Ask any coach what the biggest keys to winning are, and it usually won't take him long to say turnovers.
Win the turnover battle, and your chances of winning the game go way up. At least that's the conventional wisdom. Iowa is doing its best to refute that this season.
The Hawkeyes are one of the best teams in the country in creating a turnover edge, yet they're 4-6 on the season and could finish 4-8 unless they can upset either Michigan on the road this week or Nebraska at home in the finale. Iowa leads the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-11 and is tied for 12th nationally in that statistic.
Let's look at the other teams who are among the top 15 in the FBS in turnover margin: Kansas State, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Boise State, Ohio, Fresno State, Rutgers, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State, Oregon, SMU and Oregon State. Combined record of those teams: 115-25. You've also got teams ranked Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 17, 20 and 22 in the BCS standings in that group, as well as two teams (Kent State and Boise State) ranked in one of the two major polls. SMU (5-5) is the only team in that bunch without a winning record, but the Mustangs have also given away 19 turnovers, compared to just nine for Iowa.
Consider also how Big Ten teams have fared when leading the conference in that statistic. Ohio State was No. 1 in 2010 and won a share of the league title, while another co-champion, Wisconsin, was No. 2. The top three finishers in turnover margin last year were Wisconsin (won Big Ten title), Michigan (won Sugar Bowl) and Michigan State (won Legends Division).
But it is not unprecedented for big turnover margins to not equal great success. Minnesota led the FBS in turnover margin in 2006 but finished just 6-7. Iowa led the Big Ten in 2007 and went just 6-6, the last time a Kirk Ferentz-coached team didn't make a bowl.
"It's not totally unusual but a little unusual," Ferentz said today of the turnover/wins discrepancy. "The one thing I would say is it's hard to have a good football team and a winning, successful season if you're poor in that area. ... But if you do a good job in that area, it doesn't necessarily guarantee success."
Iowa is proving that this year, and turning conventional wisdom on its ear.