How Kansas State Wins Football Games: Winning Turnover Battle


Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

We mention it over and over – Bill Snyder teams play smart football. They tackle well, minimize penalties, and don’t make mistakes. And it’s easy to say that in this season or that year the Wildcats did a good job by only taking four penalties a game or limiting yards after contact. However, ESPN dug up an excellent stat this morning demonstrating exactly what Snyderball is about: over the past three years, K-State has been +36 in turnover ratio.

This margin leads the Big 12, and only Oklahoma State at +33 was even close. Next was TCU, which went +14 from 2010-2012 while scooping up fumbles in the inferior Mountain West. No other team in the league had a double digit ratio.

Statistics like this are what make the Wildcats so good in spite of “inferior talent.” The average BCS bowl team has more players likely to be drafted than Kansas State. Maybe that means they have better players. But there are a couple moving parts here. Defenses need luck to generate turnovers, but they also need to create them. Whether that’s due to tremendous coverage in the secondary, linebackers shooting past linemen for sacks, or simply hitting running backs really damn hard, it requires playing better than one’s opponents. Conversely, the offense must protect its quarterback, get its receivers open, and have a damn good running back (which is why I’m still convinced Chris Harper will have a place in the NFL for several years). Being good enough to put opponents in an early hole so that they feel pressured to play catch-up doesn’t hurt either.

What’s remarkable is that even the 2010 campaign when the Wildcats finished 7-6 and 3-5 in the Big 12, they were still a solid +4 (partially due to forcing Garret Gilbert into five interceptions when they played Texas), and no one was marveling about the team’s talent that year. They were then +12 last year and +20 in the 2012 season. Yet they play with a quarterback who “can’t” play the position in the NFL and a set of LBs and DEs that are fast but “too small” to play as well. Bill Snyder has been finding/teaching his players that even though they may not have the best vertical in the nation, they can play smarter and better than anyone else on the field. And that’s why they finished 11-2 this year with a Big 12 championship.