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. 

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