Turnovers, perhaps more than anything in football, have proven to be somewhat luck-related. Sure, there are teams that force a high number of turnovers, based on speed, instincts or hard hitting. And there are others that preach ball-control and take care of the ball well. But for the most part, turnovers are something that can swing wildly between season to season.
Looking for a team to fall back to the pack? Pick a team that had an incredible turnover margin the year before. Because the theory goes that, while said team could be in the positive again the next year, it's not likely they'll be as boffo in the category as the year before. The inverse is true of teams with terrible turnover margins. Maybe the ball will start bouncing their way a little bit better the next year.
And let's face it: turnovers are a great indicator of wins and losses. When Texas won the turnover battle a year ago, the Longhorns were 3-0. When they lost the turnover battle, they were 1-5. Texas's standard in the category was to finish a game plus-three in turnovers. The Longhorns didn't achieve that once a year ago, but the two times they forced three turnovers — Texas Tech and Florida Atlantic — were Texas wins. The Texas Tech game was the lone example of Texas winning a game where it lost the turnover battle. But Texas Tech forced only one more turnover (4-3) and Texas actually won the points-off-turnovers battle 10-7.
How much of forcing turnovers is luck? Consider the following: Baylor, Oklahoma State and Florida Atlantic fumbled the ball a combined 12 times against the Longhorns. Texas recovered three of those. And who can forget the image of Landry Jones's late fumble laying on the ground, only to skitter harmlessly out-of-bounds?
If the Longhorns were poor at taking the ball away, they were even worse at giving it to the other team. On five separate occasions — or almost half the season — Texas gave the ball away at least four times in a game. In three games, Texas had a chance to win or tie on a final possession, only to lose by way of turnover. Against Oklahoma, Aaron Williams fumbled a punt that would have set up a potential game-tying drive. Against Baylor, Marquise Goodwin fumbled the ball after picking up a key late first-down with Texas attempting to erase a 30-22 deficit. And in the final game of the season, trailing 24-17, a Garrett Gilbert pass was intercepted by Von Miller, closing out a late drive.
Add in the Iowa State loss, where the Longhorns lost the turnover battle 4-1 and the game 28-21, and it isn't hard to see why Texas could massively improve just by doing better in that category. Simply put: it was the difference between a 5-7 season and a 9-3 one, and one could certainly make the argument that UCLA's 5-2 advantage in turnovers largely facilitated the Longhorns' 34-12 loss. The Bruins led 13-3 at halftime, thanks to 10 points off turnovers, then took over in the second half.
Overall, the Longhorns were tied (with Memphis) for 115th nationally in turnover margin per game. The four teams below Texas had three, four, three and six wins, respectively. The four teams above the Longhorns had two, one, four and five wins. Memphis, which was tied with Texas, went 1-11.
Look at the other end of the spectrum, and all of the top-15 teams in turnover margin won at least six games (counting regular season and conference championship games), and 14 of the top-15 winning at least eight. Twenty FBS teams won at least 10 games a year ago. Half of those teams are represented in the top-15 in turnover margin. Only one of those 20 had a negative turnover margin: Utah, which was barely on the negative side by averaging minus-0.2 turnovers per game. In other words, the Utes averaged one fewer turnover than their opponents over the course of five games.
Texas was minus-1.1, or they lost the turnover battle by an average of 1.1 turnover per game. That just goes to show how much the number can fluctuates by year: Texas was plus-0.6 turnovers per game in 2009, good for a top-20 mark nationally. That's a good spot to be in. In 2010, the first team with a losing record didn't come in until No. 24 (Rutgers), and only two of the top-41 teams in turnover margin finished with more losses than wins.
All of that is a fancy way to say what we already know: that the nation's best teams win the turnover battle … or at least, they don't lose it.
From a statistical standpoint, it's a fairly safe guess that the Longhorns won't lose by that margin in 2012, which is a big reason to think that they'll improve, not just in this category, but in wins-and-losses as well.