Even with all the turnovers, Michigan is ranked #25 in scoring offense and #38 in scoring defense. These rankings give U-M better than an 80% probability of finishing the year 9-3 or better. If Michigan can fix the turnover problems, this year should be exceptional (10-2 or better). If not, this year could be a repeat of last year (8-4) ugh. [Teams with a – 0.5 TOM/Game or worse have just an 11% probability of finishing the year with and 8-4 record or better.]
We Wants It . . . We Needs It . . . . Must Have The Precious!: Each football game in a season is precious. Almost every year, the outcome of a single game determines which teams play for conference championships and which teams play for the MNC. The difference between success and failure is razor thin and even one performance based turnover in a season can be what controls your fate. Every coach knows this, every player knows this, and every fan knows this. That is why turnover analysis is so important.
Discussions about whether turnovers are random miss the point entirely. IMHO no one actually believes that ALL turnovers are random and no one actually believes that ALL turnovers are controllable. In fact, everyone agrees that turnovers are a combination of luck (i.e. random and not controllable) and performance (i.e. not random and controllable). But, if even half of all turnovers are controllable (and far more than half are), their impact is often the difference between an excellent season (M would have been 10-2 without the TOs in the ND and ohio games last year) and a mediocre one (M was 8-4 last year). Simply shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Oh well, I know the reason we lost the ND and ohio games last year was because of turnovers but we were just unlucky. We should have better luck this year" seems quite insane to me.
A Brief History: I started this diary during the end of the 2009 season and just looked at total turnovers per year. However, it was obvious that any rational turnover analysis must be based on a game by game examination rather than just total TOs per year. For 2010, the diary analyzed TOs for each game but used an average value of 4 points per turnover to determine impacts. This did not recognize that the situation that exists before each turnover is critical to the importance of and the value determined for the turnover. Therefore, in 2011, the analysis evolved to use Expected Points (EP) to determine impacts. Using EP, each turnover may have a value from 0.0 to 11.6 "points" depending on the situational analysis.
A Decade of Michigan Quarterbacks: The decade started with 5 straight years of positive turnover margins and national rankings of #47 or better. This corresponded with quarterbacks throwing few interceptions except in 2007 when injured Henne and Mallet threw a bunch but were bailed out by takeaways that were outstanding (ranked #21). Then, the era of "he who shall not be mentioned" brought 3 straight years of just horrible giveaways (both interceptions and fumbles), takeaways, and TOM. Since Brady Hoke took over, quarterback interceptions have not improved. The only reason 2011 was not a negative TOM year was because the defense was terrific and ranked #27 for takeaways. Quarterback interceptions are the key to controlling turnovers.
New Turnover Data: In 2012, the folks at Football Outsiders – FEI did a weekly "Revisionist Box Scores" that striped out TOs, Special Teams, and Field Position. FEI calculates the value generated by each drive and then lost on the drive up until the turnover, as if the drive had concluded at that spot on the field. They looked at all 696 FBS games. The FEI results corroborated the results that I had calculated in these diaries (yea!). A more detailed review unleashed some rather unexpected results. As posted last year, TOs are the determining factor in the outcome of just 16% of games. But, for a 12 game regular season, this results in the average team having 2 games determined by TOs. In 2012, there were 107 FBS teams that had at least one game determined by TOs – that is 86% of the 124 FBS teams. While 27% of all FBS teams had just a single game decided by TOs, 59% of all FBS teams had 2 or more games decided by TOs, and one team (South Florida) had an unbelievable total of 7 games decided by TOs!
Obviously, if a team has more than one game decided by TOs, they will have a net of multiple wins, multiple losses, or a combination of wins and losses. South Florida fumbled their total of 7 games decided by TOs into a net of 3 losses. The biggest loser was Marshall – managing to turn all 4 games decided by TOs into losses. The other teams who lost 3 games due to TOs are Southern Mississippi, South Alabama, and Maryland. The biggest winner was Ohio University turning all 4 games decided by TOs into wins. Louisville, Northwestern, and Middle Tennessee were the three teams that won 3 games due to turnovers. Without turnovers, Louisville would have had a record of 7-5 instead of 10-2 and Northwestern would have ended up 6-6 instead of 9-3.
As you can see from this chart, teams that end the year with a negative TOM are unlikely to have a winning season. Teams with a + 0.5 TOM/Game or better have a 70% chance of having a WLM of + 4 or better (WLM = Win/Loss Margin = Wins – Losses). For a 12 game season, 0.5 TOM/Game is equal to a total TOM of 6. In 2012, Michigan defied the odds by posting an 8-4 record (+4 WLM) with a – 0.7 TOM/game.
Last year I concluded that Michigan had a total of 3 games determined by TOs although my actual EP calculations only resulted in 2 games determined by TOs. The exception was the MSU game. The calculations resulted in a value of just 1.5 EP for the Kovacs interception with 2:03 left in the third quarter because it was third down and MSU would have punted to Michigan on the next play anyway. Since M won by 2 points, the exact numbers do not indicate that TOs were the determining factor. This is where EP (as well as any purely mathematical analysis) falls short. Being at the game, there is no doubt in my mind that the TO was a major factor in the win.
For the folks at FEI, Michigan lost a net of 2 games due to TOs. For me, we lost a net of just 1 game due to TOs. Using the FEI data, M was one of just 14 teams that lost a net of 2 or more games due to TOs last year.
Final Thoughts: Please decide which of the following four quotes from this week are true and which are made up.
A) Brady Hoke: "Turnovers? I am surprised that anyone would even ask such a question. Everyone knows that turnovers are random events and no amount of coaching or player preparation can have any affect on the number of giveaways or takeaways."
B) Brady Hoke: "Obviously, you can't give the ball away. Right now we've got a major league problem where we've got to fix it. Because that's not going to win any championships."
C) MGoBrian: "I am surprised that so many people are concerned about Devin Gardner's turnovers. Yes, his 6 turnovers in four games last year and his 10 turnovers in four games this year are the worst in the FBS, but they are random events that neither he nor anyone else has any control over. Probability tells us it will simply fix itself."
D) MGoBrian: "Gardner hardly ever puts the ball away. That's a QB sneak on which Gardner has one hand on the ball, and the fumble Gods strike." and "Gardner didn't set his feet because he was getting some pressure up the middle, and while that is suboptimal he had some room to work with that he did not use."