Brian from MGoBlog wrote a post called “Sometimes You Eat the Turnover Bar” wherein he describes the phenomenon of Michigan’s devastatingly excellent turnover margin in 2011.
Michigan ate the bear last year, and how. SBN's Bill Connolly put together a stat called "adjusted turnover margin" that assumes an NCAA-average fumble recovery rate (50.3% for the D) and NCAA-average PBU-to-INT ratio (21.9%), compares it to your actual turnovers gained, and calculates a points per game figure Connolly figures is just the bounce of the ball. Drum roll…
Five Teams Who Benefited Most From Turnovers Luck
1. Michigan (+3.97 points/game)
2. Maryland (+3.97)
3. N.C. State (+3.61)
4. South Carolina (+3.61)
5. Oklahoma State (+3.40)
I am Jack's utter lack of surprise. Michigan's overall fumble recovery rate of 75% was first in the nation by a whopping eight percent! (Maryland was #2 at 67%.) They were three standard deviations above the mean! They were a full standard deviation above the #2 team in the country! This aggression against regression to the mean will not stand!
This isn’t entirely a response to that post, the Turnover Gods partied hard in Ann Arbor in 2011, it was obvious. What’s more surprising though is how absolutely horrid MSU’s luck was in recovering fumbles in 2011. For a defense that could hang with damn near any in the country you would have expected a better fumble recovery ratio.
There’s an increasing body of research by sites like Advanced NFL Stats and Football Outsiders that fumble recovery is nearly random, a fact that seems to be supported by the season average recovery rate of 50.3 percent by the defense. From Football Outsiders:
Fans like to insist that specific coaches can teach their teams to recover more fumbles by swarming to the ball. Chicago's Lovie Smith, in particular, is supposed to have this ability. However, since Smith took over the Bears, their rate of fumble recovery on defense went from a league-best 76 percent to a league-worst 33 percent in 2005, then back to 67 percent in 2006. Last year, they recovered 57 percent of fumbles, close to the league average.
Fumble recovery is equally erratic on offense. In 2008, the Bears fumbled 12 times on offense and recovered only three of them. In 2009, the Bears fumbled 18 times on offense, but recovered 13 of them.
Fumble recovery is a major reason why the general public overestimates or underestimates certain teams. Fumbles are huge, turning-point plays that dramatically impact wins and losses in the past, while fumble recovery percentage says absolutely nothing about a team's chances of winning games in the future.
Hell, even Jim Schwartz is on board and he had to undo the powerful evil of Matt Millen. From that times article:
“Fumbles are a random occurrence,” Schwartz said he told Belichick. “Being able to get interceptions or not throw interceptions has a high correlation with good teams. But over the course of a year, good teams don’t fumble any more or less than bad teams. Bill didn’t agree. He said, ‘No, good teams don’t fumble the ball.’ But actually, they fumble just as often as bad teams.”
So The Hobo Sweatshirt thinks math is just a fad, yet elects to go for it on 4th and 2 on his own 30 a couple years back. I think Belicheck is far more interested in screwing with people than coaching football, he’s just found football a satisfactory avenue to do it.
At the collegiate level I’m less inclined to agree with the randomness on account of poorer, BUT MORE LOVEABLE, play. Fumbling is at least in part random and the recovery of said fumbles is even moreso.
So Why Poor MSU?
Well not poor MSU, they had a season for the ages defensively last year. According to cfbstats their opponent fumbled 22 times which is good for 43rd in the nation. Out of 120 FBS Football teams that means average opponent fumblyfingers with a dash of luck thrown in for zest. Of those 22 fumbles, 7 were recovered for a fumble recovery rate of 31.82 percent. The original post by Football Study Hall pegs a turnover as being worth about 5.0 points. So had MSU recovered an average number of fumbles(11), that’s good for an additional 20 points. Of course since MSU got flat smoked by ND and Nebraska and an extra five points only would have helped in the Big 10 Title game. Which, DAMN YOU BIELEMA, the football gods smiled on you corpulent bastard.
Despite all of this MSU finished ahead of the curve at 12th in total interceptions, which as Schwartz stated is a trait someone can use to determine the quality of a defense. So thanks Jim Schwartz, you make blogging fun. Anyway, root for regression to the mean in fumble recovery, it’ll make your heart happy.