NCAA FBS Forced Fumbles: 2006-2010

Recovering a fumble appears to be a stochastic process (i.e., a random event). This has been analyzed many times and the conclusion remains the same. Consider this excellent excerpt from Pro Football Prospectus 2005 (New Orleans chapter) and listed on the Football Outsiders basics page:

Stripping the ball is a skill. Holding onto the ball is a skill. Pouncing on the ball as it is bouncing all over the place is not a skill. There is no correlation whatsoever between the percentage of fumbles recovered by a team in one year and the percentage they recover in the next year. The odds of recovery are based solely on the type of play involved, not the teams or any of their players.

Note that forced fumbles (FF) aren't exactly a stochastic process: "Stripping the ball is a skill." FF can be the result of physical, violent play where the offensive player is roughly separated from the ball:

FF can also be the result of intentionally stripping the ball out of the offensive player's hands. In a 1-on-1 setting, this can be risky as the ballcarrier may coast on by your tackleflying headbutt.

Stripping the ball is best employed (i.e., lowest risk of breakaway from a missed strip) in a gang-tackling situation.(1:21 mark)

Of course, down+back+kick-button can also produce desired results.

Everyone knows that turnovers can over/underrate a defense. But FF turns out to be quite important. How important? A 2007 study on NFL teams (Advanced NFL Stats) showed that FF demonstrated a strong correlation to team wins and defensive points allowed.

So what defenses are helping to liberate the pigskin? Let's take a look at FF in the college ranks from 2006 to 2010. More after the jump.

