Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Every college football fan knows that "winning the turnover battle" is a "key to the game" in any matchup that's actually "competitive." But as a season-long cumulative statistic, turnover margin still doesn't get the attention it deserves as the one stat that can singlehandedly make or break a team's year, regardless of what happens with all that silly yardage and special teams and whatnot.
It's true. Look over the national top 20 in turnover margin and you'll see there's almost nothing a positive outcome in the turnover column can't accomplish. Like:
Propel your conference front-runner into pole position for a BCS championship berth. Their performances against Utah State , Air Force , and Cincinnati didn't exactly scream "future national champion," but Oklahoma still topped the first edition of the BCS rankings courtesy of a +9 margin that has them tied with one other team for the third-best margin in the country. The other team in that tie? Only Oregon , the BCS's No. 2 team, despite a performance at Arizona State where they gave up nearly 600 yards.
Put your previous conference also-ran within reach of a championship season. Sorry, preseason prognosticators , but Oklahoma State is not going to narrowly finish ahead of Baylor in the race to avoid the Big 12 South basement. Some of that is Dana Holgorsen 's offensive acumen and the unstoppable Justin Blackmon , but a large part of it is also the Cowboys' +5 margin, tied for 18th in the country. Also tied at +5: surprising Missouri . Even higher up the ranks at +8: surprising Michigan State . You get the picture.
Turn around your previously downtrodden mid-major program. Last year Miami (Ohio) failed to score a single point their first two games and finished 1-11. This year, Mike Haywood 's Redhawks are 4-3 overall and a perfect 3-0 in MAC play, good enough to stand alone atop the conference's East division and position Miami for the country;s most surprising bowl bid. How? +7 in turnover margin, that's how. Also at +7? Hawaii , all but left for dead after June Jones ' 2008 departure and now tied with Boise State for the WAC lead. And Army , No. 1 in all the land in turnover margin at +11, is on pace for their first bowl bid since 1996.
Negative turnover margin, of course, wields the same power in the other direction, helping turn your program into the worst in all Division I (New Mexico, -10, No. 118), arguably the worst in a BCS conference (Kansas , -7, No. 113), or the worst it's been in a decade (BYU , -5, No. 98).
If you're an annual reader of Phil Steele or his numbers-oriented like, none of this will come as a shock. But even for the statistical diehards, the overwhelming strength of the correlation between turnover margin and victory can -- and should -- still make the eyes pop.