ESPN released their first Football Power Index (FPI) ranking for 2016, which can be found here. FPI has Utah No. 37 overall and No. 7 in the Pac-12. FPI projects the Utes to win 6.7 games next year and gives the Utes a 0.0% chance to go undefeated. According to FPI, Utah has a 2.1% chance to win the Pac-12 next season. Utah will play the No. 17 hardest schedule in the country in 2016. The FPI ranks for Pac-12 teams is: No. 8 USC, No. 13 Washington, No. 18 Stanford, No. 19 UCLA, No. 28 Oregon, No. 32 Arizona, No. 37 Utah, No. 42 Washington State, No. 47 Arizona State, No. 49 Cal, No. 59 Colorado, and No. 72 Oregon State. Because of their weaker schedule (No. 50), FPI sees Washington as the team winning the most games in 2016 with 9.2. Outside the Pac-12, LSU is projected to be the best team in 2016. Florida State is projected to win the most games (10.6). Oklahoma has the best chance to go undefeated (17.8%).
FPI uses four main components for the ranking: "performance in the past four years (with more emphasis on the most recent season), returning starters, recruiting rankings and coaching tenure." More weight is given to a returning starter at quarterback as well. The FPI favorite won 77.7% of the time last season. Here is a nice article on the accuracy of FPI in 2015. Using these criteria, Utah returns 14 starters (7 offense, 7 defense) per Phil Steele, which is tied for 41st in the nation, and they are replacing their best offensive player (running back Devontae Booker) and a four year starter at quarterback (Travis Wilson). Utah's recruiting rankings (outside of a very good 2016 recruiting class) have been on the lower side in recent years. These factors could be why Utah's preseason FPI ranking is a bit lower than one might think it should be.
My take on the rankings is that Utah is a bit low but that is almost always the case for the Utes in the preseason. The teams I see as overrated are USC, Washington, Arizona, and Cal. I do think USC and Washington will be top 25 teams in 2016, but I am not sure if they will be top 15 teams. Stanford is my early pick to win the Pac-12 in 2016 behind another huge season from running back Christian McCaffrey. While I think 2016 could be a down year for Oregon, I would still be surprised if the Ducks finish outside the final top 25. The way I see the Pac-12 in 2016 is a conference with a lot of parity. I am not sure if there will be any Pac-12 teams in the College Football Playoff, but I would not be surprised to see six Pac-12 teams ranked at the end of the season.
What do you think of these rankings?