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6 Years & 302 Games Of SEC Data Tell Us: Don’t Turn The Ball Over

mrsec stat analysis newThere’s an old adage in college football that’s been passed down in pregame talk after pregame talk, decade after decade.  Different coaches have phrased it differently, but the central message conveyed has remained the same since the days of leather helmets.

“The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.”

When it comes to football in the Southeastern Conference — a league known for its superior defenses — that one simple sentence is all a fan needs to know.  At the stadium or watching in HD from home, fans can begin every ballgame with the knowledge that the more their team’s turnover count rises, the more their team’s chances of winning decline.

That might not sound like much of a revelation, but six years worth of numbers pound home the fact that nothing — absolutely nothing — has as much bearing on the outcome of an SEC football game as turnovers.  You can set aside quarterback comparisons and coaching matchups.  You don’t need to break down two schools’ special teams units.  When asked who’ll win the next big SEC football game, just respond: “The team that wins the turnover battle.”

Regular readers of this site — as opposed to you irregular readers — know that we like to provide you with an annual examination of the SEC’s turnover statistics.  This year is no exception and below you’ll find the numbers for the 2012 season, the league’s first with 14 teams and a 57-game league schedule (including the SEC Championship Game).  We’ll also show you the updated six-year tally of turnover data.

But first, for the sake of comparison, we want you to see the impact fumbles and interceptions have had on the SEC standings over the past five years.

Below are the turnover numbers from 2007 through 2011.  We’ve included only conference games, SEC versus SEC.  In a 12-school league that equaled 49 games per year counting the SEC title game in Atlanta.  Therefore, the tables below contains 245 games worth of data.

In the first chart, we show you how teams fared when they turned the ball over zero times, once, twice, thrice, or four or more times in an SEC contest.  In the second chart you’ll see — in games where one team held a turnover advantage over another — how those teams on the positive side of the turnover battle fared record-wise.  (A tip for the mathematically-challenged: Reverse the numbers in the bottom chart and you can quickly figure out the records for teams that finished on the negative side of the turnover battle, too.)


2007-2011 SEC Games

  Turnovers/Game   Wins   Losses   Winning %
  0 Turnovers   70   23   75.2
  1 Turnover   95   61   60.8
  2 Turnovers   49   65   42.9
  3 Turnovers   22   56   28.2
  4 or more Turnovers   9   40   18.3


  Turnover Margin   Wins   Losses   Winning %
  Plus 1   58   23   71.6
  Plus 2   42   10   80.7
  Plus 3 or more   44   5   89.7


As you can see, over the span of 245 SEC contests it’s abundantly clear that turnovers play an enormous role in who wins and who loses.  In fact, over the final five years of the 12-school SEC, teams that did not turn the ball over in a game won 75% of the time.

Think about that: Not turning the ball over = 75% chance of winning an SEC football game.

The chart showing turnover margins is even more telling.  If a team finished plus-one in turnover margin, it had a 71% chance of winning its game.  Finish plus-two and the number jumped to an 80% chance of victory.  Plus-three teams won an astounding 90% of the time.

See why we say you can toss all the other comparisons and breakdowns?

Now let’s look at last year, the 2012 season.  The SEC expanded by two teams which added eight more games to the overall conference slate.  Did we see much difference in a 57-game SEC season?


2012 SEC Games

  Turnovers/Game   Wins   Losses   Winning %
  0 Turnovers   20   11   64.5
  1 Turnover   16   8   66.6
  2 Turnovers   14   14   50.0
  3 Turnovers   6   14   30.0
  4 or more Turnovers   1   10   9.0


  Turnover Margin   Wins   Losses   Winning %
  Plus 1   16   6   72.7
  Plus 2   10   3   76.9
  Plus 3 or more   11   2   84.6


As you can see, some of the percentages dropped a bit when compared to the previous five seasons.  But it’s still way too early to tell if those drops represent an overall decline in the value of turnovers in a 14-team league.  Anomalies also showed up on a year-by-year basis in a 12-team league.  So we must keep in mind that we’re comparing a one-year sample of games to a five-year sample.  The larger the sample, the more telling the statistic.  Having looked at all the year-by-year data, this doesn’t represent too great a shift.

(In case you’re wondering, the lone team to turn the ball over four or more times last season and win was Texas A&M in its tight victory over Ole Miss.  The Aggies had six turnovers compared to the Rebels’ two, but the Aggies also had some fella named Johnny Manziel to pull the game out in the end.)

Now let’s combine all the information we’ve gathered over the past six seasons from 2007 through 2012.  That’s 302 SEC football games including six SEC Championship Games.  The overall story?  You already know it.


2007-2012 SEC Games

  Turnovers/Game   Wins   Losses   Winning %
  0 Turnovers   90   34   72.5
  1 Turnover   111   69   61.6
  2 Turnovers   63   79   44.3
  3 Turnovers   28   70   28.5
  4 or more Turnovers   10   50   16.6


  Turnover Margin   Wins   Losses   Winning %
  Plus 1   74   29   71.8
  Plus 2   52   13   80.0
  Plus 3 or more   55   7   88.7


With each turnover committed, a team’s chances of winning an SEC league game drop from 72.5% to 61.6% to 44.3% to 28.5% all the way to 16.6% (when committing four or more turnovers).

A team that finishes plus-one in turnover margin wins 71.8% of the time in the SEC (over the last six seasons).  Plus-two squads won 80.0% of the time.  Teams with a plus-three advantage in the turnover battle won 88.7% of the time.

There’s a reason old adages become old adages… they reveal truth.  And in the SEC there’s nothing more true than the old adage, “The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.”



A team getting turnovers often tend to be a sign that they are showing a lack of focus, and they do not really have their mind in the game. These are not only reflected by ball security but by how the players play the game in other aspects in general..


This is called cutting to the chase. These are stats that truly matter. Thanks, John. Add in the effect of the kicking game (or lack thereof when it comes to Tennessee football of late) and you can hit the winner nearly every time IMO. The General would be proud.  


  1. [...] On that note, it seems we picked the right day to post our breakdown of six years worth of SEC turnover data. [...]

  2. […] SIDENOTE – As we’ve written many times, show us the team that commits the most turnovers and we’ll show you which team lost the game.  Last night, North Carolina was -1 in turnover margin and Vanderbilt was -2.  It’s the single most important stat in football, especially in the SEC. […]

  3. […] that matters in college football… the game still comes down to taking care of said pigskin.  It’s really just as simple as that.  In the SEC last week there were 10 winners and four losers.  Of the 10 winners, Auburn, […]

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