Turnover Turnaround Take Three

Turnover Turnaround Take Three

Submitted by Brian on May 17th, 2011 at 12:04 PM

The most persistently wrong thing I was wrong about amongst the many persistently wrong things I asserted about Rich Rodriguez and his bite-sized Era at Michigan was:  "that turnover margin is going to be a lot closer to zero this year." Or words to that effect.

I should have been right, or at least in the general ballpark of right. Rodriguez's West Virginia teams were consistently in the black. Turnover margin is so weakly correlated from year to year that Phil Steele annually puts out a "turnovers = turnaround" post highlighting teams with double-digit swings in either direction so that he can predict against the teams with big numbers and in favor of the teams with little tiny ones. Here's your favorite team:

Going Up TO

And here's how that worked out:


Amongst the many things that got Rodriguez fired, the persistently huge negative turnover margin is neck and neck with transferpalooza and program alum white blood cells for second place.

So these days, running across stats like these

running the correlation between one year's turnover margin and the next, I found that the correlation was a mere 12%. That's still something, but it's clear that for most teams, the turnover margin they enjoy one year has virtually zero predictive value for the turnover margin they will enjoy the next year. That means that on average, teams with substantially positive margins will see major decline in margin the next year, and teams with substantially negative margins will see major improvement the next year. A team with a -10 turnover margin in 2009, for example, would have an expected turnover margin of -1.2 in 2010, an improvement of nearly a full turnover per game!

…make me want to bang my head against the wall. Of course Michigan would be as large of a chunk of that correlation as possible, and of course they would be on the negative side of things. Thump. Thump. (The only thing worse than defying this correlation is defying the correlation between turnovers and wins: GTP points out Georgia went from –16 to +10 and still finished two games worse than they did last year. That would seriously harsh my buzz if I was a Georgia fan.)

I have tried to make the world make sense and this is what I've come up with:

  • The correlation is so low because quarterbacks are so important. The general path of a quarterback is: bench, horrible interception-laden youth, cool as a elderly cucumber, repeat. When you have a senior quarterback you are likely to have a good turnover margin and guaranteed to not have that guy back next year.
  • The same goes for everywhere else, albeit to a lesser extent. Good defenses tend to have seniors on them and tend to not have many returning starters.
  • Michigan eschewed the general path in favor of freshmen or equivalents. Rodriguez never started the same guy two years in a row, and while that turned out to be the right decision it meant three straight years of horrible interception-laden etc.
  • When your defense is so, so bad you escape TO margin gravity. AKA GERG. Also, what's the one thing that consistently generates turnovers? QB pressure. Michigan finished 98th in sacks and loved them some three-man rushes.

So while year-to-year correlation is low across college football, if you correct for experience—especially at QB—and maybe lack of prominent walk-ons/converted WRs in the secondary that 12% would be significantly larger. Michigan's program got so messed up that they stopped participating in the circle of turnovers*. Instead they laid at the bottom of the national rankings, a corpse dragged down by redzone interceptions.

Seriously, This Time It's Serious

Um… so… there's the above theory. And then there's Denard Robinson, Michigan's first returning starter at QB since Chad Henne. And then there's Greg Mattison and a defense that uses Craig Roh as a pass rusher instead of a clunky linebacker. There are a bunch of returning starters everywhere, including four guys on the offensive line.

I'm going to be the guy who puts his hat on a stick and pokes it out of a trench to see if there are any snipers around, again: Michigan's turnover margin should scream towards zero this year. They've got gravity on their side and many things besides. Also, Brady Hoke's miraculous digestive tract will move all that Tyler Sash wackiness to Ann Arbor.

This is the year Michigan has a mediocre turnover margin. Believe.


Brady Hoke's Intricately Rendered Sculptures

Brady Hoke's Intricately Rendered Sculptures

Submitted by Brian on May 13th, 2011 at 12:45 PM

There's a David Foster Wallace story from Oblivion in which a main character has an incredibly talented sphincter. He becomes renowned for pooping out beautiful works of art and it's all very confusing and revolting and weird and sad because that's the overall thrust of Oblivion. It's called "The Suffering Channel." You should check it out if you've always wanted to read a 90-page story about poop art*.

