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Concerning Boston College's Turnover Margin

While watching the Virginia Tech defense pick apart Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike in the Orange Bowl a few nights ago, I couldn't help but think what could have been for Boston College football this year. What I decided was that this season all boiled down to a game of ball control. Sure it sounds cliche to say that you can't win ball games if you lose the turnover battle, but this year the meme seems fitting, particularly for Boston College and a team we saw the most of this year: Virginia Tech.

Boston College

Game Decision Score Opponent Eagles Margin
Notre Dame W 17-0 5 0 +5
Rhode Island Rams W 42-0 5 1 +4
@ Kent State W 21-0 3 0 +3
Clemson L 27-21 4 2 +2
Maryland W 28-21
2 0 +2
Central Florida W 34-7 4 3 1
Georgia Tech L 19-16 3
3 0
@ Florida State
W 27-17
3 3 0
@ Wake Forest
W 24-21 2 3 (1)
Virginia Tech
L 30-12 4 3 (1)
@ North Carolina L 45-24 1 3
@ N.C. State W 38-31 0 3 (3)
Vanderbilt L 16-14 0 3 (3)
Virginia Tech W 28-23 1 5 (4)

Those keeping score at home, that is a 5-1 record for the Eagles when we win the turnover battle, 1-1 when turnover margin is a wash and 3-3 when we lose the turnover battle. Let's take a look at the ACC Champions.

Virginia Tech

Game Decision Score Opponent Hokies
@ Boston College
L 28-23 5 1
Georgia Tech
W 20-17 3
0 +3
W 20-7 4 1
@ North Carolina
W 20-17 4 2
@ Nebraska
W 35-30 2 0 +2
W 24-7 2 1 +1
@ Miami
L 16-14 1 0 +1
Boston College W 30-12
4 3
@ East Carolina
L 27-22
2 2
Western Kentucky
W 27-13
1 1
W 23-13 1 1 0
W 17-14 1 1 0
W 14-3 4 5 (1)
@ Florida State L 30-20 0 2 (2)

As you can see from the above, Virginia Tech did a much better job of protecting the football this year. They were 6-1 winning the turnover battle, 3-1 even and only 1-1 when losing the turnover battle. Of course, you can commit 5 turnovers against Duke, lose in turnover margin, and still win the game by double digits. However, when you turn the ball over multiple times against Florida State and don't generate any turnovers on defense, you'll have a much tougher time notching the W.

Obviously this is a gross simplification of these football games, and a lot of different factors (points off turnovers, etc.) contribute to whether a team wins or loses, but I found this modestly useful. Feel free to form your own conclusions.

My conclusion: the difference between a 10-4, Orange Bowl champion season and a 9-5, Music City Bowl runner-up season? Turnover margin and protecting the football on offense. For all the praise the BC defense received for leading the country in interceptions and creating turnovers (ranked 2nd nationally in turnovers, 1 turnover behind Wake Forest), the offense didn't hold up its end of the bargain. On offense and special teams, we ended up giving up 33 turnovers, good for 5th highest in the country. The other teams ranked in the top 5 in the dubious statistical category of turnovers lost?

T-1. Washington State (2-11)
T-1. South Carolina (7-6)
3. Hawaii (7-7)
4. Wyoming (4-8)
T-5. Boston College (9-5)
T-5. North Texas (1-11)

There is a lot of suckitude on that list, including Washington State (wins over Portland State and Washington) and North Texas (Mean Green's lone win coming against I-A independent Western Kentucky). Those teams ranked in the top 5 not named Boston College finished with an average record of 4-9. Ouch. In short, if the Eagles didn't have a Top 10 defense with a penchant for creating turnovers, this season could have gone much, much worse.

I'll happily take 9 wins and look forward to this team's growth in 2009.

Below is a rather subjective look at the impact turnover margin had on our 14 games this season. You'll notice #1 and #2 on my list just so happen to be games that Dominique Davis started. Certainly the loss of Chris Crane hurt the Eagles down the stretch.

A Rather Subjective Ranking of the Impact Turnover Margin had on 2008 Eagles Football Results (margin in parenthesis)

  1. Vanderbilt 16, Boston College 14 (Eagles -3) - Defense didn't manufacture any points, BC didn't get any breaks, and the bowl streak is snapped
  2. Virginia Tech 30, Boston College 12 (Eagles -1) - If you consider the margin to be Rich Gunnell's fumble into the end zone (essentially a 12 point swing) or Davis's gift-6 to Orion Martin, the outcome of this game could have been very different
  3. North Carolina 45, Boston College 24 (Eagles -2) - The Eagles didn't show up in the second half of this one and Crane pressed
  4. Boston College 28, Maryland 21 (Eagles +2) - If Herzlich doesn't get a late second quarter INT and the Eagles take a lead to the locker room at halftime, this game could have went the Terps way
  5. Boston College 17, Notre Dame 0 (Eagles +5) - The Irish did not show up for this game
  6. Boston College 21, Kent State 0 (Eagles +3) - 3 turnovers allow Eagles to post the first of their nation leading 3 shutouts on the season
  7. Boston College 27, Florida State 17 (Eagles 0) - The Seminoles matched BC for number of turnovers, but Bowman's pick-6 was the momentum changer
  8. Georgia Tech 19, Boston College 16 (Eagles 0) - Missed field goals, not turnovers, were the difference in this game
  9. Boston College 34, Central Florida 7 (Eagles +1) - The outcome of this game was determined early in the second half after a lackluster opening 30 minutes
  10. Boston College 42, Rhode Island 0 (Eagles +4) - Very well could have been Eagles -4 and we would have still won this game
  11. Boston College 38, North Carolina State 31 (Eagles -3) - Turnovers kept the Pack in this game; however, the lopsided margin didn't come back to bite the Eagles in the end
  12. Boston College 24, Wake Forest 21 (Eagles -1) - Could have been much higher on the list minus some late-game Dominique Davis heroics
  13. Clemson 27, Boston College 21 (Eagles +2) - Another fluke game where turnover margin doesn't tell the whole story
  14. Boston College 28, Virginia Tech 23 (Eagles -4) - One of those anomalies where a special teams TD and a stifling defense won the game, despite spotting the Hokies offense 14 points