Thursday, July 14, 2022

First Half Point Differential: The 2021 Power Five

Last week, we looked at first half point differential in the Group of Five to try and identify some teams that might surprise and or disappoint us this season. This week, we do the same with the Power Five. 

Atlantic Coast Conference
The 2021 ACC standings.
1HPD in ACC play (title game excluded).
No ACC team ran away with a dominant showing in the first half of games in 2021, but the team that finished on top was a surprise. Louisville finished 4-4 in ACC play (more on them later) and were never in contention for the Atlantic crown. While Clemson was in contention for yet another ACC Championship Game appearance heading into Thanksgiving, this iteration of the Tigers was a far cry from their previous dominance. The Tigers had posted first half differentials of 100 points or more in five of their previous six ACC campaigns. 

Big 10 
The 2021 Big 10 standings. 
1HPD in Big 10 play (title game excluded). 
Michigan may have finally won the Big 10 in 2021, but Ohio State was the by far the most dominant team in the conference last season. Elsewhere, there was a lot of trash at the bottom of the league standings, as three teams were outscored by more than 100 points in the first half of their Big 10 games. 

Big 12
The 2021 Big 12 standings. 
1HPD in Big 12 play (title game excluded). 
Yet again, an Oklahoma team finished with the best first half differential in Big 12 play. Unfortunately, the Cowboys dug themselves quite a hole in the Big 12 Championship Game and came within about half a yard of getting out of it. At the bottom of the standings, give a round of applause for Kansas. 2021 marks the first time since I have been tracking first half differential (2014) that the Jayhawks have not finished at least 100 points in the red. 

The 2021 Pac-12 standings. 
1HPD in Pac-12 play (title game excluded). 
I was shocked by those numbers in the North Division. Oregon finished behind both Washington State and Cal in first half differential. Unfortunately for the Cougars and Bears, wins and losses are the driving force behind division titles. 

The 2021 SEC standings. 
1HPD in SEC play (title game excluded). 
Georgia was on pace to be one of the best SEC champions of all-time until their lackluster performance in the SEC Championship Game. I'm sure most Georgia fans will take the end result though. Meanwhile, despite winning the SEC in back-to-back years, Alabama showed some vulnerability as evidenced by their relatively low first half differential. Is this a temporary setback (they did play for the national title after all) or a sign that Saban's stranglehold on the sport is slipping ever so slightly?

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 in this post, 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.
Michigan State finished with a negative first half point differential yet still managed to win seven of their nine Big 10 games. The Spartans trailed at halftime in eventual victories against Indiana and Michigan and only held a double digit halftime lead in two games (Northwestern and Maryland). Oklahoma was either tied or trailing at the half in five of their nine Big 12 games. In fact the Sooners won every game where they trailed at halftime. The Sooners were only down three at halftime to West Virginia, but they had to pull off double digit comebacks to beat Kansas (10) and Texas (18). Unlike Michigan State and Oklahoma, Oregon actually qualified for their conference title game (the result in that title game was less than ideal). The Ducks trailed at halftime in three Pac-12 games and did the majority of their first half damage against the two worst teams in the conference. If we remove games against Arizona and Colorado, Oregon was outscored in the first half of their other Pac-12 games by sixteen points. 

And now the underachievers. 
As I mentioned earlier, Louisville actually led the ACC in first half point differential yet finished with a .500 conference record. The Cardinals were outstanding in their four ACC victories, holding a halftime lead of at least 14 points in each game (average lead of more than 22 points). Meanwhile, in their four ACC losses, they were tied at halftime twice (Clemson and NC State) and trailed by a field goal in the other two (Virginia and Wake Forest). With a little better luck in 2022, Louisville is an ACC title contender. As they did with YPP and APR, Nebraska also underachieved relative to their first half point differential. Ohio State won all their Big 10 games except the last one, but their point differential was historically great. Texas won three Big 12 games in 2021, but led at halftime in six. They lost four games where they held a halftime lead, but the only big lead they blew was the aforementioned game against Oklahoma. Arizona was not a good team in 2021, but while they only won a single conference game, they were within a touchdown at halftime in six of their nine Pac-12 games. Auburn lost five SEC games in Bryan Harsin's first season. However, they only trailed at halftime twice (Georgia and LSU). The Tigers were either tied (South Carolina and Texas A&M) or winning at halftime (Alabama and Mississippi State) in four of their five SEC defeats!

