Only four more conferences to go in our 2015 recap. This week we go over the Mountain West. Here are the 2015 Mountain West standings.
second time in three seasons, Hawaii finished winless in Mountain West play. The 2013 team also posted decent YPP numbers and improved to three league wins in 2014, so there is hope for new coach Nick Rolovich. So how did Hawaii go about losing all their conference games despite bad, but not horrendous YPP numbers? Close games are not the culprit, as Hawaii only lost a single one-score league game (by a single point at New Mexico). No, turnovers told the story for the Warriors. Hawaii turned the ball over 26 times in their eight conference games, while only forcing six of their own. Their in-conference turnover margin of -20 was by far the worst in the conference (13 worse than second to last Wyoming). We’ll discuss more about this historic margin later. I am not making the argument that Hawaii was a ‘good’ team in 2015. They were shut out in each of their first three road games (albeit against strong competition in Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Boise State). However, they did show signs of life early in the year by beating Colorado of the Pac-12 thanks to a little assist from some bumbling officials. If their turnover margin was merely bad and not historically poor, the Warriors probably would have scrounged up at least one and potentially a pair of conference wins.
Hawaii was not the only Mountain West team with a historical in-conference turnover margin in 2015. While Hawaii was struggling with a -20 margin, San Diego State was rolling through the conference en route to an undefeated record and league title with a +19 turnover margin (excluding their championship game win over Air Force). To get a handle on what one might expect from these two polar opposites going forward, I decided to look at teams with similar extreme in-conference turnover margins and see how they performed the following year. Here we’ll define extreme as averaging two more or two less turnovers per game that your opponent. For an eight game conference schedule, that would equate to a turnover margin of +16 or -16. Similarly, for a nine game schedule that would be either +18 or -18. Hawaii and San Diego State were certainly unique in 2015. Only ten other teams since 2005 posted such an extreme turnover margin (Arkansas State also fit the criteria, but like the Warriors and Aztecs, their follow up performance is unknown at this time). We’ll start with the teams with extreme negative turnover margins.
head coach (probably since he was in his first season), and that has worked out pretty well for the Cowboys. New Mexico State is a bit of an oddity, as they became a college football independent after their turnover plagued final season in the WAC. That is why there is no follow up conference record listed for them. As for the other three teams, well, they all improved their conference record by at least two games with Oklahoma State and Wyoming qualifying for bowls. For what it’s worth, New Mexico State’s overall record improved from 1-11 to 2-10, so each member of the quartet improved the next season. A pessimist might point out each team had nowhere to go but up after their poor showings and a statistician might highlight the small sample size here. However, another statistician might bring up something about regression (or in this case progression) to the mean and opine that an extremely poor turnover performance is unlikely to be repeated. As for me, I would set the over/under on league wins at two for Hawaii in 2016.
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Here are teams with extreme positive turnover margins.
head coach (to the NFL no less). For the most part, each team remained strong the next year with only Kansas State falling out of contention for a conference title. Each team qualified for a bowl game in the following season and two thirds of the teams declined by one game or less. An optimist would likely say these teams had nowhere to go but down after compiling their pristine conference records, and once again, a point can be made about small sample sizes. However, as with Hawaii, San Diego State is unlikely to see their extreme turnover margin repeated. The Aztecs did not throw a single interception in conference play last year! While I expect them to be contenders in the conference in 2016, expecting another undefeated, scorched earth run through the Mountain West is likely folly.