15 Or Less In 15 For Notre Dame
What did 2014 national champion Ohio State and 8-5 Notre Dame have in common on offense last season?
Surprisingly, both finished tied for 98th nationally in most turnovers committed with 26 — 14 lost fumbles and 12 interceptions by the Buckeyes, while the Fighting Irish had 12 lost fumbles and 14 interceptions.
Of course, many factors can play into the difference in the final record. One is when the turnovers occur. Do they happen when the game is already well in hand in the second half (as many OSU games were) and there is some sloppiness, or are they at critical junctures of the game?
Another is how much your own defense is forcing turnovers. Ohio State's defense induced 33 turnovers to finish sixth nationally in that category. Notre Dame's forced 23, which isn't bad (41st nationally), but it was still on the minus side of the turnover ledger overall.
Many might find it difficult to believe that Notre Dame's 1977 national champions, with quarterback Joe Montana at the throttle, committed 40 turnovers (25 fumbles and 15 interceptions). The good news is it also forced 58 to come out way ahead in that category. (Imagine if the Internet existed back and all the meltdowns online about not protecting the football.)
The 26 turnovers committed by Notre Dame last year were the second most in head coach Brian Kelly's five seasons. The most were the 29 during the 8-5 campaign in 2011, with 19 of the 29 occurring in the five defeats.
The following year with the 12-1 season, Notre Dame pretty much halved its turnover total to 15 (while also forcing 23, just like last year). The interceptions dropped from 17 in 2011 to eight in 2012.
To return to championship contention in 2015 with a veteran unit on both sides of the ball, could Notre Dame see similar improvement in the turnover department as it did from 2011 to 2012? It would seem 15 might be a reasonable number to shoot for in '15.
In the program's history, however, that has been achieved only seven times — all since 1993. Prior to 1993, rare was the season when the Fighting Irish committed less than 20 turnovers, and that was when only the 10- and 11-game regular seasons were counted. Here are the top five, with bowl games included:
1. 1993 (10) — The 11-1 Irish did not commit a turnover in five of their last six games.
2. 2000 (11) — Notre Dame tied an NCAA record with only eight turnovers during an 11-game regular season, but the 9-2 Irish had three in the 41-9 loss to Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl.
3t. 1993, 2005 & 2009 (14 apiece) — What is interesting to note here is all three of these teams were steered by quarterbacks in at least their third season as starters, a situation the 2015 team could have with Everett Golson. It was fifth-year senior Ron Powlus for the 7-6 team in 1997, junior Brady Quinn for the 9-3 unit in 2005 that finished No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, and junior Jimmy Clausen for the 6-6 edition in 2009 that was bereft of a strong defense.
Note: The only other two Notre Dame teams to have 15 turnovers were the 9-4 team in 2013 under Kelly and the 10-3 squad in 2006.