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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?

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In The SEC, Turnovers Mean Everything: 2007-2011 Numbers Show The Value Of The Takeaway

When it comes to Southeastern Conference football, you can toss just about every stat out the window save one — turnovers.  Sure there are nuggets to be found here and there and we’re a site that enjoys searching for them.

But in terms of wins and losses, you’ll not find a more stat that means more than turnovers.

We have gone back through the 2007 season to examine the correlation between turnovers and winning and losing in SEC conference games.  The result could not be more clear.

Turn the ball over and you will likely lose.

For comparison’s sake lets look at what we’ve seen this season and compare it to what we saw last season:

In 2010, there were 49 SEC contests played (including the title game in Atlanta).  In 37 of those 49 games, one team held a turnover advantage at the end of day.  The team that won the turnover battle in a 2010 SEC game went 32-5.  The team that won turnover margin last season won 86.4% of SEC games.

In 2011, there have been 31 SEC games played (with 18 remaining on the docket).  In 25 of those 31 games, one team won the turnover margin.  The team that has won the turnover battle in a 2011 SEC game has gone 22-3.  The team that has won turnover margin this season has won 88.0% of SEC games.

Want to make it even more clear?  Over a year-and-a-half span, teams winning the turnover battle in SEC contests are a ridiculous 54-8.  That’s a winning percentage of 87.0% if your team wins the turnover margin.

Force more turnovers, win the game.  End of story.

In the last two seasons combined, only eight times has a team lost the turnover battle and won the game.  And only twice has a team lost the turnover margin by more than one and won the game (LSU beat Tennessee despite being -4 in turnovers in their 2010 clash and Mississippi State beat Kentucky despite being -3 in turnovers last month.)

Let’s now look at a 2011 breakdown of wins and losses as compared to the number of times a team turned the ball over:

2011 SEC Contests Only

Turnovers Committed in Game Wins Losses Win Pct.
0 10 2 83.3%
1 10 3 76.9%
2 4 14 22.2%
3 5 7 41.6%
4 or more 2 5 28.5%

Teams that have committed one turnover or fewer have won 80.0% of their league games this season.  Teams that have committed two or more turnovers have won just 29.7% of their games.

One or fewer turnovers = 80% chance of winning in 2011.
Two or more turnovers = 30% chance of winning in 2011.

Now let’s look at overall turnover margin:

2011 SEC Contests Only

Turnover Margin Wins Losses Win Pct.
Plus 1 10 2  83.3%
Plus 2 9 0 100.0%
Plus 3 or more 3 1 75.0%

The only SEC team to have a +3 turnover margin in a 2011 league game and lose was Kentucky… who fell to Mississippi State despite winning the turnover battle three to nil.

Plus one in turnover margin = 83.3% chance of winning in 2011.
Plus two or more in turnover margin = 92.3% chance of winning in 2011.

Now let’s look at all the turnover numbers from 2007 through 2011 (four-and-a-half seasons of data).

2007-2011 SEC Contests Only

Turnovers Committed in Game Wins Losses Win Pct.
0 66 21 75.8%
1 87 57 60.4%
2 44 61 41.9%
3 22 51 30.1%
4 or more 8 37 17.7%

Over the last five seasons, a team that doesn’t turn the ball over has a 75.8% chance of winning its game.

2007-2011 SEC Contests Only

Turnover Margin Wins Losses Win Pct.
Plus 1 52 20 72.2%
Plus 2 41 10 80.3%
Plus 3 or more 40 5 88.8%

Over the past five seasons, SEC teams who’ve won the turnover margin in a game are 133-35.  That’s a winning percentage of 79.1%

Sure, we all knew turnovers were important.  But in the SEC, they’re more than important.  In the SEC, turnovers mean almost everything.

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Previewing South Carolina at Florida: Three Keys, What It Means, and Prediction

South Carolina
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Will Steve Spurrier finally get another win over his old team?

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Peter Cosgrove – AP

Will Steve Spurrier finally get another win over his old team?

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It’s time. The Gamecocks will take on the Gators tomorrow night in The Swamp with the SEC East Title on the line. This is Carolina’s chance to make history and finally earn a spot in the SEC Championship Game. Here’s a quick preview; I would have more, but time constraints are eating away at me right now.