Team forced fumbles (FF) since 2006.
  Team FF.06 FF.07 FF.08 FF.09 FF.10 FF.Avg
1 Texas 21 14 16 16 20 17.4
2 Missouri 17 23 16 13 15 16.8
3 Iowa State 11 15 21 20 16 16.6
4 Oklahoma 13 12 20 17 17 15.8
5 Oregon State 18 15 15 15 15 15.6
6 Georgia Tech 12 18 13 16 17 15.2
7 Purdue 22 14 9 14 17 15.2
8 Buffalo 11 16 25 12 11 15.0
9 New Mexico 15 10 16 16 18 15.0
10 USC 12 20 9 19 15 15.0
11 East Carolina 13 19 15 19 8 14.8
12 Hawai'i 19 14 15 10 16 14.8
13 Southern Mississippi 12 13 16 21 12 14.8
14 Virginia Tech 15 11 20 13 14 14.6
15 Kentucky 25 12 17 8 10 14.4
16 LSU 13 15 14 10 20 14.4
17 San Jose State 19 11 11 19 12 14.4
18 Temple 12 14 15 16 15 14.4
19 Kent State 18 10 12 18 13 14.2
20 Middle Tennessee 18 15 12 16 9 14.0
21 Navy 12 8 17 15 18 14.0
22 Nevada 14 14 14 11 17 14.0
23 West Virginia 13 20 13 8 16 14.0
24 California 9 13 16 11 20 13.8
25 Ohio State 12 10 15 13 19 13.8
26 Texas Tech 17 14 12 14 12 13.8
27 Troy 13 18 11 14 13 13.8
28 Idaho 13 17 6 13 19 13.6
29 Oklahoma State 18 10 14 11 15 13.6
30 Pittsburgh 17 15 9 14 13 13.6
31 Western Michigan 12 15 9 17 15 13.6
32 Army 11 14 12 11 19 13.4
33 South Carolina 12 12 13 12 18 13.4
34 Central Michigan 17 14 11 9 15 13.2
35 Houston 14 12 16 12 12 13.2
36 Louisville 20 19 9 9 9 13.2
37 Northwestern 11 13 14 18 10 13.2
38 Rice 20 12 13 9 12 13.2
39 Tulane 13 16 12 8 17 13.2
40 Utah 17 12 12 12 13 13.2
41 Rutgers 14 14 12 11 14 13.0
42 Tulsa 7 14 19 15 10 13.0
43 Wake Forest 10 14 18 7 16 13.0
44 Washington 12 10 7 21 15 13.0
45 Clemson 16 11 12 14 11 12.8
46 Kansas 17 8 16 12 11 12.8
47 Maryland 10 19 9 10 16 12.8
48 Minnesota 16 9 16 13 10 12.8
49 North Carolina 10 13 13 17 11 12.8
50 Stanford 9 15 16 8 16 12.8
51 Florida State 7 11 20 11 14 12.6
52 Fresno State 13 11 11 14 14 12.6
53 Ohio 10 12 12 17 12 12.6
54 Texas A&M 11 18 9 10 15 12.6
55 Boise State 11 8 13 11 19 12.4
56 Illinois 11 10 16 11 14 12.4
57 Indiana 14 16 15 12 5 12.4
58 Toledo 9 14 10 18 11 12.4
59 Vanderbilt 14 9 16 9 14 12.4
60 Air Force 7 13 19 12 10 12.2
61 Michigan 15 16 15 9 6 12.2
62 Mississippi 15 8 13 13 12 12.2
63 Oregon 7 12 12 13 17 12.2
64 SMU 12 15 11 16 7 12.2
65 UCLA 12 16 12 13 8 12.2
66 Arkansas 11 13 9 12 15 12.0
67 Boston College 17 12 12 9 10 12.0
68 Michigan State 15 17 10 5 13 12.0
69 UNLV 16 13 7 12 12 12.0
70 Akron 12 13 14 10 10 11.8
71 Arizona State 14 12 10 14 9 11.8
72 TCU 12 8 14 10 15 11.8
73 UCF 9 10 8 17 15 11.8
74 Washington State 13 13 6 15 12 11.8
75 Western Kentucky 9 13 13 11.7
76 North Carolina State 6 13 13 9 17 11.6
77 Wyoming 15 9 9 15 10 11.6
78 Connecticut 6 11 9 13 18 11.4
79 Kansas State 17 12 9 8 11 11.4
80 Mississippi State 13 12 10 8 14 11.4
81 Northern Illinois 11 8 14 14 10 11.4
82 Syracuse 13 8 11 13 12 11.4
83 Colorado State 7 15 11 9 14 11.2
84 Florida International 9 14 10 6 17 11.2
85 Memphis 13 13 11 13 6 11.2
86 Nebraska 15 7 11 14 9 11.2
87 UAB 17 9 6 14 10 11.2
88 BYU 8 3 19 13 12 11.0
89 Louisiana Tech 14 11 11 8 11 11.0
90 Miami (Florida) 11 13 10 11 10 11.0
91 South Florida 15 11 9 13 7 11.0
92 Arizona 12 8 15 10 9 10.8
93 Auburn 14 13 6 9 12 10.8
94 Ball State 12 9 8 14 11 10.8
95 Baylor 10 10 11 12 11 10.8
96 Bowling Green 6 18 7 12 11 10.8
97 Iowa 8 16 10 14 6 10.8
98 Alabama 17 8 11 8 9 10.6
99 Colorado 14 10 8 13 8 10.6
100 Duke 11 11 11 8 12 10.6
101 Florida Atlantic 11 15 6 10 11 10.6
102 Cincinnati 10 12 9 9 12 10.4
103 Arkansas State 7 9 9 11 15 10.2
104 Louisiana-Lafayette 9 11 12 13 6 10.2
105 Tennessee 7 11 6 18 9 10.2
106 Wisconsin 15 8 8 11 9 10.2
107 Marshall 12 8 10 9 11 10.0
108 Miami (Ohio) 8 10 8 11 13 10.0
109 Penn State 10 17 10 8 4 9.8
110 Eastern Michigan 10 12 8 7 10 9.4
111 Georgia 12 10 6 9 10 9.4
112 Notre Dame 11 12 9 7 8 9.4
113 Utah State 11 12 10 11 3 9.4
114 Louisiana-Monroe 15 6 9 9 6 9.0
115 Florida 9 11 8 10 6 8.8
116 Virginia 9 9 10 9 7 8.8
117 North Texas 8 12 5 8 9 8.4
118 UTEP 7 7 10 8 10 8.4
119 New Mexico State 8 7 8 11 7 8.2
120 San Diego State 8 7 11 5 8 7.8

Texas sits atop the rankings. The Longhorns have pretty consistently run a great defense out on the field, as evidenced by their Defensive FEI rankings since '07 of 42nd, 3rd, 10th, and 31st. And with basically carte blanche to the states' top recruits, they should field a great defense.

It's also interesting to note that Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida do NOT force that many fumbles. Duke and UVa. pull up the rear in the ACC and are sub-100 nationally. USC, Purdue, and East Carolina rank in the top quarter or so of FF, but also demonstrate some of the largest variances. ECU really dropped off this past year, as they only had 3 retuning starters on the 2010 season. And we stole their DC.

Florida State demonstrates one of the largest variations in FF during the 5 year period (not shown), with an '06 minimum of 6 and an '08 maximum of 20. The most consistent FBS team is Baylor, though they average slightly less (10.8) than the mean number of FF (12.3) over the 5-year period.

