Earlier this week, ESPN unveiled the first batch of its ever-controversial FPI projections for the 2024 season. The model — defined by ESPN as a “power rating that tracks each team’s strength relative to an average FBS squad” — has Georgia atop all of college football entering the new year, so there was no surprise there.

And there weren’t really many surprises inside the top 5. The usual suspects were where you’d expect them to be. Oregon, which has recruited both the high school ranks and transfer portal as well as any team in America under Dan Lanning, was ranked second in FPI’s preseason numbers. Texas was third. Ohio State was fourth, which might ruffle some feathers in Columbus, where they seem to get upset about anything (read: video game trailer outrage), but is a pretty fair starting point nonetheless. Alabama rounded out the top 5.

FPI presents itself as a points-per-game metric. Georgia’s rating of 26.8 means the Bulldogs are viewed by the model as nearly 27 points better than the average FBS team. Oregon is 2.3 points worse than Georgia. Texas is 1.6 points behind Oregon. Ohio State is 0.7 points behind Texas. And Alabama is 0.3 points behind Ohio State.

The top is congested, and FPI sees a clear upper tier, with a second class of team right behind that upper tier but still at arms length. Penn State and Notre Dame sit sixth and seventh. There is a significant dropoff on down to No. 10 and beyond. The gap between No. 1 Georgia and No. 10 Florida State is 12 points. (Insert clever Orange Bowl joke.)

Let’s focus on Alabama moving forward. Here are some of the numbers you might care about from FPI’s initial reveal.

Alabama is projected 9.3 wins and 3.0 losses. The model gives the Crimson Tide a 3.4% chance to go unbeaten and a 14.4% chance to win the SEC.

Alabama has a 57.2% chance to make the expanded College Football Playoff and a 15.3% chance to make the national championship game.

The Tide have a 14.3% chance to secure a first-round bye in the CFP — surprisingly less likely to do so than Kansas out of the Big 12. (Georgia has a 33.1% chance, the second highest. Texas has the fourth highest at 23.7%.)

A write-up from Neil Paine revealed Alabama games make up 3 of the 7 highest-leverage games on the CFP next season, but they might surprise you. The Georgia game isn’t among the top 15. Missouri’s trip to Tuscaloosa represents the third-most impactful game on the CFP next season, according to FPI.

(I also wrote about that game recently. That game could be the hinge piece to cashing a massive ticket on Missouri going unbeaten.)

Alabama at Tennessee in Week 8 is the fifth-most influential game. Alabama at Oklahoma in Week 13 is the seventh-most.

SEC league games, by the way, are 7 of the 11 most influential games on the CFP race, according to preseason FPI numbers. What a year we have in store.

Because FPI presents itself as a points-per-game metric, we can reverse-engineer point spreads to see how the model arrives at the win projections that are given. As a rule of thumb, I apply 2.5 points to account for home-field advantage.

Here’s what Alabama’s schedule looks like:

  • Western Kentucky (H): -33.7 spread, .999 win probability
  • South Florida (H): -29.9 spread, .999 win probability
  • Wisconsin (A): -14.4 spread, .868 win probability
  • Georgia (H): +2.4 spread, .458 win probability
  • Vanderbilt (A): -21.6 spread, .999 win probability
  • South Carolina (H): -18.2 spread, .950 win probability
  • Tennessee (A): -2.8 spread, .574 win probability
  • Missouri (H): -9.0 spread, .751 win probability
  • LSU (A): -4.8 spread, .641 win probability
  • Mercer (H): N/A, .999 win probability
  • Oklahoma (A): -2.2 spread, .534 win probability
  • Auburn (H): -14.3 spread, .868 win probability

Add those all up and you get a projected 9.6 wins. ESPN’s own book (ESPN Bet) has the Crimson Tide over/under for regular-season wins set at 9.5, with +110 odds if you take the over. There’s some value there. If you consider preseason numbers from SP+ (also an ESPN property), which put Alabama’s total at 9.7, then maybe the way to go this offseason is DraftKings‘ exact wins prop.

You can bet on Alabama to win exactly 9 games in the regular season and get +275 odds right now. The Crimson Tide winning exactly 10 games has +350 odds. Alabama winning exactly 8 has the same value.

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Personally, I’m sitting on anything Alabama-related at this point. I’m anxious to see how the offense looks with Kalen DeBoer, and more specifically how quarterback Jalen Milroe looks. Washington lost its first 2 road games to inferior opponents in DeBoer’s first year in Seattle. Now, that team had depth issues and some injury concerns, but they were also still trying to figure out how to play within the context of what DeBoer and his staff wanted.

I’d be taking Wisconsin at +14.4 with some degree of comfort. And bettors who take any total over 8.5 really need the Crimson Tide to go 4-0 in the nonconference portion of the schedule.

Perhaps the comparison to DeBoer’s first Washington team isn’t appropriate. This is a more talented roster. But it’s also fair to point out that DeBoer inherited most of the major pieces that powered Washington’s Playoff run last fall. The quarterback was the missing piece in a lot of ways, and DeBoer had his hand-picked guy. That isn’t the case at Alabama, where the relationship between quarterback and coach is one of the most important storylines of this entire 2024 college football season.