The Middle Eight Ain't Great
The final four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the third quarter are huge. And Auburn is currently the SEC's worst team during that time.
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
If you’ve been around The Auburn Observer for long enough, you’ve probably read or heard about “The Middle Eight.”
But, in the wise words of friend of the program Richard Johnson, every podcast — or newsletter — is somebody’s first.
“The Middle Eight” is the last four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the third quarter. It’s the exact middle of a football game. The concept comes from longtime NFL head coach Bill Belichick, as written by former pro football executive and current media figure Michael Lombardi in his book Gridiron Genius:
“Belichick actually built an entire game-management theory around this simple realization. If the Patriots could manage a drive at the end of the second quarter, that would keep the opposing offense off the field for almost an hour of real time. For a guy like (Peyton) Manning, that’s an eternity. No offense, no points. No plays, no rhythm. When Manning does finally get back in the game, he and his offense have lost their edge.”
Since the break between the second and third quarters is the only one that involves a guaranteed kickoff, good teams try to manipulate the Middle Eight as much as they can. If you know you’re receiving the kickoff in the second half, you can try to double up with your scoring opportunities. If you know the other team is getting the ball to start the third quarter, you can try to make sure you have the ball to close the second quarter — or try to steal a possession, so to speak, by getting aggressive.
Win the Middle Eight, and it can go a long way toward winning the game itself. According to Sports Source Analytics, from 2014 to 2018, FBS teams that won the Middle Eight won 74% of the time. That winning percentage rose to 76% among Power 5 teams. And, of the 10 winningest FBS teams during that span, six of them were among the nation’s best in Middle Eight point differential.
No single data point can guarantee results, and there are countless examples of teams overcoming poor Middle Eights to win games. But, more often than not, this holds up — teams that win the Middle Eight usually win their games, and teams that are consistently the best in the Middle Eight are consistently among the best in the country.
That brings us to Auburn under Bryan Harsin, which is currently the worst Middle Eight team in the SEC… by a large margin.