Using play-by-play data from the past five years, recent recruiting rankings, and a measure of production from returning players, Bill Connelly has projected the S&P+ rating for all 128 FBS teams. Virginia comes in at 68th, good for dead last in the ACC Coastal Division.
Yeah but how much should we trust these fancy math things?
The S&P+ metric proved to be an accurate measure of relative strength last year. Picks based on S&P+ picked against the spread correctly better than 52% in the 2015 regular season. Connelly's straight-up picks accurately chose the winner in 644 of the 829 FBS games in 2015 (77.68%).
Oh. But do they do well for preseason projections?
Pretty good, yea. The average absolute difference (i.e., the number of spots off, regardless of too high or too low) between the 2015 preseason S&P+ rankings of the top 25 teams and their 2015 final S&P+ rankings was 13.24. Thirteen of the top 25 were within 10 spots of their final rankings.
Rats. Is there any other bad news?
Unfortunately. Eight of Virginia's twelve opponents are ranked better than UVA. Oregon is at the top (#18), while 4 ACC opponents come in 30th or better: Louisville (#20), UNC-Chapel Hill (#27), Pitt (#29), and Miami (#30). Only Wake Forest (#74), UConn (#81), and Central Michigan (#85) rank lower than Virginia among UVA's 2016 FBS opponents. FCS foe Richmond, the season opener, is not ranked.
But there's a silver lining somewhere, right?
Absolutely! Four of UVA's five toughest opponents are home games, and the Hoos have been weirdly good at Scott Stadium the past several years. "Returning production" also doesn't account for incoming transfer guys like Kurt Benkert or Jared Cohen. And Mendenhall's 2015 BYU squad drastically out-performed its recruiting ranking (70th in recruiting impact, but 38th in final S&P+ rankings).
There's also a pretty positive "new coach" effect. Fifteen schools had new head coaches at the start of the 2015 season. Nine of the fifteen ended the season at least 11 spots higher in the S&P+ rankings than where they started, including Michigan (#35 preseason, #6 final) and Houston (#85 to #44). An 11-spot jump for UVA would put the Hoos ahead of five opponents, and virtually tied with Georgia Tech (whose triple-option struggles against odd-man fronts).
Five probable wins, a toss-up with the Yellow Jackets, and maybe stealing one at home? That spells bowl game.