would defy recent history if they weren’t to improve by at least a few points per game.

S&P+ projections are primarily made up of returning production and recent recruiting; Tennessee looks awfully good in both of those areas and therefore gets a potential boost.

There’s an obvious parallel: Georgia was mediocre in Kirby Smart’s first year, then paired heavy returning production with great recruiting to enjoy a major second-year breakthrough in 2017.

Tennessee is starting from a lot further behind. I’m doubting there’s a run to the national title game in the works. Still, Pruitt and his coaches have vastly more to work with in 2019.