Looking at Turnover Margin, Miss. State and the SEC West


Dave Bartoo with the college football matrix recently did a fantastic three-part piece on turnover margin and what does it mean in college football.  I will not regurgitate his brilliant work as you can read PART ONE HERE, PART TWO AND PART THREE by clicking on those links.  Also give Dave a follow on twitter @cfbmatrix 

But if you’re not up on what turnover margin is, basically its the difference in how many times you take the ball away from the other team, verses how many times you give it up.  So in example form and using simple math, if you took the ball away from your opponent (fumbles, interceptions) 10 times in a year and then turned the ball over 10 times yourself, your turnover margin would be zero.

Typically, the better your margin is, the better your team is.  This got me to thinking about the SEC West and I decided to compare Mississippi State to the rest of the SEC West, using Bartoo’s numbers.

Everyone is always high on recruiting numbers and rightfully so, but as Bartoo and others have pointed out – recruiting is just a part of the puzzle as you have to add coaching effect, turnover margin, scheduling and more.

Most people want to point to Dan Mullen and his staff’s ability to develop talent as the reason the Bulldogs have been to five straight bowl games and while there is strong merritt with this argument, what you will find is the Bulldogs have done a great job over the last five years in the area of turnover margin.

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Per Bartoo’s numbers, the Bulldogs rank 19th in the country over the last five years on average turnover margin.  While the Bulldogs haven’t set the world on fire in this category, they have been able to maintain stability, meaning they haven’t been a turnover machine with the football over this stretch and while shuffling defensive coordinators over the years, the Bulldogs have done a good job taking the football away from their opponents.

Just this past year, the Bulldogs had a turnover margin of ZERO and did as well in 2011.  In 2013, the Bulldogs had a TOM of seven and in 2012 they hit a TOM of 12 while having a six in 2010.  If you don’t believe TOM makes a difference, just look through the top- twenty in Bartoo’s list – it is littered with teams who have had ultra success the last half decade; while if you look towards the bottom of his list you will see teams that have had a rough go at things over the same stretch.  The most consistent team from a wins and loss standpoint near the bottom is Nebraska who ranks 108th in TOM.

Again, this is not the end all be all to determining success in college football, but it’s kind of a big deal.

So how does MSU stack up with the rest of the SEC West over this time frame? Let’s take a look below and see.

You can see from the chart above, the Bulldogs rank third in the SEC West over a five year period, right behind Alabama and a great amount in-front of Auburn. It’s not surprising that LSU and Alabama are at the top when you think about the great defenses they have produced and their smash mouth, protect the football approach.  What is surprising is how far down the board Texas A&M is.  The Aggies have been uber successful over the last five years, but their TOM ranks 106th in the country over the last five years.

To show that this isn’t the end all be all, here is a chart of the last five years in the SEC West, ranking teams on win totals – and I also put their previous four year recruiting average in there as well, again per Dave Bartoo and I’ll explain why.

Comparing the two charts you see some variation, like Alabama and LSU flip flopped, State moved down the board a bit, but is only seperated from third place Auburn by four victories.  Texas A&M again made the biggest jump if you combine their three years in the SEC and final two in the Big-12.

Back to those recruiting rankings that are in the chart as well.  The standings correspond with the recruiting rankings on 1-4, but then change from 5-7.

While Mississippi State has the lowest recruiting average in the SEC West, their TOM average has gone a long way to helping them stay in the middle of the west and right there with Texas A&M and Auburn, two teams that on paper far out recruit the Bulldogs.  Conversely, it is my belief that the talent Texas A&M has recruited  has allowed them to somewhat overcome an atrocious TOM.

So what does all this mambo jambo tell us? It tells us that while we all get caught up in recruiting, the picture is way bigger than that when talking about college football success.

Mississippi State continues to refine their recruiting approach and bring in better players year in and year out and if the Bulldogs can maintain or get better in turnover margin, they will continue to live in the upper half of the SEC West.