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ESPN’s 2018 preseason FPI has Cal in pretty good shape

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ESPN projects 2018 will be a good year for the Bears.

NCAA Football: Washington State at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the thick of Spring Football; by the standards of our football-crazed society, this means we should already be deep in our projections for the 2018 season—if not the 2019 season.

ESPN’s gotten football to drive them views, so they have released their 2018 preseason Football Power Index (FPI).

The Football Power Index (FPI) ... represents how many points above or below average a team is. Projected results are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season using FPI, results to date, and the remaining schedule.

With more than one-third of the year until kickoff, there’s still a wealth of uncertainty heading into these rankings. But we need content and they look good for the California Golden Bears, so we’re gonna dive in right now.

Just how good are they for Cal?
Well, we’re currently projected to be in the top half of the Pac-12! ヽ( ´▽`)/
But the North is so stacked that we’re in the bottom half of our division. ( ಥ⌣ಥ)

2018 FPI for Cal-relevant teams

Natl rk P12 rk Team Proj. wins Proj. losses Probability to win out Probability to win P12 SOS rk FPI Outscore Cal by
Natl rk P12 rk Team Proj. wins Proj. losses Probability to win out Probability to win P12 SOS rk FPI Outscore Cal by
6 1 Washington 10.6 2.1 7.3 51.6 48 22.3 12.4
13 2 Stanfurd 8.4 3.8 0.2 10.0 13 16.3 6.4
15 3 USC 8.7 4.0 0.3 25.4 14 15.1 5.2
23 4 Oregon 8.3 3.8 0.1 3.8 65 11.5 1.6
27 5 Cal 7.7 4.4 0.1 2.7 53 9.9 N/A
32 6 Utah 6.9 5.2 0.0 2.5 22 8.5 -1.4
42 7 Arizona 7.4 4.8 0.0 3.0 63 6.6 -3.3
46 N/A North Carolina 6.4 5.7 0 N/A 52 4.9 -5.0
48 8 UC L.A. 5.0 7.0 0.0 0.5 1 4.8 -5.1
51 9 Arizona State 5.2 6.8 0.0 0.4 11 3.9 -6.0
52 10 Washington State 6.1 5.9 0.0 0.2 61 3.8 -6.1
79 11 Colorado 4.1 7.9 0.0 0.0 59 -4.5 -14.4
80 N/A BYU 4.7 7.3 0 N/A 66 -4.8 -14.7
100 12 Oregon State 2.2 9.8 0.0 0.0 9 -9.6 -19.5
SOS rk = ranking of strength of schedule ESPN FPI

ESPN is projecting Cal to be the fifth-best Pac-12 team and just outside the Top 25 with nearly 8 regular-season wins! Unfortunately, three of the four teams that are better than us are fellow Pac-12 Northeners, so we’ll still be struggling in the division. Shockingly, ESPN gives us a 2.7% chance to win the Pac-12 and a 0.1% chance to completely win out. That’s right—ESPN thinks we have a nonzero chance of winning out, which is more than can be said for nearly 100 teams. According to the FPI, we would beat an average football team (the Fresno State Bulldogs and our old friend Jeff Tedford) by two scores. Using the FPI scores, I also included the projections on the point differential for us versus every Pac-12 team (including our schedule’s two misses, which are one-score wins against the Utah Utes and the Arizona State Sun Devils) and our FBS nonconference foes (the North Carolina Tar Heels and the BYU Cougars).

But let’s glass-half-empty things just a bit. Of the 13 non-Cal teams on the list, our match-ups with nine of them are projected to be one-score games. The good news is that three of our projected losses are expected to be by less than one score—including our archrival, the Stanfurd Cardinal—meaning that it wouldn’t be a stretch for us to steal some of these games. But the bad news is that twice as many of those games are projected to be one-score Cal wins; by the same logic, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that Cal could lose some of these games. Granted, we don’t play two of these games (the aforementioned Utah and Arizona State), but we can’t afford to drop all four of these tight wins.

The optimism from the FPI is in stark contrast to its quantitative brethren—SBNation’s S&P+. The S&P+ projected that we will be the 10th team in the Pac-12 and had us just near the FBS average. The S&P+ did come out in February, so maybe Wilcox has really impressed in the past two months, causing the large differences between the two methods.

2018 Preseason FPI and S&P+ for Cal-relevant teams

FPI: Natl rk S&P+: Natl rk FPI: P12 rk S&P+: P12 rk Team FPI Projected S&P+ FPI: Outscore Cal by S&P+: Outscore Cal by
FPI: Natl rk S&P+: Natl rk FPI: P12 rk S&P+: P12 rk Team FPI Projected S&P+ FPI: Outscore Cal by S&P+: Outscore Cal by
6 4 1 1 Washington 22.3 23.9 12.4 22.5
13 20 2 3 Stanfurd 16.3 11.9 6.4 10.5
15 15 3 2 USC 15.1 14.0 5.2 12.6
23 23 4 4 Oregon 11.5 11.3 1.6 9.9
27 65 5 10 Cal 9.9 1.4 0.0 0.0
32 28 6 5 Utah 8.5 9.4 -1.4 8.0
42 33 7 6 Arizona 6.6 7.7 -3.3 6.3
46 51 N/A N/A North Carolina 4.9 3.8 -5.0 2.4
48 39 8 7 UC L.A. 4.8 6.0 -5.1 4.6
51 57 9 9 Arizona State 3.9 2.3 -6.0 0.9
52 41 10 8 Washington State 3.8 5.4 -6.1 4.0
79 89 11 11 Colorado -4.5 -4.6 -14.4 -6.0
80 76 N/A N/A BYU -4.8 -1.1 -14.7 -2.5
100 110 12 12 Oregon State -9.6 -9.7 -19.5 -11.1
Sorting by Pac-12 Rank does not work due to the “N/A” for our out-of-conference foes; sort by National Rank instead. FPI and S&P+

Cal is by far the most differently-rated team using these two methods—the difference between our Pac-12 rankings is 5th vs. 10th for a whopping 5-team differential in-conference and a nearly 40-team differential nationally. In terms of Pac-12 ranking, the team with the second-largest differential is just a 2-team difference for the Washington State Cougars. As Cal fans, we’ll all be hoping for the FPI to be more accurate than the S&P+. And now, we wait basically five months until we can start to see which system ends up being more correct.

Poll

On a scale from 1 (not accurate) to 10 (super accurate), how accurate do you think the FPI will be for Cal by the end of the 2018 season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    1
    (12 votes)
  • 3%
    2
    (11 votes)
  • 4%
    3
    (18 votes)
  • 3%
    4
    (12 votes)
  • 12%
    5
    (45 votes)
  • 9%
    6
    (34 votes)
  • 18%
    7
    (68 votes)
  • 22%
    8
    (83 votes)
  • 9%
    9
    (33 votes)
  • 13%
    10
    (50 votes)
366 votes total Vote Now