To Turnovers! – The Cause Of, and Solutions to, All Our Problems

This table and information was posted about a week ago, which is like 2 years in Internet Time, but I was studying for an exam, so deal with it.

So over at Scout.com (via Football Study Hall (SBN’s Football Nerd Stat Blog)), they looked at the last 8 years of Turnover Margin data for all 120 D1-A football teams and came to two conclusions:

1) Turnover improvement very strongly correlates to record improvement.
2) The turnover margin from one year generally has a very small correlation with the turnover margin for the next year.

Conclusion 1 is fairly obvious and something even casual fans would agree on without looking at any numbers. If you take care of the football and cause turnovers, you’ll win more games than you’ll lose. Science!

The second conclusion is one that I found fascinating. It essentially says that there is a certain amount of luck involved with turnovers from year to year. It can help explain reasons why certain teams over or underachieved during a particular season. As the author notes:

…unless you’re in the top ten (MAYBE fifteen) in terms of long-term turnover average, it seems fairly safe to say that if you enjoyed a double-digit turnover margin in 2010, you’re likely to suffer a substantial decline in turnover margin in 2011. Ohio St (+15), Mizzou (+11), Iowa (+13), NIU (+11), Oregon (+13), UConn (+12), Georgia (+10), Wisconsin (+14), Oklahoma St (+12), Stanford (+13), Toledo (+11), Tulsa (+17!), Maryland (+15), Hawaii (+12), and especially Army (+16, with an eight-year average of -5), be warned: the turnover success you enjoyed last year is unlikely to happen again.

As Notre Dame fans, we know Army had a breakout season last year and reached a bowl for the first time awhile. One of the biggest reasons why Army played so well was they protect the football, which is doubly important for them as an option team. Army had a +16 turnover margin during 2010 but their average TO margin for the past 8 years was -5. Therefore, some regression should be expected during 2011. Other friendly faces on that list are Stanford, Tulsa (+17!!!) and Maryland.

Now, this does lead to a chicken-or-the egg questions. Is a team good because they protect the football or do they protect the football because they are a good team? The author did try address the question:

All that said, there do appear to be some exceptions, teams that have enjoyed substantial long-term success (or at least if you define 8 years as long-term), as well as those who have suffered substantial long-term failure in turnover margin. It is difficult to accurately assess just how much of the success was noise and how much of it was legitimate and likely to continue going forward, but at least some of it looks real.

So, if you have sustained long-term success or sustained long-term suckitude, you probably have a TO margin that follows along with that. But if you are a team who came out of nowhere during the prior season and had an extremely good turnover margin, you may face some heartbreak during the next season

To me, the biggest conclusion you can take from this PROTECT THE DAMN FOOTBALL! You do that and good things will happen during the season. Miami of Ohio went 1-11 in 2009 with a -24 TO margin and went 10-4 and won the MAC in 2010 with a +11 TO margin.

Now, regarding Notre Dame, we don’t follow this trend perfectly but if you look at the graph below, you can see that the turnover margin line is somewhat mirrored, with respect to peaks and valleys, with our win totals. It’s not perfect correlation but it is interesting. It also could be cause for even more hope (or concern) for 2011. To the optimistic fan, we had a fairly poor turnover margin and managed 8 wins. You could expect to improve the margin and subsequently increase our win total. To the *cough*more jaded fans, we probably overachieved in 2010 considering our turnover margin and you should expect only disappointment during 2011 as the win total will drop to be more inline with our turnover margin.

HT to FootballStudyHall

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  • Irish007

    When you look at just ND and see our TO margin, all you have to do is look at how good is our QB. Which has a lot to do with winning, well usually anyway. Look at in 2005 and 2006 with Brady Quinn. He didn’t throw many INT’s and we had a good TO margin. Also look at Clausens last year, 2009. Again, a good TO margin. But you also have to look at how good/bad your defense is. How many take aways did they create. Clausen didn’t throw many INT’s but we should have had an even better TO margin but our defense sucked. And thus, our record. I would account luck to a percentage of turnovers, but good QB’s don’t throw many INT’s and should lead to a good TO margin and wins. I bet if you went back and looked at most teams with a good TO margin and then look at who their QB is, you’ll come to a conclusion that good QB’s are leading those teams to victory by not throwing INT’s. Also, teams with a history of having a good TO margin usually have a good history of having recruited some of the top QB’s year to year. With a lot of teams, they don’t have that luxury.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/PootND PootND

      Exactly. Our offenses during the CW era were probably close to BCS caliber but our defenses were horrendous. So no matter how well our offense played (and that is a matter of opinion but in general they were average to good) and didn’t create TO, our defenses played just as poorly and did not create many turnovers. Thus, our poor records during the years.

  • Fenian Fox

    I think that there is only so much you can do to control turnovers on offense. I concur with 007 on the quarterback probably being the key in offense. I think the key to a consistently good margin is having a defense that can take the ball away. In general. well rounded solid D will lead to turnovers, i.e. good line rush, close coverage, and meeting the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/PootND PootND

      Football Outsiders studied fumbles recoveries in the NFL. They found that the actual recovery of a fumble is not a skill and based on luck/randomness. The causing of fumbles themselves is a skill that good defenses have.

      So there is only so much you can control turnovers on defense also. Sometimes the balls don’t bounce your way and you could be shit out of luck.

  • http://NDNATION.COM SEE

    Interesting. Just read the book on Meyer.

    Urban Meyer focused on turnovers as one of his four keys to winning: Defense, red zone scoring, kicking and turnovers.

    He has his team do extra drills in this area and tailors his offense to avoid them.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/PootND PootND

      Yup. It’s something most coaches already know/believe: http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=rivals-1222359.

      This post is just showing that they are correct and there is math to prove it.

    • The Biscuit

      Also focused on: eye-gouging punishments and “9 strikes and you’re out”

  • tjak

    Who the hell is pootnd………kidding. Good analysis.