Philadelphia, PA – After dropping its first three games both straight-up and against the spread, Houston came into last Thursday's contest at SMU riding high on a three-game winning streak, also both SU and ATS.
The Cougars had outscored their opponents by an average margin of 39-17 in their three victories. Their opponent, SMU, had lost four of its last five games, including two at home.
Houston was favored by only four points, primarily because of its slow start, and the thought was the Mustangs would come out fired up after getting beat the prior Saturday by previously winless Tulane.
The game did not play out as expected as SMU opened up a 45-17 lead early in the third quarter. The Mustangs wound up winning, 72-42, despite getting outgained by almost 200 yards.
The reason Houston lost was its propensity to turn the ball over - nine times to be exact. SMU had just two miscues.
That contest made me think how turnovers affect games, so I decided to pay close attention to Saturday's FBS matchups to see how it played out. What I found was extremely predictable.
Teams with fewer turnovers than their opponents during Week 8 won 38 of 43 contests. That is an amazing 88 percent winning percentage. Furthermore, those clubs with the better turnover differential covered 36 of the 43 games for a winning percentage of 84 percent.
Another perfect example was LSU's 24-19 win (and cover) versus Texas A&M. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed just 11-of-29 passes for 97 yards, but he still led his club to victory because he did not turn the ball over.
On the other hand, Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel threw three interceptions, and despite leading Texas A&M to 410 total yards (94 more than LSU), the Aggies scored just one touchdown until the final 90 seconds of play.
Overall, Texas A&M was minus-five in turnover differential. The Aggies are now minus-11 in their last three games and they have failed to cover in each one.
Despite knocking off Ole Miss, 30-27, on Oct. 6, the Aggies turned the ball over six times, turning what could have been an easy cover into an ATS defeat. The following week they were giving nine points to Louisiana Tech and only won by two because they were minus-two in the turnover department, including a pick-six thrown by Manziel.
Figuring out which teams will turn the ball over fewer times than their opponent is something that is very hard to do. If it was easy, then almost every gambler would be a millionaire.
Still, there are a few ways to help bettors in this department.
First, take a look at the top teams in turnover margin. The 10 clubs at the top of the list (Mississippi State, Ohio, Alabama, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Rutgers, Kansas State, Oregon State, Boise State and Florida) have lost a combined three games this season. Seven of those 10 are unbeaten and four are ranked in the Top 10 in the most recent AP Top 25.
Moreover, nine of the 10 squads are over .500 ATS with Ohio the lone money burner at 2-4. The other nine clubs are a combined 43-14-1. That's a 75 percent winning percentage.
Second, look at the top 11 teams in turnovers gained and one will see a few familiar names, such as Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech and Rutgers. Five different clubs are on this list that were not in the top 10 in turnover margin, Overall, these 11 teams are a combined 44-27-1 ATS for a 62 percent winning percentage.
Third, look at the top 10 teams in turnovers lost. Eight of them are the same from the turnover margin list with Indiana and West Virginia replacing Louisiana Tech and Boise State. The combined ATS record from these 10 squads is 42-20, good for a 68 percent winning percentage.
Remember to keep all of these teams in mind when making your wagers in the upcoming weeks.
AFTER SEVEN WEEKS
My overall record through Week 8 is 60-50 after a 10-5 week. The five-star plays remain at 9-6, the three-star selections are 12-14, the two-star picks stand at 24-18 and the one-star plays are 15-12.
As a reminder, the five-star plays are when my personal plays coincide with my power rating plays (games with at least a five-point differential between my line and the actual line). The three-star choices are my personal picks, the two-star plays are the games the power rating system picks and the one-star plays are my personal secondary selections.
THIS WEEK'S JEFF FRANK "DIRTY DOZEN"
1) Alabama, 107.5; 2) Oregon, 105.5; 3) Oklahoma, 103.5; 4) Florida State, 102; 5-T) Florida and USC, 101; 7) LSU, 99.5; 8) South Carolina, 98.5; 9-T) Kansas State, Notre Dame, and Georgia, 96; 12) Clemson, 95.5
(The Top 12 is not a reflection of a given team's won-loss record. It is based on power ratings used to predict spreads for the upcoming week. At the beginning of the season, all 124 FBS teams are assigned a power number, which changes on a week-to-week basis depending on the results of the previous week.)