Oklahoma football: Sooners’ stock rising fast in ESPN prospective rankings

Fans of Oklahoma football are probably aware that the Sooners have made a slow but steady rise into the teens in the weekly national rankings. What they may not be aware of is that their beloved team is getting even higher marks in the more forward-looking analytical models.

Brent Venables’ Sooners began Week 4 of the 2023 season as the No. 14 in the Coaches Poll and No. 16 in the Associated Press Top 25. Those weekly rankings are based on the subjective evaluations of active coaches and media representatives, respectively, and given performance to date.

The ESPN Information and Analytics department produces a couple of other computer rankings that are predictive of future performance for the remainder of the season. These also are adjusted throughout the season, but through the first three weeks of the current season, the ESPN Football Power Index and the SP+ rankings reflect an even more favorable view of the Sooners.

Oklahoma is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN FPI model behind No. Ohio State, with Georgia, Alabama and USC rounding out the top five this week. The FPI goes on to project that the Sooners’ chances of winning the Big 12 championship this season are 54.4 percent with a 50.7 percent chance of making the College Football Playoff.

According to the FPI model, Texas, voted by media as the favorite to win the Big 12, is ranked No. 7 after Week 3, with a 31.9 percent chance of winning the Big 12 and a 35.4 percent chance of making the four-team bracket for the national championship.

ESPN’s SP+ analytical model doesn’t have Oklahoma as high as the FPI rankings at the quarter pole of the regular season but still higher than the two major weekly national polls. The Sooners are at No. 7 in the SP+ post-Week 3 rankings.

Here’s what ESPN’s Connelly had to say about the Sooners’ performance thus far:

“Oklahoma has faced two bad opponents in three games (Arkansas State in Week 1 and Tulsa this past weekend), but (QB) Dillon Gabriel’s numbers are still hilarious: 83% completion rate, 10.8 yards per dropback, 11-1 TD to INT ratio, 92.5 total QBR (third overall.

“Week 4 opponent Cincinnati might have the first decent defense the Sooners face, but OU hasn’t given us any reason to doubt so far.”

Both of the ESPN ranking models are predictive and forward-facing, as described by staff writer Bill Connelly. The SP+ tool “is simply a measure of the most sustainable and predictable aspects of football,” he writes.

“If you’re lucky or unimpressive in a win, your rating will probably fall. If you’re strong and unlucky in a loss, it will probably rise.”

The College Football Power Index is “meant to be a predictor of a team’s performance going forward for the remainder of the season,” ESPN says.

These are nice rankings to gloat over, but as everyone knows, the one thing that’s totally predictable about college football is its unpredictability. As for Sooner fans, we all knew before the season started that the real work wouldn’t begin until Week 4.

Let the real games begin.