Thursday, July 09, 2020

First Half Point Differential Part III: The Power Five in 2019

Last week we looked at 1HPD in the Group of Five. This week we examine 1HPD in the power conferences.

Beginning alphabetically as we always do, here are the ACC standings from 2019.
And now the IHPD with conference rank in parentheses.
Its a surprise to no one that Clemson was head and shoulders above the rest of the ACC. The Tigers 1HPD of +182 is more than the combined 1HPD of the other seven teams that finished with a positive differential (+144). However, the Tigers did not lead at halftime of every conference game. They were tied with North Carolina in a game they eventually won by a single point. Speaking of the Tar Heels, while they enter 2020 as the favorites in the Coastal Division, they were actually in fifth in the division in 1HPD and Duke was not very far behind them. Chaos always seems to reign in that half of the ACC, so don't assume Mack has a cakewalk to the ACC Championship Game.

Moving on to the Big 10 standings.
And the Big 10 1HPD.
Ohio State was the only Power Five team to lead at the half in all their conference games (and they played nine lest we forget). The Buckeyes also managed to lead by double-digits at the half in each of their Big 10 games! Wisconsin put up a fight in the conference title game, but that is still quite a feat. On the other end of the spectrum, in a shocking development, Maryland actually finished with the worst 1HPD! While the Terrapins did beat Rutgers (and led by twenty at the half), they trailed by double-digits six times in conference play (Rutgers trailed by double-digits seven times).

Next up is the Big 12.
And the Big 12 1HPD.
Despite Oklahoma and Baylor finishing with two conference losses between them, the Sooners and Bears were hardly dominant. The Big 12 was the lone Power Five conference to not have a team finish in triple digits in 1HPD. If the 2020 season is played, we should have a helluva race in flyover country. Just 38 points separated the third place team (Oklahoma State) from the eighth place team (Texas Tech) in 1HPD. Add to that the fact the ninth place team (West Virginia) is likely to improve in Neal Brown's second season and the perennial punching bag at least showed flashes of competency last season (and is coached by a national champion). I wouldn't go so far as to predict Oklahoma failing to qualify for the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time since its reinstatement, but a title game pitting Iowa State and TCU wouldn't be the most shocking development.

Here are the Pac-12 standings.
And the Pac-12 1HPD.
While the Big 12 had no dominant teams, the Pac-12 had no true dregs. Arizona brought up the rear, but the Wildcats 1HPD of about negative eight points per game was the best of any last place finisher in the Power Five (NC State was second at negative twelve). Oregon had the lowest 1HPD of any Power Five champion. In fact, the Ducks did not lead at the half in four of their nine conference games. By comparison, the other four Power Five champs did not hold a lead five times (out of 34 total conference games).

Finally, here are the SEC standings.
And the SEC 1HPD.
I know its fun to hate on Alabama, but don't go throwing dirt on the Tide just yet. Alabama was nipping at the heels of LSU in 1HPD and if we look at the other seven conference games both teams played, Alabama actually had a better differential (+137 to +113). Of course, that classic in Tuscaloosa does count and lets also give LSU credit for never trailing at the half in any conference game (they were tied against Florida and Auburn). In the East, Georgia finished with a healthy 1HPD margin over Florida and Kentucky and despite the relatively disappointing season, the Bulldogs led by double-digits six times in SEC play (tied with Alabama and LSU for the most double-digit leads).

In the YPP and APR offseason recaps, I sort the teams in each conference by how much they over or under-performed relative to their expected record. Since all the Power Five conferences are grouped together here, I am only going to list those that significantly over or under-performed (a difference of at least .200). We'll start with the overachievers.
Louisville beat one FBS opponent in 2018, but the Cardinals improved to seven regular season wins in their maiden voyage under Scott Satterfield. However, there are a few flashing warning signs if you expect continued improvement in 2020. Despite an 8-5 overall record, the Cardinals were actually outscored in 2019 and in ACC play, they trailed at the half five times. Despite a 5-3 conference record, their 1HPD ranked fifth in the Atlantic Division. NC State and Syracuse probably won't be as bad as they were last season and Florida State is likely to rebound as well. The Cardinals also retain two challenging non-conference games in 2020, as they travel to Notre Dame and host their in-state rival Kentucky. A return to bowl eligibility, even it it means a regression to 6-6 should still be seen as a success as the Cardinals try to move on from Bobby Petrino. A championship repeat by Oregon in the Pac-12 would be quite an accomplishment considering the Ducks lost their starting quarterback in the NFL draft and did not post numbers typically befitting an 8-1 conference record. Tennessee has been one of the hardest teams for me to get a read on this offseason. Were the Volunteers good in 2019? They closed the year on a six-game winning streak, beating three bowl teams in the process (Indiana, Kentucky, and UAB). Their YPP numbers were solid (fifth overall and third in the East). On the other hand, their APR numbers were much less glowing (ninth overall and fourth in the East). They also lost to Georgia State and were pounded by the three best teams on their schedule (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia beat them by a combined 82 points). And since when are Tennessee fans delighted by victories against Indiana, Kentucky, and UAB? Their 1HPD also shows them to be pretty weak. Despite winning five of their eight league games, they were outscored in the first half in conference play and actually trailed at the half five times, including four times by double-digits. The Vols do have the benefit of drawing Arkansas in their rotating cross-division game in 2020, but Alabama, Florida, and Georgia are still on the schedule as well as a non-conference trip to Oklahoma. 8-4 seems like the ceiling for this team with a real possibility of 6-6 or worse.

And now the underachievers.
Earlier I mentioned the Big 12 could have one of the more interesting conference races in the Power Five. Part of the reason for that is because teams like the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs are likely in store for some positive regression in 2020. Texas Tech and TCU combined to finish 5-13 in conference play last season despite outscoring their league foes by seven points in the first half. Those aren't great margins, but are more indicative of a .500 level conference finish. So in effect we have two middling Big 12 teams that were led by a first year head coach and a true freshman quarterback respectively. Both those conditions are often marked by initial inconsistency and then marked improvement as time goes on. Keep an eye on both in the Big 12 race. The only other Power Five team to significantly under-perform relative to their 1HPD was Washington State. In Mike Leach's final season on the Palouse, the Cougars lost twice as many conference games as they won despite outscoring their nine Pac-12 opponents in the first half. The Cougars fielded a very bad defense in 2019 that kept them from closing games. That defense has almost no choice but to improve in 2020. The turnover at the top is always a concern, especially at a locale that does not recruit well, but Washington State can expect to extend their bowl streak to six years in 2020.

Thanks for reading. Check back next Thursday when we see how well 1HPD has done in handicapping conference title games and the College Football Playoff.

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