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Turnover Tale: Boise State's Secret Ingredient

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Cornerback Jamar Taylor intercepts a pass against Michigan State last August. Boise State ranks third in the FBS with 93 picks during the last five seasons. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.
Cornerback Jamar Taylor intercepts a pass against Michigan State last August. Boise State ranks third in the FBS with 93 picks during the last five seasons. Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images.

With all the advanced metrics and statistical analysis being applied to today’s college game, you’d figure MIT would’ve found a way to break into the BCS rankings by now.

But all the analytics and metrics aside, turnover differential — the good ol’ give and take — still might be the most important and telling gridiron statistic season in and season out. And if it’s not, it’s certainly in the top five.

After rummaging through the wealth of data (some of it is here and here), we broke down the last five seasons (2008-12) of fumbles, foibles and interceptions to see how turnovers have impacted the 12 schools which will compete in the Mountain West Conference this coming season.

 Here are the MWC highlights and lowlights, starting with …

The Good

• Only one-third of the dozen Mountain West teams have had a positive turnover differential during the five-year span, beginning with Boise State at a plus-64 and continuing with Air Force (+27), San Jose State (+6) and Wyoming (+2).

• Boise’s robust plus-64, in fact, tops all 120 programs (FBS in each of the five seasons), and so it’s no coincidence that the Broncos also own the top FBS winning percentage (61-5, .924) over that span, ranking just ahead of Alabama. The Crimson Tide is 61-7, including three BCS titles, and is a plus-59 in the turnover department.

• The Broncos, with 157 takeaways and 93 giveaways, are one of only four FBS schools with a plus-50-or-better differential — Alabama, Ohio State (+56) and Oregon (+50) are the others — and their 157 turnovers gained (93 interceptions and 64 fumble recoveries) rank second only to Oregon’s 162.

• With its 93 picks since the start of the 2008 season, BSU ranks third behind Florida (96) and Oregon (94). By comparison, Broncos QBs have been intercepted only 37 times during the same time frame.

• Of the turnover stats, fumble recoveries are the most random, but the odds, fate, luck or whatever you want to call it has been on San Jose State’s side (71 recovered fumbles over the past five seasons, second to Rutgers’ 73).

• New Mexico also ranks in the FBS top 10 with 65 fumble recoveries (tied for eighth) during that span, but it hasn’t helped the Lobos much on the scoreboard as they’ve notched only 11 wins during the last five campaigns — tied with Akron for the fewest in the FBS.

• On the flip side, UNLV has lost only 32 fumbles in 62 games over that span, tied with Rutgers (again) for the fewest in the FBS ranks since the opening kickoff of 2008.

• That low number of lost fumbles has propelled the Rebels to the top of the MWC and ninth in the FBS ranks in terms of fewest giveaways (91) during the five-year period. Boise State is right behind with 93 turnovers lost.

The Bad

• Eight MWC programs have posted turnover ratios in the red during the last five seasons, beginning with Nevada (minus-1) and working down through UNLV (-7), San Diego State (-9), Utah State (-10), New Mexico (-12), Colorado State (-15), Hawaii (-22) and Fresno State (-31).

• Of the MWC eight, Nevada (42-24), SDSU (32-31) and Fresno (36-29) are the only teams to overcome their charitable ways and post winning records since the ’08 season began.

• Fresno State is the true outlier of the bunch, though, as only eight FBS programs overall have had a worse five-year turnover differential, and seven of those eight are well below .500 during that span. Pac-12 doormat Washington State has been the nation’s worst with a negative-46 turnover differential — fully befitting its 12-49 record during the five seasons.

• Even factoring in last season’s 35 takeaways and plus-15 differential, a lack of takeaways has been the Bulldogs’ main issue (85 total, including just 37 fumble recoveries from 2008-12, 116th among the 120 FBS programs).

• UNLV has been even less opportunistic, ranking last among the MWC programs with 84 takeaways during the span. And while the Bulldogs have struggled to come up with opponent fumbles, the Rebels have only intercepted 35 passes — ranking 118th in the FBS — since the start of the ’08 season.

• New Mexico also ranks in the FBS bottom 10 in interceptions with 37 during the last five seasons.

• As for giveaways, no FBS program can match Hawaii’s 155 turnovers from 2008-12. Idaho is second with 148.

• The Rainbow Warriors’ charitable ways have negated their 133 takeaways and then some, placing the program’s 32-34 record over the span under a better light. The Rainbow Warriors have been giving all-around, ranking in the FBS’ top six in terms of the most fumbles lost (tied for third-most with 76) and interceptions thrown (sixth with 79).