What I am saying to you is this: Brady Hoke is not entirely dissimilar from the talented Brint Moltke. The man poops magic. In this he is the exact opposite of the star-crossed Rich Rodriguez. Because we are (largely) not clinically depressed people trying to grapple with 9/11 we can leave out the existential dread. The man poops magic. Yay!


When Hoke took the job he brought some dudes with him and no one was that impressed since no one had ever heard of them, and then he asked Greg Mattison if he'd like to come back to college a year after he'd flirted with Florida and his defensive backs coach was going to be hired away. If you listen to Peter King, they really liked the defensive backs coach and didn't necessarily love the idea that their DC would constantly be flirting with a return to college. So they said "okay, you should probably go" instead of backing up the dump truck of money at his house. So now Michigan has a veteran defensive coordinator Urban Meyer says is "the best recruiter in the country" who can say "you == Ray Lewis."

When Hoke took the job Michigan State had barely had to fight for the top player in the state the past couple years because his coach had him ready to pick Michigan State a year before he signed. The guys responsible for that are no longer at those high schools and four of the top five players in the state are either from Cass Tech, best friends with the guys from Cass Tech, or Michigan fans. Michigan got all those guys.

When Hoke took the job Ohio State was the omnipresent Big Ten Death Star, scandal free since the arrival of Darth Tressel and merrily blowing Michigan's seasons to bits. There was no reason to believe it would change until Tressel entered his JoePa phase about ten years from now, which is when Hoke would be getting ready to retire himself. Then a lawyer inadvertently sent a photon torpedo down the exhaust hatch.


So. When Brady Hoke was hired I put up "We Are ND" which wait why link when you can embed:

This was both an opportunity to post "We Are ND" again and an editorial commentary on hiring an old guy with an indifferent career record instead of a young one who can plausibly be declared up and coming. At the time I thought Hoke was good to beat OSU maybe three times in a ten year career and then would give way to the next guy because he'd be 65 by then, and while this would be an improvement on the last decade there are several Southeast Asian prisons that would qualify as an improvement on the last decade vis a vis OSU.

A few months after Hoke's hire the two low-probability events above have transpired. Michigan's ceiling in this brave new world is now unknown. Or more unknown than "probably not as good as Ohio State," which wasn't exactly an axiom in the first place.

It's likely Ohio State will be searching for a new head coach soon, and the addition of Mattison not only promises defenses better than not only the Rodriguez-GERG debacles but those of the last half-decade of the Carr era when punt-and-strangle became punt-and-strangle-the-DC. Even if Tressel manages to survive he will take a heavy hit from the NCAA. His reputation is already in tatters. Michigan State's renaissance will be brief and quickly ended if in-state recruiting continues on the path it has this year, and Michigan already has the top guy in 2013 whispering in his classmates' ears about where they should go.

Meanwhile, Hoke has done a tremendous job to not screw it up. This is not a backhanded compliment. Not screwing it up is really hard. Greg Robinson: QED. Hoke knew and acquired Mattison; even if the Ravens weren't fighting hard having the temerity to ask or the knowledge he could get him is something. He has not lost any of the in-state locks to Penn State or Ohio State or Notre Dame or Michigan State and along the way he flipped two of the three guys Michigan State fans were banking on and probably the third if he can get his grades up. A wave of media and program adulation was waiting for anyone who could say "hi, I'm not Rich Rodriguez"; Hoke has turned large sections of Southeastern Michigan into lovesick tweens by saying "you're not Rich Rodriguez either!" He hasn't blown his layups, which is more than Michigan's head coach has been able to say for a while.

The prognosis now is much better than it was in January. Hoke will be able to shovel early missteps onto Rodriguez's grave—already the tallest mountain east of the Rockies—and ride out the awkward transition from the spread, at which point he'll have a roster full of guys who are qualified, a career record worlds better than Rodriguez's, and a talent advantage over his division opponents. From there it's a matter of grabbing that goddamn win over Ohio State and seeing what happens. It's hard for me to think we'll be as good as spread terror du jour in any particular year, but let's whine about that bridge when we get to it.