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How Important is the Turnover Margin in the Big 12?



Only two Big 12 champions have finished outside of the top four in turnover margin over the past decade. Six of those Big 12 champions finished at the very top of the table in the TO margin category.

Here’s a look.

Year Big 12 Champion 1st in T/O Margin 2nd in T/O Margin 3rd in T/O Margin 4th in T/O Margin
2016 Oklahoma Kansas State (13) Oklahoma State (11) West Virginia (4) Oklahoma (0)
2015 Oklahoma Oklahoma State (13) Texas (11) Oklahoma (9) West Virginia (9)
2014 TCU/Baylor TCU (18) Baylor (13) Kansas State (8) Kansas (3)
2013 Baylor Oklahoma State (15) Baylor (13) Oklahoma (9) Texas (4)
2012 Kansas State/Oklahoma Kansas State (19) West Virginia (7) Texas (5) TCU (3)
2011 Oklahoma State Oklahoma State (21) Kansas State (12) Baylor (5) Missouri (3)
2010 Oklahoma Oklahoma (14) Oklahoma State (12) Missouri (11) Iowa State (6)
2009 Texas Texas (9) Kansas State (7) Nebraska (5) OU/ISU/MIZZ (4)
2008 Oklahoma Oklahoma (23) Baylor (16) Texas Tech (8) Oklahoma State (5)
2007 Oklahoma Kansas (21) Missouri (13) Oklahoma (8) Texas A&M (7)
2006 Oklahoma Texas (9) Texas A&M (9) Colorado (8) Oklahoma State (5)

Since defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer was promoted in 2013, turnovers have been a recurring theme of his reign. “WTIB” was the saying every time the Cowboy defense took the field in 2015. That year, the Cowboys were No. 1 in the Big 12 in TO margin at +13. Two years before that, Spencer’s first season at the helm, OSU was +15. Before Spencer, Bill Young had OSU’s defenses racking up a margin as high as +21.

Point being, turnovers have been a big deal at OSU since before most current college seniors had even reached high school.

But there is a problem. OSU has finished tops in turnover margin among the Big 12 three times in the past 10 seasons (2015, 2013 and 2011). There has only been one conference title in that time, which highlights that the turnover margin can get you close but will not by any means guarantee a championship. Last year, Oklahoma finished even in turnover margin and won the conference outright by, let’s be honest, a pretty big margin.

To be fair though, let’s look at OSU’s average finish since the 2006 season, Gundy’s second in charge. When you compare the Cowboys’ average finish in Big 12 and average conference turnover margin ranking over the same time period, they are almost identical.

Year Conf. finish Rank in T/O Margin
2016 2 2
2015 2 1
2014 7 8
2013 3 1
2012 4 6
2011 1 1
2010 2 2
2009 3 7
2008 6 4
2007 6 7
2006 8 4
Avg. 4 3.9

Turnover margin is wildly important to a team’s success. Good teams force turnovers and turnovers equate to success. It’s seemingly a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but there is certainly a correlation.

Kansas is a great example of this. One of their only two appearances on this chart came in 2007. They finished +21 in that department and, unsurprisingly, had that impressive 12-1 (7-1 Big 12) season.

So where does this put OSU in 2017? It’s hard to know.

“Defensively we’re similar because we don’t have a player everyone is going to say just dominates, but we have a lot of speed,” Mike Gundy told Doug Gottlieb recently. “I think they’re really fast. Playing in our conference, it’s so important to have speed to cover from sideline to sideline. They need to force turnovers.”


The Cowboy defense could be worse than it was a year ago when it finished second in the conference in turnover margin. With so many inexperienced players getting time, if not starting roles, in 2017, it will be difficult to get back to double-digits. But that doesn’t mean a Big 12 championship is out of hand by any means. In 2012, OU finished ninth out of 10, going -4 in the takeaway margin but co-won the title.

That seems to be the exception rather than the rule, though, and as you can see in the chart above winning the conference turnover margin certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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