When analysts break down and predict football games, they spend so much time looking at personnel and match-ups, and that’s appropriate. However, football games quite often hinge on turnovers — who forces more, where on the field they happen, and so on. With that in mind, here’s a look at each team in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division, how it has done in past seasons, and where it might be headed in the turnover battle this year.
2008-12: +22, +7, +2, -12, +15
Want to know why the Gators went from 7-6 in 2011 to 11-2 last year? It’s simple: a 27-turnover turn-around in one season. The Gators lost the turnover battle twice all year: Georgia (-3) and Louisville (-2), and lost those games 17-9 and 37-26, respectively.
It helped that the Gators threw just five interceptions and lost 10 fumbles all last season. Meanwhile, it was a true team effort by the UF defense: 11 players accounted for the team’s 20 interceptions, and nine players chipped in to record 10 fumble recoveries.
The Gators have not only one of the SEC’s best secondaries this year, but also one of its more talented defensive lines. Between that, and the fact that coach Will Muschamp is an outstanding defensive mind, UF should force the issue on defense again.
The question is whether Florida’s offense can hold onto the ball as well as it did last year. The Gators won’t likely ask Jeff Driskel to throw much more than the 245 times he did a year ago, and turnovers are more likely to come through the air than on the ground. But UF also had trouble protecting Driskel at times last season (39 sacks), and so he could cough some up on blind-side hits this season.
2013 forecast: Expect UF to finish with a positive mark again, but something below last season’s figure.
2008-12: -3, -16, +10, +7, +11
The Bulldogs got a lot of pressure on quarterbacks last season (32 sacks) with guys like Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones, but both were lost to the NFL. Still, Georgia’s 13 interceptions wasn’t an especially gaudy total for that kind of talent. Where the Bulldogs got fortunate, though, is pouncing on all but four of their 21 forced fumbles, and that kind of success rate is highly unlikely to happen again.
Offensively, Georgia didn’t cough it up an inordinate number of times (19) and quarterback Aarron Murray (10 interceptions) is one of America’s best. It’s unlikely that UGA will cough it up much more than it did a year ago.
2013 forecast: About the same as last season
2008-12: +5, +2, -4, +1, -4
UK hasn’t strayed far from zero either way in the last five seasons, and the Wildcats neither turned the ball over, or picked up too many miscues in return last season. Kentucky intercepted just five passes all last season, and forced just 10 fumbles — how much worse might things have been had they not recovered eight of them?
Coach Mark Stoops figures to improve the defense, so you’d expect to see more than the 13 forced turnovers of last season. However, the ‘Cats figure to pass it a good bit more than they did last season (UK threw just 47.9 percent of the time) and given UK’s issues at quarterback, that might not necessarily be a good thing.
2013 forecast: About the same as last season?
2008-12: -4, +4, +11, +3, -1
The Tigers didn’t pick off a lot of passes last season, but did recover 16 fumbles. However, the defense has neither Sheldon Richardson nor Zaviar Gooden, both of whom are now in the NFL, so things may take a turn in the wrong direction this year with a unit that probably doesn’t scare a lot of people.
Offensively, the Tigers should be better at quarterback with either a healthy James Franklin, or maybe even Maty Mauk, instead of the sometimes interception-prone Corbin Berkstresser. However, MU caught some breaks by losing just eight of the 22 fumbles it put on the ground, so the Tigers’ runners need to be better with ball security.
2013 forecast: About the same as last season
2008-12: -11, -4, 0, +5, +4
With Jadeveon Clowney leading an elite defensive line and with a quality secondary behind it, the Gamecocks should force a lot of turnovers — and probably recover more fumbles (nine) than they did a year ago (they forced 26). Expect that number of 24 to rise this season.
On the other side, coach Steve Spurrier has a pair of quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson who know how to take care of the ball. Shaw played through painful shoulder problems all last year, and now that it’s healed, it should help ball security also.
2013 forecast: Expect the Gamecocks to wind up plus-10 or better
2008-12: +2, +3, +4, 0, -5
Tyler Bray and Justin Worley combined for 14 picks last year; it’s hard to say where that number heads this year. The Vols will probably run the ball more because that’s where their talent best fits, but not having a great option at quarterback could also mean more picks. It’s a wait-and-see on offense.
Defensively, the Vols were horrid, but got a little unlucky when they forced 19 fumbles and only picked up five. UT doesn’t figure to be very good on defense once again, but it can’t be worse and are probably due for a break or two it didn’t catch a year ago.
2013 forecast: Expect a number close to zero
2008-12: +9, +3, -4, +1, 0
One of the most remarkable things about Vandy’s 9-4 season a year ago is that the Commodores didn’t get any real breaks in the turnover category. Vandy’s previous last winning season was heavily tied to its plus-9 ratio that year, and the fact that coach James Franklin’s team didn’t overachieve or catch any special breaks here tells you it was a legit season.
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers threw just five picks a year ago, and even as accurate as Austyn Carta-Samuels has been in practice, it’ll be hard to top that. VU lost 13 fumbles a year ago, neither a really high or low number, so that may not much change.
However, it’s almost a cinch that VU will pick up more turnovers; its secondary is one of the league’s best, and it has plenty of pass-rushers to put heat on opposing QBs. Of the 26 fumbles Vandy forced last year, it recovered just seven. That luck is almost certain to turn back around.
Forecast: Expect a positive number, perhaps even one that reaches double-digits