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Latest News Stat Analysis: Butterfingers And Bandits

Here at, we like to provide you with different stats, numbers and figures throughout the football season.  Typically, we try to present them in ways that you might not find elsewhere.  Over the course of five years of doing this, we’ve stumbled across a few that tend to serve as pretty good indicators of on-field success.

For those of you who’ve read this site, you’re familiar with our five-season, 245-game study into the impact of turnovers on SEC football games.  Obviously, the more a team turns the ball over, the less chance it will have of winning.  The same applies for teams who force turnovers from their foes, obviously.  But what was surprising to us was just how important turnovers are when a pair of SEC rivals get together:


2007-2011 SEC Turnovers

Commit 0 Turnovers — 70-23 record, 75.2 winning percentage

Commit 1 Turnover — 95-62 record, 60.8 winning percentage

Commit 2 Turnovers — 49-65 record, 42.9 winning percentage

Commit 3 Turnovers — 22-56 record, 28.2 winning percentage

Commit 4 Turnovers — 9-40 record, 18.3 winning percentage


With those numbers in mind, last week we broke out our Butterfingers measure.  It’s simple really.  We look at the total number of offensive plays run by a team and compare that number to the total tally of giveaways for that squad.  What you’ll see below is the number of plays typically run by each team between turnovers.  The more plays run between giving the ball away… the better.


SEC Butterfingers Measure

  School   Giveaways   Off. Snaps   Plays/Giveway
  Texas A&M (2-1)   1   225   225.00
  Florida (4-0)   2   263   131.50
  Miss. State (4-0)   2   258   129.00
  Alabama (4-0)   2   252   126.00
  Vanderbilt (1-3)   4   253   63.25
  Missouri (2-2)   5   288   57.60
  LSU (4-0)   5   276   55.20
  Georgia (4-0)   6   272   45.33
  Tennessee (3-1)   7   311   44.42
  S. Carolina (4-0)   7   256   36.57
  Kentucky (1-3)   9   278   30.88
  Ole Miss (3-1)   10   287   28.70
  Auburn (1-3)   9   186   20.66
  Arkansas (1-3)   10   197   19.70


Keep in mind that our study looked at the results of turnovers in SEC contests only.  With the season still so young, we’re using statistics from nonconference games, too (including those against FCS opponents).  For that reason, a team’s current overall record might not jive with the rate that it gives away the football.  But these trends will start to mean more the deeper everyone gets into league play.

To date, SEC offenses have run 3,712 offensive plays.  That’s an average of about 67 plays per game.  If the above rates hold inside SEC play, then those teams that turn the ball over more often than once every 67 plays will see their odds of winning an SEC contest go from about 75% to 60% and worse (from an offensive perspective only… clearly defensive takeaways would impact those numbers).  Arkansas, for example, is coughing up the ball about 3.4 times per game.  In SEC play, history suggests that the Razorbacks would win about 28% of their games when they turn the ball over at least three times.

Now let’s look at the league’s defenses.  We call this our Bandits measure.  It’s simply the inverse of our Butterfingers measure.  The more times a defense can force a team to give up the football, the better that team’s odds of winning the game.  So we compare the total number of defensive takeaways to the total number of defensive snaps run by each SEC squad.  The lower the number the number of plays between turnovers… the better.


SEC Bandits Measure

  School   Takeaways   Def. Snaps   Plays/Takeaway
  Alabama (4-0)   12   222   18.50
  Miss. State (4-0)   15   280   18.66
  Missouri (2-2)   12   264   22.00
  LSU (4-0)   10   230   23.00
  Tennessee (3-1)   9   300   33.33
  S. Carolina (4-0)   8   267   33.37
  Florida (4-0)   7   279   39.85
  Ole Miss (3-1)   7   285   40.71
  Georgia (4-0)   6   282   47.00
  Vanderbilt (1-3)   4   267   66.75
  Kentucky (1-3)   4   297   74.25
  Auburn (1-3)   4   312   78.00
  Texas A&M (2-1)   2   199   99.50
  Arkansas (1-3)   2   323   161.50


To date, SEC defenses have run 3,807 snaps.  That works out to about 69 plays per game.  So looking at things from a defensive perspective only, those defensive units turning over their foes less than once every 69 plays aren’t doing enough to help their teams win.  Looking at Arkansas again, is it any wonder the Razorbacks have gotten off to such a terrible start?  They give the ball way more often and take it away less often than any other team in the conference.  On the flipside, look at the high rankings in both categories — Butterfingers and Bandits — for Alabama and Mississippi State.

For all the breakdowns and matchups and film work and gameplans, football really is a pretty simple game.  When the turnover battle and more times than not you’ll win the game.  In the SEC, make that “many more times you’ll win the game.”


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I think turnovers are an effect of winning not the cause.


If a college team with a bad turnover ratio played a high school team with a good turnover ratio I think the ratios would reverse. The college team with butterfingers would dominate the turnover battle against a high school team. Same thing if you took a college team with a good turnover ratio and had them play an NFL team with butterfingers. The NFL team would likely win the turnover stats for the game.


Turnovers happen when teams play well. A good team gets to the opposing quarterback more quickly and has tighter pass coverage. This will cause more turnovers than a poor pass rush and poor pass coverage.


I suspect Arkansas is losing the turnover battle because they are getting outplayed not because they lack some special turnover skill.

John at MrSEC
John at MrSEC moderator



That flies in the face of the old adage many coaches share with their teams before games: "The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win." 


But to each his own.  I'll stand by the numbers.  Going back through five years of box scores, I saw quite a few bad teams upset good teams... and the good team usually lost the turnover battle on those occasions.


Thanks for reading,


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