Three Keys to Victory

3. Play Smart Assignment Football

Florida has gotten back to running the spread option effectively now that it’s discovered the talents of Trey Burton and Jordan Reed. Having Chris Rainey back has also put a bit more “oomph” in the Gators ground game. This revamped Gators attack will challenge Carolina’s front line in a way that we haven’t really seen this year. Take hope, though, dear reader; Carolina has mostly been good against mobile QBs so far this season, and I think they’re capable of doing well against Florida, too. A good performance will be key to making sure that we can put the Gators in a position in which they have to throw the ball down field, which is exactly where they don’t want to be.

2. Turnover Margin

Florida’s secondary has been one of the best in the nation so far this season, particularly in terms of producing game-changing interceptions. In a game where I expect the Gators to challenge Carolina to throw the ball by focusing on bottling up Marcus Lattimore from the get-go, Stephen Garcia will have to be very careful with the ball and make sure he avoids committing any mistakes that come back to haunt us. It also wouldn’t hurt to force a couple of key turnovers ourselves.

1. Pass Defense

In what you might call an epic cream-puff war, the Carolina pass defense will square off against the Florida pass offense in a battle to determine supremacy in suckitude. What will the key be to turning in an improved performance against the pass? Perhaps Carolina’s rush. The Gators have had a lot of trouble protecting John Brantley this year, and Brantley hasn’t exactly been doing a good job of dealing with pressure. A healthy dose of Cliff Matthews and Devin Taylor is perhaps exactly what he needs.

What It Means

Garcia called this game the most important in Carolina history. Spurrier disagreed. The disagreement probably points up the fact that it’s a little difficult to know how to describe the importance of a game without a bit of hindsight. One thing’s for certain here: if we win, it’ll likely be the biggest victory in program history. It’s really just that simple. Carolina has never gotten this close to getting into the country’s premier conference title game.

Prediction

As much as it pains me to say it, I don’t have a good feeling about this game. It seems that the exact situation that many of us have feared all year is about to come to pass–the Gators, after struggling all year, are finally getting it together, while Carolina, after starting strong, is falling apart. I hope that we buck the trend this weekend, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m expecting a close Gators victory.

It should be observed here that I called for a loss in the ‘Bama game.


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Previewing Tennessee at South Carolina: Three Keys to Victory, What It Means, and Prediction

South Carolina
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45200_tenn_martin_tennessee_football

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Wade Payne – AP

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley leaves the field after an NCAA college football game Tennessee-Martin at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 50-0. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

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Three Keys to Victory

3. Pass Defense

Tennessee has actually moved the ball fairly well through the air this year, so our pass defense will need to be on. It would also help for one or two of them to finally reel in an interception; the opportunity might be there, as it appears probable that freshman Tyler Bray will see some time.

2. Stephen Garcia

This game will present a lot of opportunities for us to move the ball through the air. Tennessee is very young and banged up in the secondary, and our receivers present the kind of challenge that the Vols just won’t have much luck defending. I also like our offensive line’s chances to hold up a Tennessee pass rush that ranks very poorly in sacks. That means that Garcia will have open receivers and time to throw. If he’s on his game, he could lead us to a lot of points and a victory. He also needs to help us win the…

1. Turnover Margin

The Vols have kept it close into the fourth against one SEC opponent this season, LSU. How’s they do it? Turnovers. The Tigers moved the ball at will against Tennessee, which should tell you something about how weak Tennessee’s usually vaunted defense has been this season. However, Tennessee got some opportune turnovers to keep LSU from converting their yards into points. I’d say the same will hold true here–we’re going to move the ball, but the question is whether we’re going to put lots of points on the board. Turnovers will be key there.

What It Means

Believe it or not, no one really expects Tennessee to win tomorrow. If that doesn’t tell you something about the extent to which this is our best chance ever to win the East, I don’t know what will. The Gamecocks are viewed as a good team this year, while the Vols are really reeling. However, don’t think they can’t win. This game will not be a breather, and our guys will need to come ready to play if we’re going to win. And that’s exactly what they should be doing. At this point, every game should be considered a playoff for an SEC Championship Game berth, and our coaches and players should act accordingly. A win gets us one step closer to the prize; a loss would be disastrous. This one is also a revenge game of sorts; Carolina will be looking to get a little payback against the Vols after what they did to us last year. I’m sure we would all appreciate that.

Prediction

34-13 ‘Cocks. As with other games this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is close early, but Carolina’s superior talent and depth should allow us to take over in the second half and win fairly convincingly. The only thing that should worry us is lackadaisical play, and after two weeks of road worries, this team will be focused on getting it back in gear.


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