The first edition of ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) rankings came out earlier this weekend, creating plenty of discussion around the college football world. As always, there were some snubs, some surprises and some thoroughly over-ranked teams.
Among the programs that fell into that last category was Mississippi State. The Bulldogs came in at No. 8 in the preseason FPI rankings, just ahead of Oklahoma State (No. 9), Penn State (No. 10), Notre Dame (No. 11), Texas (No. 12).
Simply put, Mississippi State’s spot amongst the nation’s elite was shocking. The Bulldogs went 4-7 in the COVID-19 altered 2020 season, finishing dead last in the SEC West.
Mike Leach’s team struggled on offense throughout the year, scoring just 21.4 points per game, which ranked 110th in the country. The Bulldogs scored over 24 points just three times, in three wins against LSU, Missouri and Tulsa.
Because of Mississippi State’s struggles in 2020, college football fans couldn’t believe to see them slot in at No. 8 in the early FPI rankings. Here’s a few reactions to the Bulldogs’ rating:
New ESPN FPI rankings came out yesterday and the #Badgers sit at No. 15. Early season opponents PSU and Notre Dame are at 10 and 11 respectively. Weird to see Mississippi State so high. pic.twitter.com/ddGlZmnUI7
— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) April 13, 2021
I think Bo Pelini broke FPI
Mississippi State at 8! https://t.co/6N65VHYBTA
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) April 13, 2021
Every time I hear about ESPN FPI & Mississippi State, I think about the 2016 opener against South Alabama.
FPI gave the Bulldogs a 97.8% chance of winning, which was among the highest in the nation for opening weekend.
MSU should be much improved but top 10 is unrealistic.
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) April 13, 2021
Really good example of why advanced metrics/analytics-based rankings like FPI are helpful but also extremely flawed offseason metrics.
I'm not even sure if Mike Leach would have Mississippi State as a top 8 team entering the year. https://t.co/7XQRDEESiS
— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) April 20, 2021
ESPN's FPI has Mississippi State ranked at No. 8 and if you asked me how many B1G teams could beat the Bulldogs it would be 10+
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) April 13, 2021
Mississippi State should have a clear opportunity to improve in Mike Leach’s second season and with 16 starters expected to return. However, putting the Bulldogs at No. 8 still seems to be too high for a program that went 4-7 last fall and will need to navigate the loaded SEC West.
Mississippi State’s ranking wasn’t the only one in the latest FPI release to stir up controversy. Iowa State came in at No. 4 over Ohio State, casting even further doubt on the legitimacy of the rankings.
“(Iowa State) being at No. 4 is ludicrous,” ESPN analyst Greg McElroy said, per 247Sports. “Ahead of Ohio State? This is at team that, yes, at 9-3, had a heck of a season, won a NY6 and have a lot to be excited about. But five of those nine wins came by a TD or less, and six games were decided by a touchdown or less. It’s not like this team was dominant. Whereas on the other side, OSU or some of the other teams behind ISU, they were dominant. I’m not at that point where I can call ISU dominant without seeing something in the fall.”