Break out the Turnover "Margin" Chain?


Yes, TO Margin, Not Turnovers Gained: A Key Driver of Wins


There were a lot of big upsets this past weekend in college football, where we saw quite a few top 25 teams go down with losses. It all started on Thursday night with #25 Appalachian State losing to an unranked Georgia Southern team. Many were surprised at the outcome of this game, maybe not so much by the fact that Georgia Southern won the game ( they are a damn good team) but more so about the fashion in which they won. Georgia Southern handled App State from start to finish and won the game 34-14. While most statistical categories pointed towards Appalachian State being the better team, there was one major category where Georgia Southern had the clear edge, Turnover Margin!


Its Not Enough To Just Create Turnovers


As a former coach, I know the importance and emphasis put on creating turnovers. It’s something that coaches have been preaching since the beginning of time and you can’t find a team now a days that doesn’t have some sort of chain, trinket or prop that they use to celebrate a big turnover. We all have come to know the buzz that Miami’s Turnover Chain has created, and since than, we have seen turnover beads from Tulane, a turnover robe from Memphis, a belt for Louisville, a chalice and a crown for SMU and the list goes on and on. While these are all great and create a lot of excitement, turnovers alone do not drive Win’s!



How do I know that turnovers alone do not drive wins? Because, I ran a predictive analysis study on the impact of turnovers on wins and found that although there is a moderate positive correlation between turnovers gained and Wins, it is not a Main Driver of Wins. The true statistically significant driver of wins is turnover margin. So in attempt to draw more attention to Margin rather than turnovers, I have created a new Chain that teams should be rocking on the sideline during games. It’s the Turnover Margin Chain!



(Turnovers gained – Total Turnovers Lost = Turnover Margin)


That’s right, it’s not Turnovers that should be getting all the attention, but Turnover Margin. Turnover margin is simple, it’s the difference between Total Turnovers gained and Total Turnovers Lost. The margin is reflected as a number either + or – to show if a team is creating more or less turnovers than its losing.


Teams that find themselves with a positive number for Turnover margin are creating more turnovers than they are losing and that’s the number that drives wins. And oh by the way, who leads the nation in Turnover margin? That’s right our friends from Georgia Southern University are the #1 TO Margin team in the nation with a TO margin of +19 and +2.38 per game. That’s almost 3 times a game where Ga Southern is taking the ball away from opponent’s and not giving it back.


The Analysis of Turnover Margin as a Key Driver of Wins


If you have read some of my other posts, you know that I love to write about components of football that can be identified and proven as key drivers of Wins. As a reminder, a key driver is an input field or combination of input fields that has a statistically significant effect on a target field. This effect is more than a mere association because the effect is directed. By identifying key drivers, you can discover which field or combination of fields have the most effect on a target field. Our target in this study, just like in our past studies is Wins.

The first part of my analysis was to first look at total turnovers gained to see if there was a main effect on wins. Simply put does the turnover chain alone have a significant impact on wins? Well, as I stated earlier, what I discovered is that although there is a correlation, turnovers alone, did not have a statistically significant main effect on wins.


Turnover Margin drives Wins with a predicative Strength of 31%


After looking at Turnovers alone and finding no main effect, I turned my focus to Turnover Margin. The results of my analysis showed that Turnover Margin drives Wins with a predicative Strength of 31%. Remember, Predictive Strength measures how well a predictor accurately predicts a target. Predictive strength is displayed as a percentage. A predictor with a predictive strength of 100% perfectly predicts a target. So while not the only determining factor in predicating wins, Turnover margin had a statistically significant moderate main effect on Wins as represented in the graph below.


You can see from the line graph above that there is a linear relationship between Turnover Margin and wins, meaning as TO Margin increases, wins increase as well. Now, lets take a look at who's leading the way in Turnover margin & what levels lead to higher or lower win averages.


Turnover Margin Levels with High & Low Win Averages


As always, in addition to sharing predicative strength & key drivers, my analysis shows the categories that have the highest & lowest levels of average wins. This allows you to see where your team matches up or give them a target to reach that will improve their chances of winning. The graph below gives you a look at the category groupings along with their average win totals.




High Group Greater than > +5 Turnover Margin


The Darkest colored bar on the graph at the top represents the high group. The high group consists of 20 Teams that have +6 or more in terms of Turnover Margin. These 20 teams have an average win total of 5.7 wins each, with an overall record of 144 wins and 46 loses and an overall 71% win rate. Below is a look at those 20 Teams, with Georgia Southern leading the way with a +19 TO Margin and a 7 -1 Record.


Again with a predictive strength of 31%, not every team in the high group is going to be at the top of the AP rankings but it is a predictive driver of wins. A team like Kansas who had a big win this weekend against TCU is thriving in this important category and their improvement overall cannot be denied. This along with improvements in a few other areas and next thing you know, you have a special season like many teams on this list (Fresno State, FIU, North Texas, LSU, Utah State) ETC.


The Low Group: below Minus -6 TO Margin


The Low group, which is represented by the lightest shaded bar on the bottom of the graph consists of 27 teams with -6 or worse in turnover margin on the year. The 27 teams in the low group have an average of 2.5 wins each, a combined record of 68 wins and 151 Loses and an overall win rate of only 45%. Below is the list of teams in the low group.




There are a lot of teams in the low group that have significantly underachieved so far this season. While there are a few that have managed to keep their heads above water, many on the list such as Nebraska, Fla State, Louisville & TCU, USC, Central Michigan & Arkansas have played well below expectations. Other teams such as UCONN & Rutgers have managed to find themselves in the low group in a few statistical categories.


A Final Thought

While turnovers gained are an important part of the game, turnover margin is critical. If your only focusing on creating turnovers and not on ball security, you are not giving your team the best chance to win. I plan on doing a combo analysis soon to see what other categories when matched with turnover margin have the strongest impact on wins, so please subscribe in order to stay up to date on all on my future analysis.


I hope you enjoyed this look at Turnover margin as a Key Driver of wins. I expect to see a new trend in college football starting this weekend, the Turnover Margin Chain!

If you want to see the complete breakdown of teams, including those who fall into the middle categories, please subscribe or email directly at info@acefootballanalytics.com


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