Computers are not supposed to be biased and use straight numbers and/or whatever formula is inputted, so technically there is some sort of bias as a human has to make the formula which the computer spits out.
This brings us to the very first FPI (Football Power Index) from ESPN for the 2017 season and here is its formula.
The model comprises four major components: the last four seasons of performance on offense, defense and special teams, with the most recent season counting most; information on offensive and defensive returning starters, with special consideration given to a team returning its starting quarterback or gaining a transfer quarterback with experience; a four-year average recruiting ranking of four systems (ESPN, Scouts, Rivals and Phil Steele); and head coaching tenure. These four components interact and are assigned different weights depending on the team to produce preseason FPI.
There is always a lot of shouting about Boise State being over rated heading into the season (sometimes they are) from humans who make absurd early top 25 rankings — we are at fault as well with our own early rankings. With the Broncos history of winning they have earned the benefit of the doubt to start the season ranked or very close to being ranked.
When it comes to various computer formulas Boise State seems to be at the top, but while they are still winning at a solid clip they have not won a Mountain West title since 2014, and they shared their other conference title in 2012 with Fresno State and San Diego State.
Once again, Boise State is the early pre-season favorite to win the Mountain West. With quarterback carrying a lot of weight, the Broncos rank high with junior-to-be Brett Rypien under center. The next four teams return starting quarterbacks as well — Colorado State is iffy since Collin Hill tore his ACL and then Nick Stevens finished the season, but they have talent there.
The reason Boise State likely earns the top spot is due to their consistency over the past four years which has 39 wins and a Fiesta Bowl victory.
ESPN’s list overall from the FPI does give the Mountain West the top team from the Group of Five (BYU is higher at 49 but they are what they are, off on a island as an independent).
Houston is the next G5 team followed by two more Mountain West teams, so the league has three of the top four spots. Not too bad.
56. Boise State
63. San Diego State
64. Colorado State
92. Air Force
96. New Mexico
99. Utah State
108. Fresno State
110. San Jose State
The real question is if these teams will finish higher once the 2017 season ends, and odds are yes. Both Boise State and San Diego State finished in the top 50 in the final FPI in 2016 with the Broncos at 35 and San Diego State at 45.
Recruiting is tricky from the non-power teams because even the top recruiting schools from the Mountain West might finish middle of the pack nationally and that is a key reason these formulas have the non-power teams much lower compared to the power leagues. Yet, year after year there will be a half-dozen or so players drafted from the Mountain West, this is not to say the recruiting rankings are wrong — they are often right with star ratings — but rather some players peak and develop a year or two later than the top-25 recruits in the nation.
Coaching is a factor as well which hurts a good number of Mountain West schools with new coaches and tenure as well, but that is fare as we are not sure what will come from Jeff Tedford, Jay Norvell or Brent Brennan.
Once the season gets going these rankings do change week-by-week but for now the Mountain West has to live with their best computer rated team being Boise State and barely cracking the top 50 percentile of all 130 college football teams.