Last week, ESPN released its first 2021 college football FPI rankings - BYU came in at #63. BYU's 2021 opponents ranked as high as #26 (USC) and as low as #120 (Utah State) in the inaugural rankings. ESPN FPI expects BYU to finish 7.3-4.7 in 2021 - that is subject to change as the FPI gathers more data throughout the season.
Which games on BYU's 2021 schedule are likely wins, likely losses, and likely tossups according to ESPN FPI?
Let's start with likely wins. Any team ranked 20 spots or lower than the Cougars in the FPI rankings will be considered an odds-on win.
vs Arizona - Saturday Sep. 4
BYU will take on Arizona in the new Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders. Arizona is coming off an 0-5 season after which they fired head coach Kevin Sumlin. This will be the coaching debut for new Arizona coach Jedd Fisch.
2020 Record: 0-5
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #102 (FPI of -6.2)
After nearly beating USC in their opener, Arizona stumbled to the finish line last season. Their season ended with a 70-7 blowout loss against rival Arizona State and the eventual firing of head coach Kevin Sumlin. That nightmare ending to the 2020 season puts Arizona towards the bottom of the FPI college football rankings to start the 2021 season.
USF - Saturday Sep. 25
BYU will play their third-straight home game against USF on September 25th.
2020 Record: 1-8
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #105 (FPI of -7.0)
USF went 1-8 in 2020. ESPN FPI believes USF will be bad again this season. The Cougars can avenge their bad loss at USF in 2019.
@ Utah State - Friday Oct. 1
BYU will travel to Utah State to take on head coach Blake Anderson for the first time.
2020 Record: 1-5
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #120 (FPI of -13.4)
The Aggies went 1-5 in 2020. The eye test of the 2020 Aggies was even worse than their record suggests - Utah State was downright awful last season. New head coach Blake Anderson will try to turn things around in Logan. ESPN FPI predicts the Aggies will be one of the worst FBS teams in college football and the worst FBS team on BYU's 2021 schedule.
@ Washington State - Saturday Oct. 23
BYU will travel to Pullman to take on Washington State.
2020 Record: 1-3
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #90 (FPI of -3.9)
Washington State returns a lot of production from a 2020 season where they went 1-3. Of note, Washington State picked up a quarterback transfer out of Tennessee in Jarett Guarantano. BYU beat Guarantano in an overtime thriller in 2019 when he played for Tennessee.
FPI believes Washington State is one of the worst P5 teams in the country heading into this season. They are ranked ahead of only three fellow P5 schools - Vanderbilt, Arizona (who is also on BYU's schedule), and Kansas.
Idaho State - Saturday Nov. 6
Idaho State is not an FBS team. Therefore, they are not ranked in the FPI rankings. However, the Cougars will be heavy favorites and probably have an expected win probability of ~98%.
@ Georgia Southern - Saturday Nov. 20
BYU takes on Georgia Southern for the first time in program history.
2020 Record: 8-5
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #88 (FPI of -3.6)
Like BYU, Georgia Southern will be very inexperienced in 2021.
Total likely wins: 6
Next, let's look at likely losses. Any team ranked 20 spots or higher than the Cougars in the FPI rankings will be considered an odds-on loss.
Arizona State - Saturday Sep. 18
BYU will face a third PAC-12 South opponent in as many weeks when they host Arizona State on September 18th.
2020 Record: 2-2
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #31 (FPI of +8.9)
It's difficult to draw too many conclusions about a team that only played four games last season. Like Utah, Arizon State returns a lot of production in 2021. FPI believes Arizona State will be in the top quadrant of college football next season.
Virginia - Saturday Oct. 30
Bronco Mendenhall returns to Lavell Edwards Stadium to take on his former team.
2020 Record: 5-5
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #32 (FPI of +8.8)
FPI believes Virginia will rebound in 2021 with an expected final record of 7.2-4.9.
@ USC - Saturday Nov. 27
A regular season finale in the Coliseum? Yes, you read that right. BYU will travel to USC to take on the Trojans.
2020 Record: 5-1
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #26 (FPI of +11.0)
PAC-12 South champions USC returns less production in 2021 than most of their PAC-12 counterparts. Regardless, USC will probably be the most talented team BYU faces next season. FPI believes USC is the best team on BYU's 2021 schedule. It's very difficult to win at the Coliseum - I have this game penciled as BYU's most difficult in 2021.
Total likely losses: 3
Let's look at the tossup games on BYU's schedule. On paper, these games could be the difference between a six-win season or a nine-win season. By process of elimination, these are games where BYU's opponents ranked within 20 spots in the first FPI rankings.
Utah - Saturday Sep. 11
BYU hosts rival Utah at home where they will have another chance to end the streak.
2020 Record: 3-2
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #57 (FPI of +4.2)
Utah returns a lot of production in 2021. After losing their first two games of the 2020 season, the Utes turned things around and finished 3-2. Their defense, which has become the staple under Kyle Whittingham, should be very good in 2021. Their offense could also pose a threat through the air with transfer quarterback Charlie Brewer.
BYU and Utah are in the same range in the first FPI rankings. FPI tends to give the home team a 2-3 point advantage in its predictive formula. Therefore, FPI will likely have BYU-Utah as a tossup.
Boise State - Saturday Oct. 9
BYU will try to win their third-straight game against Boise State next season. Boise State will also feature a new head coach - former head coach Bryan Harsin was hired by Auburn. Andy Avalos is the new head coach at Boise State.
2020 Record: 5-2
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #78 (FPI of -2.3)
Boise State ranks in the bottom third of college football in terms of returning production. In the past, returning production has been irrelevant for Boise State - they have found a way to win a lot of games every season. Can new head coach Andy Avalos continue the winning tradition in Boise?
ESPN FPI is skeptical - it expects the Broncos to finish with 6-7 wins. For a program like Boise State, 6-7 wins would be disappointing.
@ Baylor - Saturday Oct. 16
BYU will travel to Baylor for their first of three-straight P5 games late in the season. BYU fans have wanted more meaningful games late in the season - that is exactly what the 2021 schedule will provide. The Cougars will face former BYU OC Jeff Grimes and former BYU OL coach Eric Mateos.
2020 Record: 2-7
2021 Preseason FPI Ranking: #47 (FPI of +5.3)
Despite losing quarterback Charlie Brewer and going 2-7 last season, FPI believes the Bears have a chance to play in a bowl game this season with an expected final record of 5.4-6.6.
Total tossups: 3
If you have been keeping track, that is six likely wins, three likely losses, and three tossups. This falls right in line with FPI's expected final record for BYU of 7.3-4.7. If BYU can win the games they will be favored to win, and go 2-1 in "tossup" games, an eight-win season is achievable. If they can do all that, and turn a "likely loss" or two into a win then the 2021 season would be a special one.
It is important to remember that FPI rankings will change dramatically after a few weeks of games. For example, before BYU blew out Navy last year, FPI gave BYU a 28% chance to win. If those two teams would have played towards the end of the season, FPI likely would have given BYU an ~85% chance to win. I expect more movement this season. For example, I would expect a team like Utah to rise in the FPI rankings and a team like Virginia to drop off slightly.
You probably noticed that our site looks a little different. It is currently under construction and the commenting capability is turned off. While we work on some exciting updates to improve your experience, you can ask us questions through one of our social media channels:
Facebook - @BYUSportsIllustrated
Instagram - @BYU_SI