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The Luck of the Badgers

Was Chris Borland more lucky than results might indicate?
Was Chris Borland more lucky than results might indicate?

Unlike most people, I'm a fan of narrative in sports. I'm a writer at heart. I like arcs, characters, storylines and all that fun stuff. And last year, the narrative was simple. If it wasn't for two unlucky plays, we'd be facing LSU for all of the proverbial Tostitos.

Now what if I told you that despite the results against Sparty and Ohio State, the Badgers were a lucky team?

In reading a Phil Steele article, the Badgers shown themselves as one of the teams where there was a subpar yards per play in comparison to their total defense. Now this in and of itself is not an indicator of luck more than style as the only team that really wasn't run-oriented was Tennessee, and they were forced away from their September identity when injuries ravaged the offense. (Army was the leader, and they're an option team. Option teams always shorten games no matter the talent on the other side of the ball.) But it led me to some deeper thought.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, there is a positive correlation between a team's turnover margin and their win-loss record. (Western Kentucky finished second on the list, and while they were at -3 in turnover margin overall, they were at a +5 in the eight game run where they went 7-1 and tied for the Sun Belt crown.) We all know that turnover margin is a fluid statistic from year to year. And when you're looking at the run-oriented teams whose defensive strength is in a shorter game, winning the turnover battle is a good road to getting to 10 wins.

The Badgers joined Boise State, Michigan, and Stanford in the run-oriented offense, fewer plays on defense, and winning the turnover battle leading to 10 wins or more. In fact, they all won 11.

So the question is, are the Badgers in line for a regression?

Badgers Turnover Margin (2007-2011) via

Season Turnovers Generated Turnovers Lost Turnover Margin
2011 26 10 +16
2010 23 9 +14
2009 27 24 +3
2008 22 31 -9
2007 19 21 -2

The Badgers have been more consistent than most in turnovers generated per season. I mean, a highly unscientific survey of the top 10 teams from last year's turnover margin have an average difference of turnover generation of 17.73 between their high number and their low. So regarding the regression question? The chance the Badgers will have a season of lucky ball hawking, and generate 35 to 40 turnovers precludes me answering the question.

But, as I am twirling down the rabbit hole, a new question pops up. Just how badly will the offense regress? Danny O' Brien's shortened season at Maryland generated as many interceptions as the Badgers had turnovers last season. Looking at Matt Canada's run as an playcaller, he's averaged about 22 turnovers as an offensive coordinator. (Again, highly unscientific. He's never had as physically talented of an offense as he's going to get this year.) But there is a scenario where the Badgers are going to have a stark drop off in turnover margin. Will they get to 8 fumbles lost and 12 interceptions? That's very feasible. And that's where we could see the luck changing.

So basically, we're coming through a run of spectacular amounts of offensive efficiency and luck management which has helped bring an above average defense to back-to-back Rose Bowls. I know it's weird that we've gone through an article about the defense that ends in praise of Scott Tolzien, Russell Wilson, John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White. But here we are.

The Badgers defense could be considered lucky on account of the offense being so good.