If you're a TN-regular or upright thinking football-type, you may be asking yourself, "But what about the number of plays a defensive unit sees?" Opponents that can score quickly, run up-tempo schemes, or if your offense turns the ball over frequently, puts their defense in a position of having to take a high number of snaps. In 2010, FSU's defense saw the #3 most snaps of all FBS defenses. Consider that FSU ran the 100th-ranked offensive pace (i.e., very slow), and you realize that Jimbo and Co. was trying his best to shelter his new scheme and young personnel. OU and other teams aimed to force our defense to take as many snaps as possible. FSU was able to right the ship, though, in the 2nd half of the BYU game. After seeing no-huddle for much of the first half and keeping the game close (13-10) going into halftime, FSU would go on a reel of 8 consecutive quarters of 0-point ball (2 vs. BYU, 4 vs. WF, and 2 @ UVa).

Back to that Advanced NFL Stats article: The rate of defensive forced fumbles (i.e., FF per defensive play) proved to be the strongest variable toward determining defensive ranking and total team wins. We know that the amount of plays a defense sees can reflect their own team's offensive pace (i.e., HUNH-offenses will increase the number of possessions (and thus plays) for both teams at play). So, taking into account the number of snaps a defense sees, how does FSU's rate compare? Who has the #1 rate of FF? In 2010? Since 2006?

