These are the fastest-starting (and slowest-starting) college football teams

Every fan, at some point, has complained that their team starts slow at the beginning of football games. It’s one of the cardinal sins of college football — not coming ready to play and finding yourself down early after giving up an easy touchdown at the start of the game. Well, now we can actually put some truth to which teams actually start slow, and which come out of the gates firing.

As Penn State fans may remember, we embraced the “second-half team” mantra by the end of the 2016 season, but turned things around a bit in the two years since then. So let’s see who’s at the top of the list of the fastest-starting college football teams.

We used the play-by-play data from the 2018 season to look at which teams scored in the first 5 minutes of games in the 2018 season. This data included both regular-season and playoff data, which, as you’ll see, makes the team at the top all the more impressive.

Teams Who Get Up For Gameday

Top 15 teams ranked by points scored in the first 5 minutes of games for all of 2018.

Alabama is far and away the best team at coming out of the gate early and punishing sleeping teams. This comes as no surprise if you’ve ever turned on an early season Alabama game at 12:05 to find that the score is already 14-0. What is surprising is their margin to the next-closest team. They average nearly a TD a game in the first 5 minutes. As we can see from the upcoming histogram, this is hardly the norm.

Histogram showing the distribution of teams and their average points scored in the first 5 minutes. Alabama is a clear outlier and the data is skewed right.

Clearly, this data is not normally distributed about the mean. Most teams are slow starters. The median points per first 5 minutes is 1.58. Since the data is not normal, it wouldn’t make much sense to use a z-score, but you can see from the chart itself that Alabama is in a class all their own.

Teams Who Do Not Score In The First 5 Minutes

So let’s look at the other side – does your team take some time to get going? Let’s look at some of the worst teams at scoring early.

Teams who score the least amount of points in the first 5 minutes of games. Several teams – including Tennessee, Minnesota, and Florida State – didn’t score at all at the start of games last year.

As you can see, several teams didn’t score at all in the first 5 minutes of games all season long. I really feel bad for those fans. Some big names are at the bottom of the list too, including the Big 10’s Iowa, Michigan State and Minnesota. Also featured in this list are UCLA, Miami, Tennessee, and Florida State. All are brutally slow at being explosive in the beginning of games.

Teams Who Get Scored On In The First 5 Minutes

Last, let’s look at the flip-side of the equation. Which are the teams that are allowing these early TDs at the start of the game. Whose defenses, and perhaps, special teams, are sleepy at the start of games?

These are the teams that get scored on the most early in games. Some big names on the list include Texas and several teams from the SEC, and, most surprising of all, College Football Playoff semi-finalists Oklahoma.

So a lot of teams here to choose from, but I’m just going to jump right to the most glaring team on the list here, the College Football Playoff semi-finalists. In 2018, the Oklahoma Sooners were 15th in the country in allowing early scores to the other team. This comes as a bit of a surprise given how successful they were last year, but it isn’t as shocking when you think back on how high-powered their offense was as well. When you throw in how soft the Big 12 plays defense, it’s no surprise that early-game points were given out like candy in that conference.

We’ll make sure to revisit this stat in a few weeks to see how teams like Penn State, who said that they were going to start playing faster this year, do at getting points on the board early.


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