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ESPN's Football Power Index Predicts First Half of Sun Devils Schedule

The nifty tool at ESPN has Arizona State favored in a good amount of matchups for the 2021 season.

Numbers are cool, aren't they?

We've always been told the game of football isn't played on paper. Yet, that hasn't stopped a number of outlets, most notably Pro Football Focus, from bringing analytics to the forefront of their thinking and product. 

Count ESPN in that movement, as their Football Power Index (FPI) is a yearly tool that combines a variety of statistics to project how good or bad a selected team should be. This explanation from ESPN may explain it a bit better:

"FPI is a predictive rating system designed to measure team strength and project performance going forward. The ultimate goal of FPI is not to rank teams 1 through 128; rather, it is to correctly predict games and season outcomes. Each team’s FPI rating is composed of a predicted offensive, defensive and special teams component. These ratings represent the number of points each unit is expected to contribute to the team’s net scoring margin on a neutral field against an average FBS opponent.”

The Sun Devils are scheduled to play the first of a 12-game season on Thursday, Sept. 2 against Southern Utah. The team's opener at Sun Devil Stadium should allow fans, media and even ASU themselves to get their first true look of what to expect out of the team for the rest of the season. 

Of course, ESPN's FPI already has that figured out. Arizona State's FPI for 2021 was compared to the rest of their schedule in order to establish the likelihood of wins and losses for each matchup. 

What we have is essentially a prediction for how the Sun Devils' season will turn out on a game-by-game basis. The Sun Devils FPI currently ranks at 29th in the country at 7.7, as ESPN compared their numbers to each opponent.

So, let's see what those fun analytical formulas have in store for the first half of Arizona State's season: 

southern utah

Week 1: Southern Utah at Arizona State

Win percentage for ASU: 99%
Southern Utah FPI: N/A

It looks like Thursday will be a tough day to be a Thunderbird, as Arizona State waltzes into its home opener with what appears to be a very winnable game for Sparky and friends. Realistically, ASU should beat both brakes and headlights off Southern Utah to begin their quest for a conference championship, and ESPN's FPI seems to agree.

Result: Sun Devils Win
ASU Record: 1-0

UNLV

Week 2: UNLV at Arizona State

Win percentage for ASU: 96%
UNLV FPI: 122nd (-15.7)

The Sun Devils are at home again for what appears to be another "easy" victory in the eyes of FPI. UNLV is nearly 100 spots lower than the Sun Devils in ESPN's rankings, making way for another smooth ride for head coach Herm Edwards and Co., although early-season games against winnable opponents are often deemed "trap games." No traps here, though.

Result: Sun Devils Win
ASU Record: 2-0

BYU

Week 3: Arizona State at BYU

Win percentage for ASU: 45.5%
BYU FPI: 38th (6.2)

The Sun Devils pack their bags for BYU in the team's first road game of the season. This will also be the first time the Sun Devils find themselves as underdogs heading into a matchup, having less than a 50% chance to remain undefeated after this game. 

With BYU's FPI lower than Arizona State, combined with the near 50/50 chance of outcome makes me believe analytics simply favor the home team here in what ESPN can deem a "toss up" between the two schools. However, in more outcomes than not, ASU leaves Provo with its first loss of the season. 

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Result: Sun Devils Lose.
ASU Record: 2-1

Colorado

Week 4: Colorado at Arizona State

Win percentage for ASU: 76.8%
Colorado FPI: 62nd (0.9)

The Sun Devils will be looking to correct their mistakes following the first loss of the season, and it appears a favorable matchup with Colorado can be a remedy for precisely that. Arizona State has incredibly high odds to bounce back, both in the projected win probability and FPI comparisons. ASU goes back to the basics in its own house. 

Result: Sun Devils Win
ASU Record: 3-1

UCLA

Week 5: Arizona State at UCLA

Win percentage for ASU: 54.6%
UCLA FPI: 54th (3.3)

For their second trip of the year, the Sun Devils will be on the road in Los Angeles as favorites, although similar to the BYU game, the matchup is nearly 50/50. ASU is still favored, however, signaling the expectation of escaping with a victory despite close simulated matchups. It looks like the Sun Devils do exactly that, but in no easy fashion. 

Result: Sun Devils Win
ASU Record: 4-1

Stanford

Week 6: Stanford at Arizona State

Win percentage for ASU: 70.3%
Stanford FPI: 52nd (3.7)

The first half of the schedule concludes with Arizona State playing host to a Stanford team that simply should be beaten by the Sun Devils. By this point, ASU should be riding high after a 4-1 start with things clicking for quarterback Jayden Daniels and the rest of the offense. That's a bad sign for the Cardinal, who don't have favorable matchups in either win probability or stacking the two schools' FPI rankings. 

Result: Sun Devils Win
ASU Record: 5-1

First-Half Recap

Arizona State gets off with a good start, finishing the first half of the season with a 5-1 record, replicating the same start for the team's 2019 season. ASU's sole loss came on what appears to be a coin flip on the virtual gridiron, as the Sun Devils could easily be undefeated heading into the second half of their schedule. 

Will 5-1 be good enough to top the Pac-12 South division? USC will likely be undefeated barring any major mishaps from the Trojans, making the eventual ASU/USC matchup even more tense than usual with a potential conference championship game spot on the line. 

Arizona State benefits from a smooth start to their 2021 season. How will the second half play out? Stay tuned to AllSunDevils to see how ASU will finish the season . . . in the world of computers, of course. 

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Donnie Druin is a Deputy Editor with AllSunDevils. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSunDevils @AllSunDevils. Like and follow AllSunDevils on Facebook, and for more ASU news visit https://www.si.com/college/arizonastate/