Team forced fumbles (FF) on percentage of total defensive plays since 2006.
  Team FFpP.06 FFpP.07 FFpP.08 FFpP.09 FFpP.10 FFpP.Avg
1 Texas 2.78% 1.49% 1.89% 1.74% 2.55% 2.05%
2 Iowa State 1.41% 1.85% 2.6% 2.15% 1.81% 1.97%
3 Oregon State 2.06% 1.68% 1.86% 1.79% 1.74% 1.83%
4 Buffalo 1.47% 1.83% 2.6% 1.52% 1.33% 1.78%
5 Georgia Tech 1.32% 2.09% 1.53% 1.93% 1.99% 1.77%
6 Army 1.43% 1.57% 1.66% 1.52% 2.52% 1.74%
7 USC 1.44% 2.29% 1.13% 2.07% 1.7% 1.74%
8 Missouri 1.97% 2.22% 1.46% 1.39% 1.62% 1.73%
9 New Mexico 1.73% 1.1% 1.99% 1.83% 2.03% 1.73%
10 Virginia Tech 2.02% 1.15% 2.52% 1.56% 1.57% 1.73%
11 Kent State 2.31% 1.19% 1.49% 2.09% 1.55% 1.72%
12 Temple 1.51% 1.69% 1.67% 1.87% 1.84% 1.72%
13 San Jose State 2.21% 1.27% 1.41% 2.39% 1.28% 1.7%
14 LSU 1.7% 1.64% 1.65% 1.1% 2.43% 1.69%
15 Ohio State 1.5% 1.2% 1.77% 1.57% 2.41% 1.69%
16 Oklahoma 1.52% 1.26% 2.01% 1.96% 1.7% 1.69%
17 Purdue 2.21% 1.4% 1.09% 1.66% 2% 1.68%
18 Southern Mississippi 1.41% 1.46% 1.83% 2.21% 1.44% 1.68%
19 Louisville 2.45% 2.33% 1.2% 1.17% 1.11% 1.66%
20 Kentucky 2.83% 1.23% 2.03% 0.95% 1.22% 1.65%
21 Tulane 1.6% 1.9% 1.6% 1% 2.17% 1.65%
22 Pittsburgh 2.08% 1.86% 1.06% 1.67% 1.55% 1.64%
23 West Virginia 1.56% 2.3% 1.44% 0.92% 1.99% 1.64%
24 Navy 1.48% 0.86% 2.1% 1.75% 2.01% 1.63%
25 Nevada 1.8% 1.51% 1.59% 1.32% 1.86% 1.62%
26 Western Michigan 1.57% 1.75% 0.97% 2.01% 1.84% 1.62%
27 Rutgers 1.84% 1.59% 1.52% 1.33% 1.8% 1.61%
28 Hawai'i 2.04% 1.47% 1.62% 1.15% 1.65% 1.59%
29 Idaho 1.7% 1.96% 0.7% 1.5% 2.05% 1.59%
30 South Carolina 1.53% 1.37% 1.62% 1.45% 1.94% 1.59%
31 Middle Tennessee 2.24% 1.72% 1.47% 1.68% 0.92% 1.58%
32 East Carolina 1.53% 1.92% 1.59% 1.93% 0.84% 1.57%
33 California 1.06% 1.33% 1.73% 1.24% 2.51% 1.55%
34 Utah 2.09% 1.31% 1.46% 1.37% 1.56% 1.55%
35 Washington 1.49% 1.06% 0.85% 2.77% 1.69% 1.54%
36 Troy 1.48% 2.11% 1.17% 1.49% 1.42% 1.53%
37 Northwestern 1.4% 1.54% 1.51% 2.14% 1.07% 1.52%
38 Vanderbilt 1.88% 1.16% 1.88% 1.07% 1.61% 1.52%
39 Rice 2.44% 1.28% 1.38% 1.07% 1.43% 1.51%
40 North Carolina 1.3% 1.54% 1.37% 2.04% 1.26% 1.5%
41 Stanford 1.07% 1.67% 1.97% 0.91% 1.93% 1.5%
42 TCU 1.59% 0.86% 1.89% 1.25% 2.1% 1.5%
43 Fresno State 1.69% 1.18% 1.26% 1.69% 1.69% 1.49%
44 Illinois 1.38% 1.06% 1.99% 1.36% 1.65% 1.48%
45 Minnesota 1.74% 0.99% 1.83% 1.42% 1.4% 1.48%
46 Toledo 1.17% 1.65% 1.21% 2.12% 1.23% 1.48%
47 Wake Forest 1.09% 1.47% 2.14% 0.88% 1.81% 1.48%
48 Kansas 2.02% 0.86% 1.73% 1.44% 1.32% 1.47%
49 Mississippi 1.88% 0.88% 1.53% 1.5% 1.57% 1.46%
50 Texas Tech 1.94% 1.42% 1.35% 1.48% 1.17% 1.46%
51 Air Force 0.97% 1.38% 2.17% 1.51% 1.15% 1.45%
52 Boise State 1.45% 0.91% 1.41% 1.25% 2.28% 1.45%
53 Clemson 1.89% 1.25% 1.38% 1.45% 1.27% 1.45%
54 Indiana 1.82% 1.57% 1.67% 1.44% 0.67% 1.45%
55 Maryland 1.21% 2.15% 0.98% 1.22% 1.63% 1.45%
56 UNLV 2.02% 1.58% 0.85% 1.46% 1.37% 1.45%
57 Florida State 0.84% 1.2% 2.53% 1.31% 1.39% 1.44%
58 Western Kentucky NA% NA% 1.08% 1.57% 1.7% 1.44%
59 Oklahoma State 2.13% 1.03% 1.49% 1.2% 1.4% 1.43%
60 Tulsa 0.91% 1.31% 2.05% 1.77% 1.06% 1.43%
61 UCLA 1.43% 1.64% 1.52% 1.56% 0.96% 1.43%
62 Arizona State 1.73% 1.34% 1.2% 1.87% 1.03% 1.42%
63 Houston 1.59% 1.39% 1.66% 1.14% 1.34% 1.42%
64 Mississippi State 1.82% 1.36% 1.3% 1.03% 1.59% 1.42%
65 Michigan 1.9% 1.78% 1.79% 1.07% 0.62% 1.41%
66 Ohio 1.15% 1.33% 1.47% 1.7% 1.39% 1.41%
67 Akron 1.46% 1.47% 1.63% 1.2% 1.23% 1.4%
68 North Carolina State 0.8% 1.42% 1.46% 1.18% 2.03% 1.4%
