Spring football is in full swing and it’s time to talk some…football. A week ago my brother and I were on our way to his bachelor party (he survived) when I saw a tweet I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since. It came from the always awesome ESPN stats buff and ACC aficionado, David Hale.
Some encouraging history for Penn State & Louisville… 7 other teams in playoff era outgained opposition by 50+ yards/game & finished w/a losing record, then retained their HC. On average, they improved by 3.5 wins the next year. pic.twitter.com/2eQzBh1F8h
— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) April 8, 2021
Definitely do not hate that stat.
If UofL could improve, as David suggests, by 3.5 wins this year and hit that 7 or 8-win mark with the schedule we have in front of us, I think it would get most of the monkeys off of Satterfield’s back and he’d be back in good graces with the fanbase.
Easier said than done, though.
So while the average win increase of 3.5 wins was obviously exciting, that’s not what made me obsess over one of David’s bevy of stat tweets. It was the why that was bothering me so much.
Why had all these teams who had achieved (?) almost identical records taken such similar and significant steps forward?
As Mr. Hale points out, the biggest contributing factor was that teams who were regularly outgaining their opponents substantially were losing too many games they shouldn’t have, and then the following year they were winning the games they should have.
Right? Easy enough.
But! It still doesn’t explain why they had been beating their opponents on paper but not on the scoreboard.
So what could it be? First, I compared each teams’ returning production from the year prior to their down year, the year they underachieved, and the year after. I wanted to see if perhaps teams had been suffering from turnover and had a young team that had been showing flashes but weren’t sealing the deal. But were then able to take a big step forward with continuity on the team. The results really showed no trend of that kind.
I then thought maybe it was as simple as where a coach was in their tenure at each school. Perhaps it just boiled down to a new coach having his team heading in the right direction, but not quite all the way there yet.
Not quite. While over half of these coaches were in their first three years on the job, the fact that you have guys like Gary Patterson and Troy Calhoun experiencing leap years kind of blows that whole idea out of the water. It’s certainly not nothing, but it doesn’t tell us much.
So then I came to the only other thing I could think of that I was genuinely trying to avoid the entire time because I am sick of talking about it, hearing about it, and writing about it.
“Could it be the f***ing turnovers?”
Of the seven teams that previously outgained their opponents by 50+ yards/game on average and finished with a losing record AND retained their coaches, only ONE school did not improve their turnover margin from the year before (Air Force, wyd?).
The remaining six schools on average raised their turnover margin rankings by 50.7 spots (!).
Even if you include Air Force’s turnover margin slide, you still have teams averaging a leap of 42 spots.
And with UofL finishing 109th in the country in turnover margin last year, it’s not hard to see how many of those single-digit losses we could have won had we not given the ball away so much, but also how much this team can improve in both the turnover margin rankings and the win column if they’re able to limit turnovers.
It’s especially encouraging to see that many of the teams were struggling mightily with turnover margin in the seasons they were underachieving, only to improve massively and win a good amount of games.
So there you have it, and I’m sorry it ended up this way for the millionth time, but we just need to hold on to the damn ball.