Preseason FPI rankings: Can Oklahoma (or Iowa State!) challenge Alabama?

No DeVonta Smith, no Mac Jones … no problem.

Alabama lost plenty of talent to the NFL, but it’s still the best team in college football and the national championship favorite, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and the Allstate Playoff Predictor.

The Crimson Tide have a 31% chance to defend their title as national champions, substantially up from the 17% our model gave them at this time last season. Alabama also has a 76% chance to reach the College Football Playoff — again, best of all teams — and is a slight odds-on favorite to win the SEC at 51%.

So without Jones or Smith … or Jaylen Waddle … or Christian Barmore … or Patrick Surtain II, what’s driving Alabama’s No. 1 ranking and stellar projections?

Roster talent. Remember, this is a statistical model: It’s not giving bonus points for Bear Bryant or Joe Namath. But it does know Alabama is probably the best positioned team to replace top departing players given its steadily elite recruiting and Nick Saban entrenched as head coach. The Tide have signed 77 ESPN 300 players in their past four recruiting classes, which is 11 more than any other team.

At the same time, there’s still a 69% chance that the national champion isn’t Alabama. There are some significant challengers, which we’ll get to in a moment.

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