69 Texas A&M 1.43% 1.94% 1.03% 1.07% 1.51% 1.4%
70 Central Michigan 1.71% 1.29% 1.22% 0.96% 1.84% 1.39%
71 Michigan State 1.95% 1.95% 1.15% 0.55% 1.49% 1.39%
72 Wyoming 2.07% 1.05% 1.11% 1.64% 1.17% 1.39%
73 Colorado State 0.93% 1.79% 1.27% 1.1% 1.78% 1.38%
74 Washington State 1.66% 1.41% 0.68% 1.73% 1.44% 1.38%
75 Syracuse 1.6% 0.88% 1.31% 1.75% 1.4% 1.37%
76 UAB 2.34% 1% 0.77% 1.64% 1.2% 1.37%
77 Arkansas 1.23% 1.32% 1.11% 1.33% 1.74% 1.35%
78 Connecticut 0.79% 1.22% 1.14% 1.51% 1.95% 1.35%
79 Northern Illinois 1.29% 0.89% 1.81% 1.76% 1.1% 1.35%
80 Memphis 1.66% 1.39% 1.42% 1.52% 0.72% 1.34%
81 Miami (Florida) 1.46% 1.6% 1.2% 1.32% 1.14% 1.34%
82 SMU 1.46% 1.56% 1.24% 1.72% 0.71% 1.33%
83 Boston College 2% 1.19% 1.35% 1% 1.1% 1.32%
84 Kansas State 1.98% 1.37% 0.97% 1.06% 1.21% 1.32%
85 UCF 1.14% 0.98% 0.95% 1.95% 1.62% 1.32%
86 Florida International 1.12% 1.63% 1.13% 0.67% 1.97% 1.3%
87 Arizona 1.65% 0.88% 1.83% 1.21% 1.01% 1.29%
88 Arkansas State 1.04% 1.08% 1.15% 1.4% 1.69% 1.29%
89 Bowling Green 0.84% 1.89% 0.86% 1.4% 1.3% 1.29%
90 Duke 1.4% 1.25% 1.39% 1% 1.42% 1.29%
91 Oregon 0.86% 1.23% 1.16% 1.36% 1.77% 1.29%
92 Alabama 2.3% 0.89% 1.28% 0.95% 1.12% 1.28%
93 Colorado 1.75% 1.11% 0.96% 1.61% 0.99% 1.28%
94 BYU 0.94% 0.34% 2.15% 1.49% 1.42% 1.27%
95 South Florida 1.77% 1.17% 1.11% 1.56% 0.8% 1.27%
96 Wisconsin 1.94% 0.94% 0.94% 1.41% 1.14% 1.26%
97 Auburn 1.81% 1.52% 0.77% 0.95% 1.25% 1.25%
98 Ball State 1.46% 0.99% 0.84% 1.68% 1.35% 1.25%
99 Florida Atlantic 1.57% 1.52% 0.64% 1.29% 1.28% 1.25%
100 Louisiana Tech 1.59% 1.26% 1.22% 0.97% 1.2% 1.25%
101 Louisiana-Lafayette 1.26% 1.22% 1.44% 1.6% 0.74% 1.25%
102 Nebraska 1.7% 0.74% 1.37% 1.47% 0.96% 1.24%
103 Iowa 0.89% 1.82% 1.16% 1.66% 0.68% 1.23%
104 Miami (Ohio) 1.12% 1.07% 1.06% 1.42% 1.49% 1.23%
105 Eastern Michigan 1.22% 1.44% 1.07% 0.94% 1.33% 1.21%
106 Baylor 1.21% 1.08% 1.24% 1.32% 1.13% 1.19%
107 Penn State 1.19% 1.92% 1.21% 0.99% 0.48% 1.17%
108 Tennessee 0.88% 1.06% 0.77% 2.11% 0.99% 1.17%
109 Cincinnati 1.25% 1.24% 0.94% 0.96% 1.44% 1.16%
110 Marshall 1.49% 0.92% 1.08% 1.06% 1.24% 1.15%
111 Georgia 1.55% 1.15% 0.74% 1.04% 1.21% 1.13%
112 Utah State 1.45% 1.38% 1.18% 1.28% 0.35% 1.12%
113 Notre Dame 1.36% 1.35% 1.06% 0.91% 0.88% 1.11%
114 Louisiana-Monroe 1.91% 0.7% 1.1% 1.1% 0.75% 1.1%
115 Virginia 1.25% 0.97% 1.22% 1.06% 0.89% 1.07%
116 Florida 1.09% 1.21% 0.89% 1.18% 0.7% 1.02%
117 North Texas 1.02% 1.37% 0.62% 0.95% 1.12% 1.02%
118 New Mexico State 1.07% 0.78% 0.99% 1.26% 0.88% 0.99%
119 UTEP 0.84% 0.72% 1.17% 0.91% 1.07% 0.94%
120 San Diego State 1.02% 0.74% 1.23% 0.59% 0.84% 0.88%

Some very interesting things show up once we take into account FF per Play (FFpP). For instance, since 2006 Texas (2.05%) has forced more than twice as many FF per play as Florida (1.02%) .

Virginia Tech actually moves up in the rankings once taking into account the amount of plays the defense faced. Bud Foster has to be considered one of the best college DCs ever. Can you name someone who has consistently gotten more out of a defense that has never won a recruiting championship? Their '06-'10 average was 19th.

FSU actually falls a few rankings, though still above the median ranking.

Please feel free to share your thoughts/insights. Here's a link to the data, if you're interested in that sort of thing (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

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