Thanks for reading. We'll be back in two weeks with some first half point differential superlatives. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2022

First Half Point Differential: The 2021 Group of Five

After a brief respite and a throwback post, we return to contemporary team analysis. This week we'll examine First Half Point Differential (1HPD) in conference play for the Group of Five from this past season. For the uninitiated, 1HPD is a very complicated advanced statistic. It is the number of points by which a team outscored (or was outscored) by its opponents in the first half. The theory behind this stat is that teams that pull off a lot of second half comebacks are operating on razor thin margins and may be in for regression the next season. Similarly, teams that have good first half margins, but end up losing more games than we might expect have a solid foundation to build upon and may see improvement the following season. With that out of the way, lets get started. 

American Athletic Conference
The 2021 AAC standings. 
1HPD in AAC play (title game excluded).
The teams with the two best first half differentials met in the AAC Championship game, with the top team prevailing. At the bottom of the standings, South Florida, Temple, and Tulane all finished with the same conference record (1-7), but its clear from these numbers which team was usually out of the game by halftime. In fact, the Owls never lead at halftime of any conference game in 2020!

Conference USA
The 2021 Conference USA standings. 
1HPD in Conference USA play (title game excluded).
Western Kentucky and UAB posted the best first half differential in 2021 and we were almost treated to a showdown between the Hilltoppers and Blazers in the CUSA Championship Game. However, a last minute comeback by UTSA allowed the Roadrunners to edge the Blazers in the West division race. In the championship game, UTSA against edged a statistically superior team at home giving them their first conference title in school history

The 2021 MAC standings. 
1HPD in MAC play (title game excluded).
Northern Illinois was the ultimate enigma in 2021. The Huskies scoffed at all the statistics that doubted them and hoisted the MAC championship trophy for the fifth time since 2011. In the regular season, the Huskies were tied or trailing at halftime in five of their eight conference games, but jumped on Kent State in the MAC Championship Game posting their largest halftime team lead (17-0) against a MAC foe since they obliterated Akron in 2019. Kent State can take solace that they posted the best first half point differential of any MAC team. I'm sure they hang banners for that. 

Mountain West
The 2021 Mountain West standings. 
1HPD in Mountain West play (title game excluded). 
The Mountain West Championship Game featured the teams ranked third and sixth in first half differential with the sixth ranked team taking home the title. While that may seem like a significant upset, the difference between third and sixth was just fifteen points over the conference season, or less than two per game. Air Force had the best differential, but the Falcons dropped a tight high-scoring game to Utah State early in the season that ultimately determined the division champion.

Sun Belt
The 2021 Sun Belt standings. 
1HPD in Sun Belt play (title game excluded). 
Coastal Carolina boasted the best first half differential in Sun Belt action, but Appalachian State won the East division thanks to a thrilling midweek victory against the Chanticleers. The East was where the all the excitement was as Louisiana-Lafayette had the West wrapped up by Halloween, finishing five games clear of the closest competition. The other Louisiana school was revitalized somewhat by retread Terry Bowden, but it might be wise to pump the brakes on a 'Funroe' renaissance. The Warhawks trailed at halftime by nearly twelve points per game in conference play. 

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 Group of Five conferences are grouped together in this post, 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.
When a team finishes unbeaten in league play there is usually at least a little bit of good fortune involved. The Cougars only trailed at halftime in two of their eight conference games which is not bad. However, the other unbeaten AAC team (Cincinnati), lead at halftime in all eight of their conference games. North Texas won their final five Conference USA games after an 0-3 start to salvage a bowl bid and perhaps save Seth Littrell's job. However, in that winning streak, the Mean Green had to pull off two second half comebacks (against luminaries Southern Miss and UTEP). Couple that with the extreme negative margins in their first three conference losses and its easy to see why they overachieved relative to their first half differential. In the MAC section, we already touched on how much of an enigma Northern Illinois was in 2021. I'll add the Huskies finished second to last (by a single point over Eastern Michigan) in first half differential in their division. San Diego State only had to pull off one second half comeback in their 7-1 Mountain West campaign, but befitting a team that won with defense (and with their best player potentially being the punter), San Diego State rarely had large leads at halftime. Louisiana-Lafayette rolled through the Sun Belt with a perfect record, but they only led by double-digits at halftime in three of their conference games. 

And now the underachievers. 
I touched on it in the AAC review, but South Florida and Tulane did not have the profile of one-win conference teams. South Florida blew halftime leads in three of their seven conference losses (East Carolina, Houston, and Tulsa) and while Tulane did not blow any second half leads, they were tied with Memphis and trailed by two points against both Cincinnati and Houston at halftime. In the Sun Belt, South Alabama blew double digit halftime leads against Coastal Carolina and Texas State consigning them to a losing record despite a statistical profile that signaled they were a legitimate contender in the conference. 

Thanks for reading. We'll be back next week with a look at first half point differential in the Power Five.