- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here's a question I bet you know the answer to: Which team has led the Pac-12/10 over the past three seasons in turnovers forced? And which team has led the conference in fewest giveaways?
Oregon fans just started shouting "Oregon" maniacally over and over again, as they are wont to do when any college football question is asked, and that makes them more than half-right in this case. Stanford fans looked up from the Wall Street Journal, took a nibble of their croissant and smugged (Cal fans tell me Stanford fans can make "smug" into a verb), "Stanford, of course."
Yes, we wish to annoy before we salute.
Oregon and Stanford have owned the conference for the past three years. The biggest reason is better players and better coaching. But turnover margin also tells a notable portion of the story.
It's just that the programs go at turnovers from a different lead direction.
Oregon has forced 106 turnovers over the past three seasons. It forced 40 in 2012, which led the nation. It forced 38 in 2010, which ranked second. It ranked 19th in the nation with 29 in 2011.
No other Pac-12 team forced more than 79 turnovers over the past three seasons.
Then there's Stanford. The Cardinal have surrendered 52 turnovers over the past three seasons. They gave away 18 last year, which tied for No. 1 in the Pac-12 and ranked 29th in the nation. They gave away 17 in 2011, which ranked first in the conference and 14th in the nation. Stanford gave away 17 in 2010, which ranked 16th in the nation.
No other Pac-12 team gave away fewer than 63 turnovers over the past three seasons.
Here's the cool kicker, though: Guess who that 79 and 63 are?
That's right: Stanford tied Arizona State for second with 79 forced turnovers over the past three years. And Oregon's 63 turnovers over the past three seasons ranks second to Stanford.
Oregon is plus-43 and Stanford plus-27 in turnover margin over the past three years, which concluded with BCS bowls for each. The next best Pac-12 teams are Arizona State (plus-9) and Washington (plus-8). Utah, which led the Pac-12 in 2011 with a plus-10 margin, is plus-14 over the past two seasons.
College football analyst Phil Steele is well-known for foreseeing teams' turnover margins reducing to the mean -- turnovers=turnaround! -- and thereby swinging teams in negative and positive directions from the previous season. His numbers are compelling.
But most teams aren't Stanford and Oregon, winners of 35 and 36 games over the past three seasons.
If you want to play around with these numbers -- or any others -- this is an excellent place to do it.
Here's how the Pac-12 stacks up over the past three years:
Oregon (106 takeaways, 63 giveaways): +43
Stanford (79, 52): +27
Arizona State (79, 70): +9
Washington (75, 67): +8
Oregon State (74, 70): +4
USC (75, 74): +1
California (65, 71): -6
UCLA (71, 80): -9
Arizona (61, 71): -10
Washington State (60, 74): -14
As noted, Utah is plus-14 over the past two season, while Colorado is minus-23, including minus-19 in 2012, which tied for second worst in the nation.