Of all the stats that I track and find interesting, one stands out from Clemson’s run to the national championship game last season: 6 times the Tigers won, sometimes by large margins, when minus 2 in turnovers.
After beginning the season -2 in a rout of Wofford, the Tigers were actually +3 in turnovers through 4 games after it rained on Notre Dame’s side of the field during the epic battle in Death Valley last October.
Beginning with Georgia Tech the next week Clemson had a remarkable run of 5 of 7 games in which they were -2 in turnovers yet won each game. Close games, blowouts and everywhere in between.
Its obvious context and timing matters with turnovers. Win/loss-wise turnovers don’t mean a lot when you’re up 49-10 against Wofford, but become a different issue when on the verge of blowing Syracuse out a fumble changes momentum.
Yet we know in the big picture teams with less turnovers win (58.7% of the time since 2011). We also know that if you are minus 2 in turnovers your odds of winning is right at 20%* (165-659) in that same time span. (*Includes FBS vs. FBS only, from 2011-2015)
In over 700 FBS vs. FBS games in the 2015 season only 33 times did teams minus 2 in turnovers win and 5 of those were by Clemson (for this calculation Wofford is a FCS team and is not counted). My shaky math says that works out to a 1 in 3,125 chance of a team winning 5 times while -2 in turnovers (if turnovers were the only variable), which translates to .00032%. Statisticians are welcome to correct my math, if necessary.
Last season Clemson committed 27 turnovers in 15 games (1.8 per) after committing 18 in 13 games (1.4) in 2014. Both of those averages are above the average for winning teams in each respective season.
Maybe the most important number is the number of turnovers the Tigers had when Florida State came into Death Valley: 0.
Aggregates can paint the big picture of college football: Turnovers matter. However, not all turnovers are equal and context and detail also matter and should be used to paint the smaller picture of a specific team.
Make no mistake though, if Clemson goes minus 2 in turnovers 6 times this season the Tigers are likely to lose at least once and probably more.
It’s a matter of time until the dice come up snake eyes.
Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com.