The Georgia squad with the best turnover margin since 1947: the undefeated, untied, and undisputed 1980 National Champions.
There was much discussion earlier this week on other UGA blogs regarding Georgia's turnover margin issue through its first four games. Since this problem is something I pointed out in July the Dogs certainly needed to avoid to be successful in '09, I wanted to add my two cents on the issue but take a historical approach.
Currently, of the 120 FBS teams, Georgia ranks 115th with a -2.25 turnover margin (3 takeaways, 12 turnovers), yet the Bulldogs have won three of their first four games. Even more telling is that of the 10 teams with a turnover margin of -1.67 or worse, all but two (Georgia and West Virginia) have losing records and the combined record of the 10 schools is a lowly 8-28 (3-26 discounting Georgia and West Virginia).
Apparently, for the most part, if you often turn the football over but have the inability to force turnovers, you lose games and vice-versa. I thought I'd look back in Georgia history and see if my ingenious theory/formula held true.
Complete "official" team statistics for Georgia football exist since 1947. For the 1947 and 2002-2008 seasons, statistics include bowl games. Since the 1947 campaign, over the last 62 seasons, the top 5 Bulldog teams in turnover margin:
+2.09 1980 (11 games- 44 takeaways/21 turnovers) 11-0 record
+2.00 1982 (11- 46/24) 11-0
+1.60 1948 (10- 42/26) 9-1
+1.55 1979 (11- 49/32) 6-5
+1.10 1968 (10- 41/30) 8-0-2
There is certainly and not surprisingly a correlation between a high turnover margin and winning. Of the top five, only in 1979 did Georgia not have a regular-season mark with no or just one loss. Might I add, the '79 team nearly won the SEC title and almost made a trip to the Sugar Bowl despite its record.
The bottom 5 in turnover margin:
-1.90 1951 (10 games- 33 takeaways, 52 turnovers) 5-5 record
-1.00 1977 (11- 34/45) 5-6
-0.64 1973 (11- 19/26) 6-4-1
-0.60 1956 (10- 21/27) 3-6-1
-0.55 1996 (11- 23/29) 5-6
Again, as expected, Georgia's five worst team in terms of turnover margin had losing records or were right at or just above .500. In fact, of the Bulldogs' 13 squads with the lowest turnover margin, all with a negative-0.27 margin or worse, nine had a losing or .500 record and none of the 13 had a better record than the 1953 team (-0.45) that had just a 7-4 mark. Let me add that of the 62 seasons being examined, only 15 had losing or .500 records (12 losing, three .500).
Has Georgia ever had a team with a positive turnover margin but a losing record or, as this season is seemingly shaping up, a squad with a negative turnover margin but was successful?
The 1952 Bulldogs finished 5-5 but were +0.82. Georgia's highest ranking turnover margin team with a losing record: the 1963 Bulldogs (4-5-1 record), who rank only tied for 21st of 62 teams with a +0.70 margin.
Since 1947, Georgia has never had a highly-successful team with a very low turnover margin. Last season's 10-3 squad was in the negative (-0.23) as was the 2004 team (-0.17), who went 10-2, and the SEC champions of 1959 (-0.10). However, as you can see, these three squads nearly gained as many turnovers as they lost. In fact, as it turns out, Georgia having a negative turnover margin is somewhat uncommon; of the 62 teams, 41 had a positive margin, 2 were even, and only 19 were in the negative. Spanning the entire 1947-2008 period of 679 games, Georgia forced 1,836 turnovers (944 interceptions, 892 fumbles) and lost 1,593 (755 interceptions, 838 fumbles) for an all-time turnover margin of +0.36 entering the '09 season. A side note:
Entering the 1977 season, the Bulldogs were ranked 19th in the AP preseason poll and predicted to finish with a fine 8-3 or 9-2 record by most of the pundits. Although quarterbacks Ray Goff and Matt Robinson had graduated from Georgia's 1976 SEC championship team along with six other starters on offense, running backs Kevin McLee (the school's soon-to-be all-time leading rusher) and Willie McClendon (the eventual single-season rushing leader) returned to spearhead the Bulldogs' feared veer offense.
Defensively, Georgia appeared particularly strong, returning All-Americans Ben Zambiasi and Bill Krug and All-SEC Ronnie Swoopes from the Junkyard Dogs (or "Runts," if you prefer) defense of 1976.
Similarly to the current 2009 team, turnovers unfortunately plagued the Bulldogs of '77 from the get go. In a 7-6 loss to Clemson in game two, Georgia's first loss in Athens to the Tigers in 18 games since 1914, the Bulldogs lost two critical fumbles and tossed two interceptions. The following week, Georgia lost a record six fumbles at South Carolina (remains a school record) but was able to overcome the turnovers and earn Coach Dooley's 100th victory by a 15-13 score. Somehow, some way, despite Georgia's frequent miscues, the Bulldogs stood at 4-2 heading into the second half of the season. However, their turnovers would soon begin to "catch up" with the Dogs.
First, Georgia was embarrassed at home versus Kentucky in a 33-0 loss in front of Prince Charles. On Homecoming, the Bulldogs defeated Richmond by only 16 points and were outgained in yardage, 288-301. Georgia ended the season against its "Big Three" by losing to the trio of Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. Against Auburn, the Bulldogs tied their school record by losing six fumbles for a second time.
Georgia ended its '77 season, a year that actually got off to a good start, with a 5-6 record--the Bulldogs' only losing campaign in Dooley's 25 years as head coach. The main factor in Georgia's demise: mistakes, primarily turnovers. The Bulldogs lost a school-record 35 fumbles for the season which remains 14 more than the second-most total since 1947 (21 in 1967). Georgia also threw 10 interceptions in only 137 pass attempts and 53 completions. You'll notice above the Bulldogs' second-worst turnover margin over the previous 62 seasons--a negative-1.00 in 1977--a season with a lot of promise but one that ended badly because Georgia, by the end of the year, was not able to overcome its turnovers.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying Georgia's current recurring issues with turnovers is going to eventually lead to a losing season for the Dogs, similarly to 32 years ago. In fact, I still stand by my preseason prediction of a 9-3 mark for 2009. However, my point is Georgia quickly needs to address its problem of not forcing turnovers but losing them with some regularity. The Bulldogs were able to overcome negative-2 turnover margins against South Carolina, Arkansas, and Arizona State. However, Georgia has been extremely fortunate and its luck is bound to eventually run out. A negative-2 or more turnover margin against LSU, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, or Georgia Tech will likely equate to a loss. There are only so many times mistakes and turnovers can be overcome time after time. Want proof? Just ask the 1977 team...